The BMW 3 Series is a brilliant car. As a result, the 3 Series is easily BMW’s best selling car, accounting for about a third of the brand’s total sales.
The 3 Series is now in its sixth generation and is available in four different body styles, including a new for 2015 four-door hatchback called the Gran Turismo. One previously popular body style, a coupe, is notably missing however in this current generation.
With BMW continuing to grow the 3 Series line-up, they decided to differentiate the coupe versions with fresh nomenclature. Introduced last year, the BMW 4 Series is the choice for buyers who want 3 Series quality and reliability, but the sporty look of a coupe.
For 2015, the 4 Series line-up sees the arrival of several new models to the standard 4 Series Coupe. A Cabriolet, with a three-piece folding roof, joins the four-door Gran Coupe in the base line-up. Performance enthusiasts can choose between the new M4 Coupe or M4 Cabriolet.
The 4 Series Gran Coupe manages to add two doors without adding to the base wheelbase or overall length – it is marginally taller though. The Cabriolet is also slightly taller and is the heaviest of the bunch.
The M4 was recently introduced alongside its M3 sibling and they feature more performance-focused styling. The M variants receive a generous serving of carbon fibre, most notably the roof, and also shows off an aggressive lower grille, more aerodynamic mirrors and quad exhaust.
All 4 Series models are based on the 3 Series platform. Available engine and transmission options are also borrowed from 3 Series models.
The 4 Series is wider, lower and longer than both the old 3 Series Coupe and the new 3 Series Sedan. The only exterior paneling the 4 Series shares with its smaller sibling is the hood.
Ignoring the side mirrors, the widest part of the car is the rear wheel arches. They’re more prominent on the 4 Series than on a 3 Series and gives it a more muscular stance. The trunk lid is also sculpted to act as a spoiler, making a larger, gaudy one unnecessary.
Driving the two cars back-to-back, the 4 Series feels slightly more agile than a 3 Series sedan. This is a result of the 4 Series’ lower and wider stance and its sportier suspension setting. It’s not a huge leap, but that’s understandable as the 3 Series is already a great handling car to begin with. While sportier, the 4 Series stiff ride makes rough pavement more uncomfortable and noisier.
The 3 Series can come with five different powerplants. The base 320i comes with a 2.0-litre I-4 putting out 181 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. In 328i trim, the power comes from a 2.0-litre turbo four tuned to 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Stepping up to the 335i bumps output to an even 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque from a 3.0-litre turbo straight six. There is also a 2.0-litre diesel producing 181 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque and a hybrid system with a total power rating of 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque.
All three of the standard 4 Series models, the Coupe, the Cabriolet and the Gran Coupe, are available with the choice of two engines, the same in the 328i and 335i.
Rear-wheel drive is the standard layout, but most can be outfitted with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system. There is a choice in transmissions between a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic. The Sport automatic allows the driver to shift gears manually using steering wheel mounted paddles.
The optional adaptive dampers make these BMWs handle exactly how you like. In Sport mode, the suspension is suitably firm, and while in Comfort, the ride is supple.
The newest M variants from BMW are some of the best German sport luxury cars ever. Both the M3 and the M4 are powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline six producing 425 hp and 406 ft-lbs of torque. They are capable of sprinting to 100 km/h in less than four and a half seconds.
As is tradition, the M’s are only available in RWD but do come with the choice of either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto.
Less traditional is the electric power steering system. It does lose some road feel over a hydraulic unit, but it still provides accurate and precise control.
The front and rear suspension has been tweaked to increase stiffness and save weight. This contributes to making this generation of M cars the easiest to drive fast.
Inside, both the 3 and 4 Series are very similar and retain BMW’s custom of shaping the cabin around the driver.
The design and equipment are largely the same across the range and make these BMW’s feel suitably sporty. All of the controls are within easy reach and the latest iDrive system is simpler to use, especially with its touch-sensitive controller with letter recognition on the optional navigation system.
The 4 Series has a four-passenger cabin, but while the front seats are comfortable, in the Coupe, Cabriolet and M4, the rear seats lack sufficient headroom for the average adult, which is a shame as legroom is quite good. The Gran Coupe remedies that somewhat, but most adults won’t find it enjoyable for long drives.
The 4 Series Cabriolet is the nicest cruiser, and even with the top down and the windows up, there is very little buffeting from the wind. BMW has also done a nice job of strengthening the chassis to compensate for the lack of a roof. As a result, there is no annoying rattles of bumps.
However, the metal roof does significantly cut into the cargo space. With the roof up, trunk space is not too bad, but with it down, you would be hard-pressed to fit more than one medium-sized suitcase in the back.
If cargo space is a concern, the Gran Coupe is the most practical 4 Series. The hatchback-style trunk lid creates a larger opening, making it easier to load items, and total space is the same as the base 3 Series.
What do you think about the BMW’s new line-up? Do you like that they added the 4 Series?