BMW’s latest 3-series sedan and 4-series coupe don’t occupy the same mental real estate as the earlier generations do. Examples from the ’90s and 2000s wormed their way into that part of our brain that holds our fondest memories—the taste of grandma’s meatloaf, a trip to Disney, a beautifully balanced car on a great road—and stuck there. The newest 4-series is unlikely to trigger nostalgic yearning a decade from now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. BMW’s compact car is still at the head of the class per our most recent comparison test with a 330i xDrive. It’s a similar story with the 2021 BMW 430i xDrive. The $48,595 four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive model is an excellent, albeit flawed, luxury sports coupe.
The 430i’s engine, a 255-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, is the star of the show. In an automotive market flooded with boosted four-cylinders, BMW’s stands out from the crowd with big performance and a lot of character. Like all good turbo fours, the engine builds torque quickly and low in the rev range for that authoritative shove at traffic lights. The BMW 2.0-liter separates itself from the competition above 5000 rpm, where many similar engines start to run out of breath. The 430i charges its 6500-rpm redline hard and fast. And when you want it, the sweet spot of the powerband is just a toe tap away thanks to the standard eight-speed automatic’s perfectly timed and executed shifts. Pushed to their full potential, the engine and trans are good for a 5.2-second dash to 60 mph. Sadly, a manual transmission isn’t available unless you’ve squirreled away enough nuts for the upcoming BMW M4.
The 430i’s powertrain isn’t just quick and lively. It’s also impressively frugal—if you can keep your foot out of it. We averaged a mediocre 21 mpg during our time with the BMW, which consisted mostly of short suburban drives. But in Car and Driver‘s real-world 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, the 430i returned 34 mpg, beating its EPA highway rating by 1 mpg. More notable, that makes the 4-series more efficient than vehicles like the Honda CR-V Hybrid and Kia Soul as well as four-door competitors such as the Acura TLX and Cadillac CT5.
Equipped with the $2450 Dynamic Handling package (bigger brakes, adaptive dampers, and a limited-slip differential) and the $3800 M Sport package (variable-ratio steering), the 4-series has the quick reactions of a sports coupe. Yet the chassis feels as if it were tuned with an apathy more commonly associated with family crossovers than premium sporty cars. The steering is vague on-center and lifeless in a turn, and the body control can feel disconnected and imprecise if you hustle the 430i down a bumpy back road. The BMWs of yore were never stiffly sprung; they got their chassis fidelity from masterfully tuned damping, which is missing in modern Bimmers. Compared with the high expectations established by past BMWs, the 4-series disappoints. By most objective measures, though, this 430i follows the forward march of progress. A snow-covered skidpad prevented us from extracting a maximum lateral-grip figure, but the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires gave us a glimpse of what they’re capable of with a stop from 70 mph in an impressive 148 feet.
If you’ve read this far, we’re assuming that you’ve seen pictures of the 4’s new schnoz and are either into it or at least not so revolted by it as to close your browser in disgust. That face is unfortunate in our professional opinion, especially considering that the rest of the 4-series is well proportioned and attractively styled. Designers replaced the last generation’s faux front fender vent with subtler surfacing that suggests they were capable of making something better than what BMW’s selling.
The interior isn’t as rich or beautiful as that of a comparable Mercedes C-class, but the cabin is functionally attractive. BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is easy to navigate by touch and reliably quick and stable, and it offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The controls are sensibly laid out and easily within reach, and the seats—covered in leather for an extra $1450—are comfortable over long distances. Our $60,520 test car needed the $2300 Premium package to finish the interior with necessities such as heated seats, adjustable lumbar, and passive entry, but the 4-series is otherwise well equipped, which is something we haven’t often said about BMWs.
Anyone carrying fond memories of past 3- and 4-series is likely to hold this BMW to the same high expectations we have. Those shoppers are also likely to be disappointed by aspects of the 430i coupe, but anyone new to the luxury world or the BMW brand will walk away smitten with the smooth and assertive powertrain. We’d be more enamored with this car if we didn’t know BMW was capable of building something more engaging. The 430i is a good modern luxury car, but it doesn’t play on our emotions the same way its predecessors do.
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