That face. That curious set of chrome-edged polygons, like an 8-bit Minecraft toy from a fast-food joint. Like a Bugatti gone bad that is even worse when bisected by a license-plate holder; perhaps doubly troubling with a yellow New Jersey plate stuck right there.
The 2021 BMW 4 Series family made its rather jarring debut last year with a front-end stylistic statement that left the whole car business scratching their heads. Is its post-modern kidney grille some kind of German April Fool’s joke, like Volkswagen claiming it had changed its name and then denying it had done so?
You got me. But I drove the convertible version of the 4 Series automobile, which I dubbed “The Schnozz,” for a week. There is also a hard-top version, and then performance versions of both. Provided I was not staring at that mysterious mess up front, it’s a wonderfully pleasant vehicle. It’s credible, comfortable, stable at considerable speed — even with the easy-opening roof down.
That soft-top roof with a heated glass rear window is a dream come true. It’s a super simple, ultra-high-tech one-piece deal that is swallowed up under one gigantic trunk-top plate, leaving only two slightly ungainly, full-sized rear headrests. You can even do that at 30 mph.
Yes, the 4 Series is not that different from the 3 Series — minus some of the aforementioned nose and body style choices — and as is the case with every BMW product, base price and price-as-tested vary considerably.
Here, the $53,100 standard 430i was very much tricked out with M Sport and Dynamic Handling package upgrades, which meant $6,250 in high-performance brakes, a sport differential and sport steering — plus an array of other options bringing it to $67,220.
No M-level engine, mind you, though the TwinPower 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s standard on the 4 Series makes the most of its 255 horsepower. There’s also the 3.0-liter, six-cylinder 440i model with 382 horsepower. Actual M4s pack 473 or 503 horsepower and have noses that are even more perplexing.
As I took a very, very long drive several weeks ago through northern Colorado and various Front Range canyons, the result was a pleasant, 33 mpg mix of solid and engaged handling, largely attentive cornering and poignant braking.
You can bounce between a half-dozen driving modes and micro-adjustments while cruising. You won’t eke more power out of the machine, but the steering will feel a little less light and the eight-speed transmission shifts a little more precisely. Even in mountain driving I barely felt the need to touch the wheel paddles.
That engine does a competent job overall of sporty but not necessarily career-ending acceleration, which is probably good considering the amount of time the car should be driven with the top down — like, all the time, really. The headrest-mounted neck warmers might even extend that season, perhaps if you live in Santa Barbara.
I got pretty lucky on my 430i drive and should have put on more sunscreen. Besides those bulky rear headrests, the views are virtually unlimited with very thin window A-pillars, wide side mirrors and an inward-facing dash. The car’s aerodynamic effects are also spectacular, as you can drive up to 75 mph with the roof down and feel no air intrusion. Do be careful if you happen to pass a cattle truck on a two-lane highway as you’ll come through a wind-tunnel effect that makes you feel like you’ll be sucked out of the car. That was very exciting.
For $67,000, I’d probably like interior details that were more 5 Series than 3 Series, but the emphasis here is still on more classic controls than the over-digitized feel of the higher-end models. That said, I still got an oversized M Sport steering wheel, chrome-edged pedals and a unique stippled metal-relief look to the console. There’s really very little drama, just a wide navigation screen, a simple row of air conditioner and audio controls that look almost like they did in the early ’90s, plus a scratchpad/information input knob and the roof controls.
The very low, quite strongly bolstered seating did require a slightly scuba-styled entry over the somewhat extended rocker panels, but once you’re inside, it’s comfortable enough for a full-day drive.
The rear seats, permanently separated with a raised cupholder wedge between them, do require some very serious front-seat sliding to accommodate actual passengers. Available trunk space is also seriously minimized with the roof hidden away, but you’ll still be able to get some soft luggage in there.
Aside from the car’s odd face, the 430i’s body styling is very sleek and smooth, with a tall decklid, dual exhaust ports and beautiful 19-inch wheels. That face, however. What a face.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.