There is something deliciously spirited in driving a convertible. Roof lowered, wind-in-your hair, not too concerned if it rains or shines, the open-top conjures up the carefree spirit of road travel. A folding fabric roof adds an extra dose to the allure. It signifies a driver not bound by its constraints – something I can firmly identify with, which is why I have been looking forward to driving BMW’s latest 4-Series Convertible.
The 2021 G23 model sees the former heavy retractable metal top replaced by a more elegant and lightweight cloth roof. The fabric has several advantages. It is nimble, weighing 40% less than the hard roof to help with the car’s performance. Meanwhile with the roof lowered, the cargo space gains 85 liters of space to be 385 liters compared to the outgoing metal roof 4 series. Plus, it looks so much better.
The car sent to me for the week is the flagship M440i xDrive. It debuts BMW’s 369 horsepower, 500 Nm six-cylinder petrol engine, mated to the marque’s 8-speed steptronic gearbox to sprint to 62mph in 4.9 seconds while offering a great response at all times. The car comes with what the car industry terms mild-hybrid technology whereby a 48V starter-generator and a second battery on-board allow more braking energy to be regenerated and stored, then used to supply the electrical system, lighten the combustion engine’s workload and increase its power.
In terms of appearance, the 4-Series Convertible echoes its Coupé sibling. The design is distinctively edgier than the previous 4 which seems to be ruffling a few feathers especially when it comes to the grille. This new take on BMW’s classic kidney grille isn’t subtle by any means — the decorative aspect is presumably to help make the car stand out from the crowd. I try to avoid online debates on design, but in this case, I’m inclined to agree with the critics in that a more refined style would feel better suited to the car’s overall sleek design.
Other than that, the proportions are classic mid-size convertible for a lovely slender silhouette, slim pillars, long doors, frameless windows and, of course, the flowing cloth roofline that seamlessly follows the body shape. There are also hints to the performance element of the 4. Once the roof is lowered, the contrast of the precise lines and the boldly sculpted surfaces of the rear wheel arches create quite a sporty impression, which is further emphasized through the slim darkened rear lights and the L shape illuminating bars.
The fabric roof features an innovative panel bow design which comprises large elements with a flush-fitting glass rear window, several layers of insulation and a fabric cover available in black as standard or anthracite as an option. It opens and closes in just 18 seconds at the push of a button and can be operated at speeds of up to 31mph. BMW claims the acoustic and thermal comfort of the panel system to be superior to that on a conventional soft top and I have to agree, there are no rattling sounds with the roof in place.
The driver-centric 4-Series cabin is a pleasant place to occupy. Everything about the user journey has been seamlessly planned, so inhabiting the 4 is a genuinely intuitive experience. I am impressed that without fuss I can connect my smartphone and navigate all the various elements with ease. A few things have also been moved around to make the controls more intelligent. For instance, the start/stop button now sits in a control panel in the center console, where the newly designed selector lever is joined by the iDrive Controller as well as the driving experience control switch and parking brake – all of which are encased in tactile metal.
This 4-Series comes equipped with the “M Sport Pro Package” which offers luxuries such as the Harman Kardon surround sound system and enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging. The heated sports seats are swathed in soft leather and there are knee pads on the center console. There is subtle ambient lighting in a variety of mood-altering shades and the “light carpet” guides you to the car in the dark. It is these little thoughtful additions that make all the difference. With all the extras, the M440i xDrive loaned to me comes to just under £60,000 ($82,000), which to my mind seems a fair exchange for the sheer amount of advanced technology, driving dynamics package and design detail.
Our time with the 4 on a family seaside vacation has been largely sunny bar the occasional downpour enabling us to make great use of the open-top while keeping snug, thanks to heated seats and neck warmers (it’s a British summer after all). We even make use of the tight rear compartment, transporting family members — albeit the younger ones — on a few expeditions. And although the car is best experienced from the front seats, there are no complaints. And it has been truly fun navigating snaky country lanes and open coastal roads, catching the late summer rays and speeding through to avoid the sudden drops of rain.
All of which has made me long even more for the upcoming electric i4 — a car that, when it arrives later this year, will take all this intelligent design thinking, expand on the technology and add clean power to be ready for the post-combustion age. I just hope BMW also decides on a soft-top i4 convertible.
See BMW Group’s future design strategy with my exclusive interview with design director Adrian van Hooydonk; learn more about the all-electric BMW i4; read what former BMW Group design director Chris Bangle has to say about the future of car design; and see sister brand MINI’s Vision Urbanaut.