By Wayne Gorrett, originally for Solent Life Magazine, June 2014
✔ Classy cabin, comfortable cruiser, good performance. ✖ Weighty and slightly unsettled through corners.
☀ ☀ ☀
My local New Forest in south-west Hampshire is a wonderful place; a vast playground to explore and freely roam, while perpetually receiving one of the finest cuddles nature has to offer.
Recently, I spent a sunny late spring day tootling around the Forest in the first-generation BMW 428i M Sport Convertible. It was a good day…a very good day.
The back story
The new 4 Series Convertible replaces the former 3 Series folding hard top. BMW re-badged its range of cars to reposition the brand to a wider range of world markets segments: All 1, 3, 5 and 7 Series BMW’s are now the standard four-door cars we’ve come to know over the years. However, a couple of years ago, BMW decided that future 2-door coupé, cabriolet and convertible variants be given even numbers and thus, the new 2 and 4 Series were created.
The new car is larger than the previous 3 Series Convertible: it has an extra 50mm between the front and rear wheels for improved space and ride refinement, and feels more planted as its track has been widened by 45mm at the front and 81mm at the rear. It now measures 4,638mm from tip to toe, and 1,825mm across, making it longer than the Audi A5 Cabriolet, but not quite as large as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet.
The 4 Series Convertible is available with two petrol and two diesel engines, both in 2.0-litre/4-cylinder and 3.0-litre/6-cylinder configurations. Tested here is the 428i, 2.0-litre petrol variant in M Sport specification.
Yeah, look at me!
The BMW 4 Series Coupé was one of my favourite cars of all the 112 I drove last year – and now the stunningly drop-top version has arrived – just in time for summer and all its posing opportunities! The car looks almost identical to its sister Coupé model in profile because it uses a folding hard top roof instead of a fabric one – one visual difference being the three fold lines running across the roof of the car.
The metal roof – which electrically separates into three pieces so it can be stowed behind the rear seats – reduces the amount of wind and road noise that enters the cabin over the more traditional rag-top. The roof opens and closes in a leisurely 20 seconds and can be operated at speeds of up to 8mph.
The inside scoop
The interior of the 4 Series Convertible is pretty much identical to the Coupé and has much in common with the 3 Series – and that’s no bad thing. It means you get a classy dashboard with clear, easy-to-use instruments and BMW’s excellent iDrive infotainment system as standard.
The seats offer a good range of adjustment and rear seat access is surprisingly good as the front seats tilt and slide to create a large opening. However, due to the Coupé-like roof, rear headroom will be an issue for anyone over six feet tall.
The boot is 20 litres larger than the old 3 Series Convertible and totals a useful 370 litres. But this space shrinks to 220 litres if you put the roof down – barely enough for a weekly shop. However, there is a very clever system which electrically raises the folded roof in the boot, making it easier to load items in the ‘safe’ area beneath it (video below).
The toy box
There are five specification grades available in the new BMW 4 Series Convertible:
SE, Sport, Modern, Luxury and M Sport.
SE kit levels offer front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats, xenon headlights, Bluetooth, cruise control, a USB socket, dual-zone climate control and a 6.5-inch colour display. Move up to Sport and you also get 18-inch alloys, sports seats, high-gloss black interior trim and some red flourishes on the instrument dials.
Modern versions get sports seats, a light-coloured dashboard, leather upholstery and a choice of different trim surfaces, while Luxury brings a similar spec but includes contrast stitching on the leather seats and BMW’s Business Media package.
The range-topping M Sport as driven features a body kit, four-stage M Sport suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, exclusive sports seats and again, the Business Media package.
On the road
When it comes to the drive experience, the BMW 4 Series offered suspension that proved comfortable and well sorted, dealing with undulating country roads and pockmarked city streets admirably. The car was fitted with BMW’s four-stage M Sport adaptive suspension.
On the move, rigidity felt good with the roof up or down and BMW is at pains to point out that the new model is 40 per cent stiffer than the 3 Series Convertible thanks to cross-bracing under the body and a new inverted U-shaped roll over bar behind the rear seats. Scuttle shake was evident but less than expected and there was only a slight hint of wobble through the steering wheel in some coarse cornering situations. Noise insulation is excellent with the roof up, while down the cabin never felt uncomfortably blustery.
Unfortunately, the Convertible’s kerb weight – which is around 200kg more than that of the Coupé – doesn’t make it feel as home in the bends as does the Coupé. Its steering is missing that final sharpness and the body rolls just a fraction too much. Most of that excess weight can be traced to the roof mechanism and essential torsional rigidity enhancements. But for most buyers it won’t be noticeable and it certainly doesn’t negate the overall, wind-in-your-hair enjoyment of the car.
The BMW 4 Series Convertible makes for an ideal cruiser. It’s one of those cars – you know the type – where you look down at the speedo and realise that you’re moving quicker than you expected. If, like me, you enjoy ‘connecting’ with a car, that’s not an ideal characteristic as it infers a degree of sensory deprivation while driving.
But cast that aside…for making meaningless and utterly pointless journeys or just because you want to take the long way home, when sunlight dapples through forest foliage or glistens off beach-side waves, it’s simply perfect!