Let’s get the barf emojis, raised eyebrows, and pointing and snickering aimed at the redesigned-for-2021 BMW 4 Series‘ new flared nostrils out of the way now. The huge dual grille openings resemble many things—buck teeth, the nasal passages on a bare skull, etc.—but few will recognize that they mark a return to the original tall, skinny kidney grilles applied to early BMW models a century ago. Historical footnotes aside, the weird face tragically distracts from the rest of the 4 Series design, which is svelte and attractive, like a three-quarter-scale 8 Series coupe.
The controversial front end at least gives the new 4 Series a talking point, because behind that schnoz there isn’t a whole lot to write home about. And that’s sort of an issue for a coupe—luxury buyers are looking for flash and dash for their cash. Having swung and missed on the 430i’s flash, how does BMW deliver on that dash?
A Great Engine in Search of a Great Coupe
Just behind the 430i’s standout grilles sits its only other standout: a 255-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Smooth and punchy, the entry-level turbo-four moves the coupe well. Compared to the previous 4 Series’ version of this engine, it makes an extra 7 hp and an additional 36 lb-ft of torque (for a total of 294 lb-ft). Paired with a slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, the responsive engine feels as if it’s making more power than BMW’s letting on. Still more power is available in the M440i xDrive, which comes with a 382-hp turbocharged inline-six, but that will cost you $12,900 more.
The 430i is quick enough for most buyers, particularly in lighter-weight rear-drive form. (For another $2,000, buyers can opt for BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive.) There isn’t enough power on tap to overwhelm the BMW’s attitude in corners. Put another way, the 430i defaults to safe, predictable understeer at its grip limit, and punching the gas fails to do much more than tighten the line slightly. This could have as much to do with the engine as the M Sport torque-vectoring rear differential included in our test vehicle’s $2,450 Dynamic Handling package.
… Sub-Ultimate Driving Machine
Ignore the gaggle of drive mode options that exist for sporting up the suspension, accelerator response, transmission behavior, and steering weight, controlled via buttons on the center console (and for deeper fiddling, in on-screen menus). Going full Sport in any of the settings merely subtracts comfort for the show of athleticism, starching up the $700 Adaptive M electronically adjustable suspension and making the steering heavier, with no discernable handling benefit.
It’s telling how much old-school BMW handling magic is missing from the 430i that it puts its best foot forward when simply left in Comfort mode. The ride is well damped, body motions are controlled, and the lower-effort steering is better matched to the coupe’s light-on-its-feet dynamic feel. As in the also-new 3 Series that shares this platform, the 430i feels more solid and cohesively tuned than before, but it never reaches out and grabs the driver and goads them to drive harder.
If It’s Not Sporty, Then Surely It’s Comfortable …
[Game-show buzzer!] The 430i isn’t all that comfortable. On the freeway, a substantial level of tire noise and slap makes its way into the cabin. There is also a buzzy din that emanates from the front end, a sort of guitar-string tinnitus sensation of a too-direct connection between suspension components and the body structure. It’s a curious trade-off for the decidedly uninvolving handling.
Neither is the 430i particularly luxurious. The cabin is classic BMW: businesslike, with a minimum of fussy detailing or extravagance. From a usability standpoint, that’s great. The latest iteration of iDrive, BMW’s knob-controlled infotainment setup, is simple and easy to use. On-screen menus are streamlined, and in each one, more detailed sub-menus are accessed via a simple tap to the right. The digital gauge cluster’s configurability is controlled by a pair of buttons on the turn signal stalk and a scroll wheel on the left-hand steering wheel spoke. A row of HVAC controls sits above another row of audio presets and a volume knob to lend the cabin a whiff of familiarity and approachability.
As a bonus, the 430i’s interior is roomy and brimming with practical elements. The trunk, for example, is big, and the rear seats can be folded nearly flat, opening up a huge pass-through to the interior. With the two rear seats up, there is a surprising amount of legroom for passengers back there. Headroom in back is tight but not as much as in other similarly sized coupes, and there’s even a fold-down center armrest with two cupholders and rear-seat temperature and fan controls.
How About Them Coupe Dreams?
The thing is, ease of use and practicality aren’t sexy. In a world where bells and whistles have been democratized to non-luxury cars, the BMW 430i’s relatively plain cabin design isn’t compelling enough. Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class delivers wow-inducing cross-pollination between old-school luxury materials and modern design, while the Audi A5 pulls off the minimalist-German-car interior thing with more panache. Both of those coupes are quieter and more comfortable without giving up much, if any, sportiness to the 4 Series.
So as much as you’d think the heinous front-end styling would do the 4 Series in, it’s the preponderance of asterisks that offer reason to pass it up. Just as the 430i’s great coupe body is ruined by those grilles, its spacious interior is let down by a boring design, and the competent driving experience lacks sizzle or comfort. And then there’s the cost. Our 430i’s $46,595 MSRP was inflated to $59,220 by the $3,800 M Sport package (variable steering and a stitched-vinyl dashboard), $2,450 Dynamic Handling package (M Sport brakes and a sport rear differential), $2,300 Premium package, $500 wireless phone charging, $550 Mineral White paint, $1,450 brown leather interior, and $875 Harman Kardon sound system. That’s a whole lotta cash for not enough flash or dash.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2021 BMW 430i Coupe|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||2.0L/255-hp/294-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,600 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||187.9 x 72.9 x 54.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.4 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||26/34/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||130/99 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.67 lb/mile|