One-day Test: BMW 428i
You might think that one of the most influential cars of the last 10 years would be something singular like the Bugatti Veyron, or Tesla’s EV sports car. But I am convinced that an Audi holds the honour.
There is a whole lot to choose from in the Audi stable, but it is also not the refinement of its everyday sports car, the R8, or the reintroduction of the five-cylinder engine, that deserves the accolade. Rather, the car in question is the A5.
On the surface, the A5 is not particularly special; it is basically an A4 coupé with a handful of exterior styling changes. Luckily for Audi the visual changes to the A5 made it one of the most handsome cars you could buy, and caused the executive sedan market to rethink its coupé strategy.
The A5, therefore, is the reason why I had a BMW 428i to drive this week, because without Audi’s rather ingenious idea of splintering a sedan and coupé into two visually different brands, BMW would still be making a 328Ci.
So a 4-Series is, as I explained, a 3-Series with some exterior tweaking, which makes perfect sense if you think about it. The 3-Series (and the rest of the executive sedan field) has to walk a very thin line between refreshing the styling for every new model release, and still sticking true to the 3-Series look and feel.
Try to be too daring, and your potential buyers will simply stroll across to the next German car showroom. Keep things too consistent and you could be accused of stagnating, while probably losing a slice of the younger market in the process.
This means that there has always been an unofficial limit on what could be done with the bread and butter executive sedan’s styling; a principle that does not mesh well with the sleek body of a coupé.
In this, the 4-Series excels. The new styling emphasises the lower roofline and enormous coupé doors, giving the car a long and sleek profile. Head on it is very aggressive; mimicking a predator hunkered down on all fours, waiting to pounce.
The interior of the 4-Series has also received a bit of a refresh compared to the 3-Series. A slimmer three-spoke steering wheel with new controls is present, and is pleasing to hold, although some might be put off by the number of buttons.
There are other changes scattered around the cabin, but you would be hard pressed to point them out without a 3-Series parked next to you for comparison
Our test unit had an illustriously long list of options installed (totalling nearly R200 000) which meant that this was also one of the first times that I could try out some of BMW’s more uncommon cabin creature comforts.
The touchpad entry system works very well, allowing you to use a finger to scrawl letters on top of the iDrive controller. That input is then converted into text by whatever mode you are in (dialling a phone number or looking for an address via sat-nav), making it more intuitive to interface with those systems.
This being a 428i, you will find a turbocharged 2,0-litre four-cylinder engine under the bonnet that is good for 180 kW and 350 Nm of torque. Coupled with the eight-speed dual-clutch Sports Automatic Transmission, the 428i has enough torque on tap to ensure you aren’t left stranded without power, and two pulls on the shift paddle will allow two gears to be dropped with satisfying rapidity.
The engine is actually perfect for this car, being endowed with just enough power to feel quick when you need it to be, without needing to spend the extra money on the 3,0-litre turbocharged engine of the 435i. That said, don’t expect any real fuel savings by opting for the 428i as I was achieving the same fuel consumption as in our long-term M135i.
As a package then, the 4-Series has the impact that a coupé should have, and the engine is an excellent match for that visual. But it doesn’t come cheap, as the 428i starts at R576 900, to which you can easily add R100 000 worth of options without really trying to be fancy.
As I mentioned, our unit had more than R200 000 worth of options, for a grand total price of somewhere round R780 000, and that is a lot of money, which ever way you look at it.
It is difficult to say if it is worth it, because compared to its peers, it definitely holds a unique position that you can’t put a price on. The A5 and C-class Coupé are both due for a major refresh soon, so for the time being, the 4-Series is your only option in the executive sedan coupé field.
A lack of choice is never a good thing, but if that choice is a 428i, you really cannot go wrong…