BMW's new 4 Series Convertible and 2 Series Coupé
There was a time when a handful of car companies produced a handful of cars. You would pop into a dealership, see the whole range, take them out for a spin and make your choice. It is an increasingly complex task to navigate the automotive world. Not only have a new breed of carmakers joined the established ranks; everyone is expanding their range at an astonishing rate. It is hard to keep up.
This trend is here to stay. Offering more variations, attracts new buyers and keeps current customers loyal to a brand. The only way to grow sales is to grow your range. BMW is no exception. The marque is making its ongoing expansion a little easier by streamlining its model naming process. So the sportier, more innovative models - Coupés, Convertibles, Gran Coupés, Active Tourers - will be given even numbers, while the odd numbers are saved for the more sober saloons and estates. It's within this framework that the firm has ushered in its new 2 Series Coupé and 4 Series Convertible.
The latter replaces the 3 Series Convertible and, along with the Coupé, launched in September, forms the all-new 4 Series family that will eventually grow to include the X4 and 4 Gran Coupé. Like its sibling, the Convertible is handsome and imposing in the flesh.
The 4 Series Convertible is a thoughtfully executed design. The lower stance, longer length and expanded width making the car look and feel immediately sportier - younger, even. The shorter overhangs, long bonnet and set back passenger area enhance a graceful silhouette. The wheel arches have been heavily sculpted to draw attention to the car's wider flanks, giving the 4 a great, road-hugging stance. Added to this, a low centre of gravity makes for excellent road handling, as we discovered on the hairier roads in the mountains above Málaga, Spain.
The designers have manipulated the car's accessories, or jewellery, to accentuate its sportier proportions. The double kidney grille at the front, for instance, leans forward slightly, and the twin round circular Xenon headlights are a little smaller to work with the overall proportions of the car. Inside, there's an immediately sporty feel. The control layout is driver-focused with sport multi-function leather steering wheel and free-standing 6.5-inch control display. The longer wheelbase allows for noticeably more room in the rear compartment where the bench design is contoured to form two individual seats.
The retractable three-piece metal roof is engineered to blend into the body, looking almost coupé-like when lowered. In 20 seconds, and while driving up to 8mph - which we successfully put to the test - a little push of a button rises, lowers and stores the metallic structure neatly into the boot. BMW is offering an innovative load assistance system that pivots and positions the folded hard top to help place bulkier items in the 220 litres of storage space.
Whereas the 4 Series benefits from length, compact cars are notoriously hard to perfect. There is simply no room to stretch lines, to play with surfaces, to create an elegant sculpture. The 2 Series Coupé therefore suffers a little from its petite proportions.
Replacing the 1 Series Coupé, the design team has bravely opted for a great deal of exterior movement; the metal sheet has been creased and twisted and moulded to look more dynamic. The low, flowing roofline reinforces the 2's sportier intent with the wider track, longer wheelbase and significantly increased body width improving the four-seat cabin space.
The design theme continues inside with elements moving in big sculptural sweeps along the dashboard and doors - elements that work well in the larger models, however the compact size here does make it feel a little heavy. But at the same time, the cabin feels sporty and makes you want to hug the fat steering wheel and take this little coupé for a ride. And the top level M Performance model M235i is indeed a sheer joy to drive. The upcoming M Sport Coupé should also be a driver's delight.