So what would you do if BMW called up and offered to lend you a £45,000 sports car for a few days to drive where you wanted in Europe as a test? Yep, that’s what we figured, so we said no and went back to our knitting. Yeah right. Long and short, five days later we found ourselves on a flight to Malaga airport in Southern Spain, and six days later they handed over a key fob to a gleaming metallic blue BMW 435i M Sport Convertible with a mere 2427 kilometers on the clock.
To give some background, this is the brand new 4 series M Sport model drop-head which is out this month, fully equipped with nearly £7000 worth of extras. It features a 2979cc, six cylinder, 306 HP engine, giving a maximum speed of 155 mph (limited) and a claimed combined fuel consumption of 33.6 mpg. It will hit 0-62 mph in 5.6 seconds and features a bunch of technology including BMW Connected Drive, cruise control, auto start/stop, Drive Performance Control, and so on. In fact it would probably take two days to explain all the gadgetry and tech on this car, so we’ll skip it for now and include a summary at the end.
First things first then, how does it look? Well put it this way, if you spot it coming down the street towards you, you’ll definitely notice it. Low slung, coupe looks combined with that squat wide body makes this thing look like it means business. Which is good, because it does, as we discovered. Check out our three part video set below to join us on our 2,114 mile adventure from one end of Europe to the other, including fun at the beach, in the snow, with nasty and nice border guards, ogling pedestrians and an exhilarating 145 mph thrash on the German autobahn.
* Video One – Introduction and overview of the car
The interior is not too shabby either. One thing I’ve always loved about BMWs is their seating, and the body hugging chairs in the 435i M Sport are a delight. They’re firm, as with all BMW seats, but yet offer enough comfort to make long distance cruising a pleasurable event. You get out after hours in the saddle with not even a twitch of a back pain, thanks to the multitude of adjustments you can make to lumbar, knee, and lateral support. Lovely. Two individual driver seat settings can be stored for different users via the memory buttons down by the right hand seat controls.
The dash is surprisingly simple, however, considering the amount of technology integrated into this model. Which is really good really, because you don’t want tech in your face in a performance car, you want clarity, and this car delivers in spades. The combination of the beautifully clear dash, the HUD with essential speed and navigation information and the delightful i-Drive control system, makes it trivially easy to become familiar with everything that’s on tap very quickly.
Here’s a quick question for you. What makes for a real driver’s car? If you answered the fastest or the most comfortable, I’d like to humbly disagree and suggest that actually it’s a vehicle which, within a short space of time becomes an extension of you as the driver. This means ergonomically and mentally. It should have everything to hand that you need, without having to think about it twice. And this is ten times as important when you’re in a performance car.
The 435i M Sport delivers beautifully on this front too. Driving it for long distances was a real pleasure, almost effortless in fact, and I mean that seriously. We did over 3000 kilometers in the car in around 3 and a half days, and not once was there an occasion where we felt uneasy about the driving characteristics, handling or comfort. It’s a hard thing to quantify on paper (or even on video) but this car just loves to be driven.
Of course things like cruise control and a sophisticated navigation system really help to smooth out the hours, but it’s also small things like a cracking Harmon Kardon stereo system with great Bluetooth integration for your phone, plus all the bits and pieces on this model. In fact the worst part of the whole trip was the fact that it’s just too wide for one person to stretch across to pay tolls and grab tickets, so you have to get out and walk around, which is a bit tiresome after a while.
Video 2 – Marbella, Spain to Barcelona, then on to Cannes, France
But the rest of the experience was almost faultless. For instance we would often cruise with rain assist wipers and adaptive headlights on, and let the car deal with the environment. Totally hands off, except to steer and check the satnav. The rear view mirror and the side mirrors auto dipped so we never got dazzled at night, and the electric power steering was always perfectly weighted, never too heavy or too light. Marvelous. We did find the auto/start stop a bit temperamental at times in towns, and the full beam/dip seemed a little tardy occasionally on the highways, but these could have been particular quirks of the car we were driving.
And as for that engine! The straight six purred like a kitten most of the time, until we needed to use it in earnest, at which point you’d hear that delightful but subtle BMW snarl as the revs increased. Again not enough to disturb, but just enough to remember you’re driving a true thoroughbred. Now there’s a word you don’t often use nowadays. The road holding was uniformly exemplary as well, at no time, not even at extremely high speed on the German autobahn did we feel in any way out of control. The steering remained incredibly precise and responsive throughout.
You’ll have to watch the videos to get an idea of our adventures across Europe, which turned out to be more of an odyssey than anything else, but suffice to say we spent a lot of the time with a huge grin on the face. As did passers-by and strangers who really seemed to fall in love with the car very quickly. We traveled through six countries during our yomp across Europe, and in each one we got the same kind of reception, which ranged from sly glances through the passenger window of passing cars, to outright adoration from BMW fans.
Video 3 – Cannes, France to Como, Italy then to London, UK via Offenburg, Germany
If there was an award for the Car You Would Most Like to Spend Time With On A Desert Island, this would not be it. I’d settle for a VW Combi with beds and all the trimmings, but the award for the Ultimate Transcontinental Driver’s Car? No contest. I’d happily choose this to cross any continent with roads (Africa might be a bit problematic to the low slung body line) because I know we’d come out the other end, relaxed, sane and cheerful. It’s fast, smooth, adaptable and ultimately a car which very quickly fits you like a glove with very little effort.
Standout features for us were the amazingly dexterous i-Drive system (who knew you could do so much with a quick twist of a knob), the effortless gearing combined with the rock steady chassis and the cruise control, which meant you could let the car do most of the driving while you focused on not hitting things and listening to the entertainment. And we’re now total fans of the HUD motif. It’s got to be a mandatory part of every vehicle soon, because it’s a really valuable driver’s aid, not a toy.
Oh we haven’t even mentioned that delightful convertible top, which pops up and down literally in seconds and transforms your coupe into an attention grabbing beast, beguiling pedestrians and drivers alike with the sleek purposeful air. An absolute delight. Niggles? Well apart from the weirdness with the stop/start system, sometimes the wing mirrors would go into sleep mode and sink down for no apparent reason, and the coin box down by the driver’s door was simply stupid and kept throwing coins all over the floor through the very big slat opening at the back. Serious stuff, eh?
But all in all, this is a vehicle that holds its own with any performance coupe on the market as far as we’re concerned. It’s elegant and discrete enough to be acceptable with the style gurus, while at the same time offering enough grunt to cheer up the most cynical yeti. Our only thought is, how long before these cars become outdated by the rising crop of electric and hybrid drive models? Already the Tesla S has shown what the future might hold, even if it’s not here yet (or even close really, bearing in mind the lack of charging points).
But those thoughts are for another day. Right now, we’re still glowing from the pleasure of being looked after on our adventure by a superb example of German engineering.
Price on the road of the tested model – £45,470