2018 BMW 4 Series review: The 4 Series’ sweet spot

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How many times have you said, “I want to buy Car X, but I want it in rear-wheel drive?” or, “I really like Car Y, but I can’t get it in a manual.” Today we have hundreds of TV channels to watch and can swipe left or right on an almost infinite amount of potential mates, but when it comes to cars, our choices can be stymied.

Enter the 2018 BMW 4 Series. It’s available with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic, in all-wheel or rear-wheel drive. Two different engine options are on tap: the 430i with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or the 440i with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder. Not enough for you? The 4 Series is also offered as a coupe, convertible or gran coupe.

When the math is said and done, that’s 24 different possible iterations of the 4 Series, not including the three different design packages offered. For my week with the 4 Series, I got the sweet spot: a coupe with the manual transmission and rear-wheel drive with the smaller, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.

A little bit new

2018 sees a few tweaks to the 4 Series, but they’ll probably go unnoticed by all but the most rabid of Bimmer fans. The front and rear fascias get some revised styling and the interior sees some changes to the gauge cluster and trim materials.

Two more colors are also on tap. The new Sunset Orange is all well and good but Snapper Rocks Metallic Blue is the one to get. It’s bright, it’s brilliant and I fall in love with it every time I look at it. By and large, however, the 4 Series coupe is the same car that replaced the 3 Series coupe in 2014.

Back road blast

My tester comes with the optional adaptive M suspension to take advantage of back road fun while still remaining an easy commuter. On my way home from Roadshow HQ in San Francisco, comfort mode soaks up the bumps and provides adequate acceleration off the line. Steering in this mode is super light, though it does weight up at faster speed.

Though my tester is free from driver’s aids to help out on crowded roads, the Bimmer tracks straight and has plenty of visibility. I don’t really miss blind-spot monitoring or lane-keeping assist. In heavy Bay Bridge traffic I do pine for adaptive cruise control, but it’s a delete I’m willing to take in order to have the six-speed manual.

Even on a foggy San Francisco day, the Snapper Rocks Metallic Blue paint is a standout.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The next day I arrive at my favorite twisty back road. My first inclination is to “damn the torpedoes” and I put the 4 Series into Sport Plus. Immediately the throttle response is quicker, the ride firms up and the steering gets heavier. However, I quickly find this mode is not for me. I love how quickly the car responds to my right foot, but the heft of the steering is too much for me with all these tight, fast turns. Further, the stiff ride is unforgiving on this public road, which has its fair share of imperfections and undulations. Sport plus is probably a blast on the track, but out here it’s just a tad too much.

Dialing it down to Sport mode, however, is great. I still have that extra-responsive throttle, but the ride quality is better suited to these uneven back roads. I’m in the 430i with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, good for 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. For twistie attacking, there is more than enough power. After all, I’m mostly in third gear and I can only go so fast. The larger 440i would most likely not perform any better out here.

A few quibbles are noted, however. The manual transmission comes with rev-matching, which I can’t turn off. Downshifting for a hairpin results in the computer placing the revs in the exact place, which is great if you’re just learning to drive a stick shift. However, I like to heel-toe shift on my own.

My tester is also equipped with run-flat tires, which are made of harder rubber and contribute to a harsher than necessary ride.

Regardless, the seat of the pants feel while pushing the car is one of excitement, but not out-of-control hysteria. New this year are stiffer roll bars in the front and rear, resulting in a nimble little pocket rocket that tucks right into turns. A skilled driver that can trail brake into turns to keep the weight over the nose will only be rewarded with even more control, but even those who just want to mess about on a Sunday morning will have a blast.

I can feel the rear wanting to step out, but it stays planted in place, despite the squeals of protest from those run-flat tires. Brakes are firm, inspire confidence and I experience no fade at the end of the road. It’s so much fun I turn around and do it one more time.

Folks who want more straight-line speed should upgrade to the 440i model. This 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine knocks out 320 horses and 330 pound-feet of torque. However, on the back roads I was more than satisfied with the smaller powerplant.

And though my right foot is in general heavy, I still averaged 26.6 miles per gallon, beating the EPA combined rating of 25.

iDrive tech

Though my tester is devoid of driver’s aids, it’s rocking the iDrive infotainment system with the optional 8.8-inch screen with navigation. iDrive is controlled by a rotary dial on the center console, surrounded by redundant buttons for map, radio and the like. The top of the dial can accept handwriting inputs, making it easier to put in addresses.

Though the iDrive system can get deep into the weeds with menus and submenus, on the whole it’s pretty intuitive. It’s responsive and easy to navigate, only faltering when it comes to smart phone integration.

Android Auto is not available at all and Apple CarPlay is a $300 option. CarPlay is wireless and sometimes refuses to connect with iDrive. At one point after responding to a text message through CarPlay, the system didn’t automatically go back to the terrestrial radio I was listening to. Instead, it accessed the music on my phone.

For 2019 models, Apple CarPlay will be offered for free for the first year, but after that owners will be charged $80 per year. That’s how they get you hooked.

There is one quirk particular to BMWs. Once I turn off the vehicle, the radio remains on until the doors are locked. Other manufacturers program the radio to turn off once the driver door opens. I wish BMW would follow suit as I have terrible taste in music. Nobody needs to hear Journey as I exit the vehicle.

Leather and chrome

Inside the 4 Series is an all-modern design with leather and metallic highlights. It’s well laid out with clean lines, but I prefer the more retro-future look that Mercedes-Benz has going on these days.

I wish the center console storage was bigger. The compartment is shallow and it’s impossible to store anything more than a phone and a pair of sunglasses. However, the door pockets are nice and deep with plenty of room for a water bottle and a wallet.

Sleek and modern best describe the Bimmer’s interior.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The rear seat is comfortable with enough room for my 5-foot 9-inch frame. However, the seat is angled back, with my rear end below my knees. Coupled with the two-door body style, its tough to climb out of the rear seat gracefully.

How I’d spec it

My tester starts at $43,300. For my money, I’d keep my 4 Series the same as my tester, the 430i with the manual and rear-wheel drive. The Snapper Rocks Blue paint is totally worth the $550. The premium package adds $2,300, but that includes heated front seats and a bump from the standard iDrive screen of 6.5 inches up to the larger 8.8 inch. It’s pricey but I’m a sucker for heated seats and would probably drop the money on it.

Driver’s aids like lane departure and forward collision warnings are part of a $500 package and I’m fine leaving those on the table. Those that select the automatic transmission, know that adaptive cruise control is a $1,200 stand-alone option.

I would add the optional track handling package. It’s an extra $1,700 but includes adaptive suspension, bigger brakes, better steering and non-run flat tires. If you don’t want to invest that much coin, the adaptive suspension is a $700 option by itself.

My 2018 tester comes out to $52,695, which is not exactly bargain pricing. Plus, the competition in this segment is tough, with all the expected offerings from other German manufacturers, but also alternatives from Korea, Japan and Italy as well. The new Kia Stinger is excellent value, with a strong powerplant and stellar design. Both the Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-class have more power. The Alfa Romeo Giulia sports a robust design, but suffers in the infotainment department. Meanwhile the Cadillac ATS is a solid performer, if long in the tooth.

The 2018 BMW 4 Series certainly is a strong choice as a small luxury car, especially for those who demand choice of drivetrain and body styles. However, it does live in a crowded and competitive segment, so be sure to take it for a test drive. I recommend something with a lot of turns.

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