Here it is, the fifth generation of BMW's 3 Series Convertible – only this one begins with a "4," having been rechristened as a droptop version of the new 4 Series Coupe. With thirty years of work on this same recipe and having gotten it so right for much of that time, the Munich compact premium convertible has been a WYSIWYG affair for decades: once you saw its sedan paradigm, you knew what it was going to look like in roofless two-door form, and what you saw is exactly what you got.
It is ridiculous to think that BMW would choose this new model and its new nomenclature to muck things up. The new car has, though, gotten larger and roomier, and even though it's now part of the racier coupe division within the company's compact line, it has gotten more, shall we say, mature. Driving even further away from the days when handsomely tipped bartenders could work their way into one, The Ultimate Tanning Machine had shed even more elan, going instead for elegance and an attitude befitting its $49,675 starting price (including $925 for destination).
It strikes a few odd notes, but what it does best, it still does better than anything else out there in its price range.
Related Gallery2014 BMW 4 Series Convertible: First Drive
The 4 Series Convertible takes up slightly more space than the last 3 Series Convertible, but its dimensions are identical to the 4 Series Coupe save for being a quarter-of-an-inch taller. The result is more headroom and rear legroom compared to the erstwhile 3 Series, all of which sits on a chassis balanced 48/52 percent front to back.
We think colleague Steven Ewing was right about the looks of the 4 Series in general when he wrote, "this car just doesn't strike us as simplistically handsome as the 3 coupes that came before it." However, we like the look of the convertible better than the coupe because we prefer the roof-into-proper-trunk profile over the quasi-notchback line of the hardtop. Only a quarter of an inch taller than the coupe, it takes another step up in appeal with the top down, as it should.
We like the look of the convertible better than the coupe because we prefer the roof-into-proper-trunk profile.
The vents in the front fenders, called "air breathers," work with the air curtains in the front fascia and the design of the rear end to reduce drag. With the roof up, the convertible has the same 0.28 coefficient of drag as the coupe, increasing to just 0.33 with the top down. BMW uses the outlets as vehicle trim identifiers, the vents on the Luxury, Sport and M Sport versions wearing three different kinds of ornament. On our Luxury version, that means high-gloss chrome on the kidney grille slats, the window trim and surrounding the climate control panel, chromed exhaust tips and a strip of shiny across the rear bumper. The air curtain also gets chrome and a shiny "Luxury" badge, but these last bits striking us as the kind of overdone-ness we'd expect from an aspirational brand, not BMW.
That altered roofline emphasizes the horizontal aspect of the car, putting its length and lowness in bold, making it look like a lot of car. It isn't too large, but nor is it small – more than once when sliding into the cockpit we thought, "This is like a junior 6 Series Convertible," but its upper-crust sibling is genuinely large, without being that much bigger inside. The upside for the 4 Series Convertible is that, in conjunction with a wheelbase extended by two inches, deep bolsters and a horizontal ceiling, there was plenty of room for your author's five-foot, eleven-inch frame in the back seat behind someone of the same height.
It isn't too large, but nor is it small.
There's nothing changed in this interior from the coupe save for the integrated front seatbelts – a new feature – and the cluster of three buttons in front of the armrest: two for the optional neck warmers, one for the roof operation. The soft-touch surfaces aren't distracting, but we wouldn't complain about plastics that look less like textured plastics – or better yet, if BMW offered the option of a stitched leather dash.
Beyond that, it's everything you get in the coupe, plus a wind deflector stowed behind the rear seats. Press a button next to the rear headrest and an inner portion of the seatback folds down to reveal a folded stretch of mesh in a plastic frame. There are two knobs and two sliders that need figuring out, but you won't miss more than a minute of sunlight getting it installed the first time.
The trunk opening is wider than before, but you'll need to be selective about what you carry.
The trunk opening is wider than before, but you'll need to be selective about what you carry if the top is down. The 13 cubic feet of storage space – 0.7 more than before – shrinks to 7.8 cu. ft. when it has to hold the folded top as well, and that space is divided into three sections: a central area underneath the top and two narrow cubbies on either side. If you want to put something in the center area while the top is down, you can press a button on the underside of the decklid that will raise the entire convertible assembly out of the way. It seems a bit convoluted, but it gets the job done.
The inline-six – for decades one of the aces in BMW's deck – remains bewitchingly smooth. The fluid, easy power delivery of the turbocharged 3.0-liter with 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque is matched to a low burble pouring out of the twin exhaust tips like honey. Its second ace is that on most roads, the ride is so smooth it would make pashmina jealous, mechanical actions and road imperfections filtered almost entirely out of the sensation of being swept forward. Additional sound-deadening in the roof keeps the cabin coupe-like quiet. Occasionally, the only off-key note comes courtesy of the stop/start system, which can rock the whole kit when it restarts. Alternatively, it might cut the electric power steering and leave you with an initial tug on a dead wheel before the engine kicks back to life, or it might also be caught momentarily off-guard and rocket you off the line to catch up with throttle travel. If you're not a fan of stop/start, you can turn it off with a button above the Start button or put the car in Sport or Sport+, which deactivates it as well.
The inline-six remains bewitchingly smooth.
Our press car didn't come with any of the optional safety fitment like Active Cruise Control, Lane Change and Lane Departure Warning, BMW Parking Assistant or Active Protection, that last one being a driver-attentiveness monitor. Our Southern California jaunt was like driving like the old days: just you, your eyes, your swiveling neck and your gimlet-eyed driving focus to decide what needed to happen next. There were no moments where we suddenly wondered, "Wait – what's the car doing?" Bonus points to BMW for allowing each of those systems to be ordered à la carte. Yes, it would cost more than if they were bundled, but being able to choose what kind of safety aids are wanted – and leave Active Cruise Control unchecked – is a plus as far as we're concerned.
BMW's press release says that "Most BMW 4 Series Convertible variants are up to 20 kg lighter than the predecessor." The company must know what it's talking about, but we don't know where to find that 44-pound weight loss in the numbers. The US spec sheet for the last 335i Convertible with the six-speed automatic transmission listed its curb weight as 4,001 pounds. The BMW USA retail site lists the 453i Convertible at 4,095 pounds. Even comparing European specs, the current car weighs more: the Euro 335i Convertible was 1,810 kg, the Euro 435i Convertible is 1,815 kg. Do the math and there's a smaller discrepancy than between the US cars, but it's nothing like "20 kg lighter."
We only noticed the weight when we were really throwing it around.
Truth is, though, we only noticed the weight when we were really throwing it around. We put the car in Sport+ and ran a stretch of canyon road with the top up, then again with the top down, pushing it harder than any of its target market is ever likely to do. A few miles of road at the bottom of the canyon had been repaved recently; where it quit, the road's ancient ruts, grooves, cracks and bad patching jobs were exposed.
Top up, it's evident you're dealing with a convertible with good genes that knows how to hustle in spite of not being expressly designed for the purpose of clipping apexes. Weighing a little more than four thousand pounds before you put an option on it, and made for those who want sun more than snaking esses, it's a very able tourer, not a sports car. The 4 Series' flat cornering enhances the feel of its abilities, but the slight understeer and squealing outside front tire are its safe words when you try to push it faster than it's comfortable going. There's also a big ol' numb spot when the steering wheel is on or close to center before the programming ramps up the load.
The slight understeer and squealing outside front tire are its safe words when you try to push it faster than it's comfortable going.
But the squeakiest wheel in the works wasn't an actual wheel, it was the eight-speed sport automatic transmission. Even in Sport+, it was rarely in the gear we would have chosen coming out of corners, content to wait for us to request more power before it would downshift, which it would then quickly do. It never bogged, but we would have opted for quicker reflexes, a remedy easily found using the shift paddles on the steering wheel. Or, more likely, buying a proper sports car. Our assumption is that this will not be an issue on the M4 Convertible.
The 4 Series Coupe is 60-percent torsionally stiffer than the previous 3 Series Coupe, and this new convertible gets additional bracing up front and below the car. Still, when we lowered the top – now possible while the car is moving up to 11 miles per hour – the chassis loosened up enough to notice, the body responding to the ripples in the newly paved portion of road in a way it didn't when the top was up. On the unkempt upper portion of road, the convertible was never put off hard driving even by mid-corner flaws, but tarmac blemishes found their way up the steering column as the body gave in to subtle flex and vibration around it.
None of those things will be noticed in 99-percent of the daily life of the 4 Series Convertible, nor will 99-percent of its buyers care even when they are. That's because what this droptop is meant to do, it does just as intended. Proof came one morning when we had to take two women to the airport, both of them well-paid professionals and 3 Series sedan owners. They took the front seats, with Yours Truly in the backseat alongside one of the suitcases that wouldn't fit in the trunk with the top down. While still parked at the curb, the driver put the top down and the cabin became an amphitheater for yet another ridiculously gorgeous December day in Los Angeles. Before we had even pulled away, the passenger turned to the driver and said, "This car is so CA."
Until we get a fresher Audi A5 Convertible or experience the rumored C-Class Convertible, the 4 Series Convertible still does it best.
That's what the 4 Series Convertible was designed to be. That is what it has always done best, and until we get a fresher Audi A5 Convertible or experience the rumored C-Class Convertible, the 4 Series Convertible still does it best. Prepare to see them everywhere.
- Turbo 3.0L I6
- 300 HP / 300 LB-FT
- 8-Speed Auto
- 0-60 Time:
- 5.4 Seconds
- Top Speed:
- 155 MPH
- Rear-Wheel Drive
- Curb Weight:
- 4,095 LBS
- 13.0 CU-FT
- Base Price:
- As-Tested Price:
- $64,775 (est.)