First Drive: 2014 BMW 435i Convertible

For those seeking the thrill of open-top motoring without wanting to sacrifice the driving dynamics of a coupe, BMW has built the brilliant 4 Series Convertible.

As a BMW designer walked on stage and began addressing a crowd of journalists, I immediately understood what the little radio and earpiece in my lap was for.

He was speaking in German. And since my two years of high school German has all but dried up, I’d need some help to understand him.

I popped the earpiece into my ear and listened as some off-site man translated the speech. While I could tell the translator was trying to jazz up and Americanize the language, it was still rather dry.

This meant that we Americans would need a police escort through the park, ensuring we did not break the speed limit.

Speaking of the 2014 4 Series Convertible, the German BMW rep told us how the low, wide stance of the Convertible is nearly the same as the Coupe. He added how BMW put the 4 Series ‘Vert on a diet. Accordingly, it weighs 20 kilos less than the outgoing 3 Series Convertible and yet still enjoys a 50/50 weight distribution. And although the bodylines have been reimagined and emboldened, it boasts a 0.28 drag co-efficient when the three-piece folding metal roof is closed.

These numbers might excite a car nerd like me. I knew, though, pretty much none of the info I was being fed through the little black piece of rubber in my ear would be much use to the average buyer. No, the really important bits would come from my time behind the wheel.

So I leaned back, had a sip of my espresso and imagined ahead a few hours to my time rip-roaring through the Nevada Valley of Fire State Park. That was, until an English speaker got on stage and broke the bad news.

Just a few days ahead of us, a few German automotive journalists had been let loose into the Nevada desert and very much upset the local law enforcement when they did in excess of 140 mph through the protected landscape.

2014 BMW 435i Convertible back logo

This meant that we Americans would need a police escort through the park, ensuring we did not break the speed limit.

“Brilliant,” I thought. “My second time in Las Vegas in as many weeks. Last time, I had a police escort in an Audi. Now, I’ll be enjoying another in a BMW.”

With that, we were handed keys and shuttled out to the fleet of white 435i Convertibles awaiting us in the bright Vegas sunlight.

Flavorless

Being told the police are waiting for you takes all the fun out of drop-top German motoring.

No matter how sunny the skies, how well-paved the road, or how powerful the motor, you can’t quite enjoy the experience knowing the police are out there looking for you.

It’s like finally getting a night with a Genesis Rodriguez but discovering she has man-bits under the skirt. You’re still going to do it; you just aren’t going to be as happy about it.

I was left cruising the rural highway exactly at the posted 40 mph, as it zigzagged through the golden hills and desert valleys outside Las Vegas, having to take on faith that the 435i Convertible’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder – mated to an eight-speed automatic – did in fact make 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque as promised. For on this drive, there would be no way for me to know for sure.

Behind the law

Eventually, I did get to the ranger station and found a tan-and-brown-clad, Harley-Davidson-riding motorcycle cop awaiting my arrival. Upon seeing me, he nodded, fired his engine and led me at 35 mph through the park.

I clicked on the cruise control and surveyed the surroundings.

I quickly got tired of looking at the desert and instead turned my attention to the cabin. As I prodded buttons and knocked on interior materials, I discovered BMW sculpted quite the cabin indeed.

With the top up, the 435i Convertible felt just like a 435i Coupe.

The iDrive infotainment screen, for example, is absolutely massive. The entire screen can display one feature at a time, or the right-hand third of the screen can be split and dedicated to another function. For my purposes, I had the satnav in the main bit and the radio function in the smaller bit. This isn’t new for BMW but it seemed extra impressive at 35 mph for some reason.

Amusingly, BMW’s German-speaking orators that morning had bragged that the new seatbelts built into the seats, rather than being mounted in where the B-pillar would be, negated belt flap at speed. In spite of this cleverness, the passenger belt began to flap incessantly.

After a few minutes listening to “whap-whap-whap-whap” at half-second intervals, I slowed and actuated the folding metal roof.

With the top up, the 435i Convertible felt just like a 435i Coupe. It was shockingly quiet and felt as stiff and robust as a person dropping $55,000 on a German luxury performance convertible might expect.

Back to Vegas

Eventually, we left the speed area in question where the Germans had broken land speed records. The motorcycle cop pulled to the side and waved me on.

As the sun went down over the hills to my left, I considered punching the throttle and giving the sparkly white convertible the beans. Instead, I sat back, turned up the tunes and clicked the cruise up to 40 again.

I still don’t know if the 435i is the “ultimate driving machine” BMW designed it to be. I know it’s a pretty thing, and that it’s quiet and refined. I can’t speak to its driving dynamism, though.

Offered from launch this spring with rear- or BMW xDrive all-wheel drive, I suspect it’ll be just as good as anything else the brand makes.

In fact, I have a hunch the Convertible is so good, it nearly makes the Coupe feel redundant. But I can’t say for sure. Perhaps some day I’ll find out when it makes its way to Portland.

Until then, though, I’ll just have to take BMW’s word.

Highs

  • Quiet, refined interior
  • Aerodynamic, yet shark-like exterior styling
  • Athletic powertrain
  • Optional rear- or all-wheel drive offered from on-sale date

Lows

  • Options make list price quickly skyrocket
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