The BMW 430i Is a Traditional Big BMW Coupe Masquerading As a Traditional Small One

A luxury coupe with track cred.

BMW

In the beginning, the big BMW coupe and the small BMW coupe were almost the same car. I’m not talking about the “beginning” that you’ll find in history books devoted to BMW. Those will tell you all about the pre-war coupes and the post-war coupes and the 507 and whatnot. It’s all true, but the fact of the matter is that for most people the BMW story started in the Sixties with the Neue Klasse cars, the same way that most fans of Fleetwood Mac are primarily interested in the music the band made after they brought on Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

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The E9 “big coupes” of 1965 and forward were based on the Neue Klasse 1600/2000 sedans, which also spawned the 2002. The Europeans called it a two-door sedan but Americans typically thought of it as a coupe. In the generations that followed, there was typically a big coupe built on a 5-Series platform and a “small coupe” that was really just a two-door 3-Series sedan. The E36 was the first 3-Series coupe to have a different body, a change that was eventually reflected by the 4-Series designation given to the car nowadays.

With the arrival of the 2-Series coupe, there are now three sizes of traditional RWD Bimmer coupes. The 230i and 240i are aimed right at the traditional BMW enthusiast driver, while the 640i is meant for the empty-nester executive market. So where does that leave the 430i that I recently drove around Thunderhill East for two days? Who’s the customer for this Goldilocks car?

Let’s start with the obvious: the 430i is a fairly large car, about five inches shorter than an Eighties 6-Series but a full foot longer than the 3-Series of the same era. It’s wide, too–both inside and out. The boosted two-liter four-cylinder puts 248 horses through a six-speed manual transmission, the same way it does in the smaller 230i. You would need a fairly precise stopwatch to time the dragstrip gap between the Two and the Four, largely because there is only a Great Dane’s worth of difference in curb weight.

BMW
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On the freeways and inland farm roads of Northern California, however, the 430i is much closer to being a big coupe than a small one. Wind noise is almost nonexistent, the Comfort-mode ride quality is about what you’d get from the previous-gen 645i, and the broad console between driver and passenger is strongly reminiscent of every big German coupe from the 633CSi to the Porsche 928. Shame about the powertrain, which is diesel-ish on the low end and thrashy at the high despite the commendable amount of insulation between firewall and driver’s seat. With a modestly-tuned straight-six like the one fitted to the E90 328i, this would be all the luxury coupe most people need.

All the more impressive because this particular example is configured to be as sporting as a 430i can get. It has the M Sport aesthetics and the Track Performance Package, which fits a staggered set of Continental ExtremeContact tires and upgrades the brakes. To test the validity of that package, I scheduled a Saturday at Thunderhill West with Hooked On Driving’s expert and instructor groups, which meant a total of eight sessions on a completely stock car in eighty-degree weather.

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The faster sessions at West Coast track events usually feature everything from Ferraris to prototype racers and this one was no exception. I didn’t expect to keep up with them but I figured the obnoxiously fabulous Snapper Blue Rocks paint of this particular 430i would at least keep them from running into me.

My expectations were more or less fulfilled, but I was surprised at the remarkable pace the not-so-little-Bimmer could maintain around T-Hill. The engine never showed much sign of heat soak, but with the windows down it was impossible to hear much of the exhaust note so I hit the rev limiter a dozen or so times before I got the hang of it. Incidentally, I had the same problem with the Alfa Giulia I drove a few months back, which means at least two things. The first is that the amount of NVH measures required to make these modern direct-injection clatter-machines tolerable in daily use makes them almost inaudible on the track. The second thing is that every old man with a Marshall stack eventually goes deaf-ish and maybe that’s happening to me.

Speaking of that Giulia… The BMW could use some of its steering feel and body control. At pace, the 430i feels a lot more like an old 6-Series than it does an E30 M3 or even an E46 M3. There’s quite a bit of disconnection between the driver and the machine. You steer it by sound the same way you do a C5 Corvette. The tail won’t come out unless provoked in the most heavy-handed manner possible, and above 4000rpm in third or fourth gear the 430i doesn’t have the poke necessary to throttle oversteer. It’s actually a bit of a relief, because the early examples of the M4 built on this platform could be challenging in that situation. This would be a much better novice-to-intermediate track rat.

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BMW

Thrilling the 430i is not, but it is certainly durable enough for casual road-course use. The brakes will fade under heavy use but if you can restrict yourself to about 80 percent of maximum application the pedal will stay up. Unfortunately, it’s also necessary to turn off ESC if you’re going to run the car for a long day or two on stock pads and fluid, because otherwise them system will continually clip at the rear brakes and heat the system enough to cause fade.

That’s not a recommendation I like to make, so I’ll replace it with this: Get some track-oriented pads and fluid in the car and then leave the ESC into at least the middle mode. This is a problem we’ve had with other 4-Series cars, most notably the M4 GTS which had a hyperactive ESC system. The good news is that as a safety net it does a more than adequate job.

Eight sessions was enough to take the shoulders off those Continental tires but they would probably be good for at least another weekend before you started endangering the outside tread blocks. It would be better yet to get one of the many stock-wheel takeoff sets from eBay and put on something like Dunlop Direzza Star Specs. Save the Continentals for wet days on public roads, where they are surprisingly good.

At fifty-six grand, this is a lot of money for a four-cylinder BMW of any kind, but it’s good value for what is essentially a daily-driver luxury coupe with trackday or autocross capability in reserve. The true-blue Bimmerheads, the people who read Roundel the day it arrives, should stick with the 230i. It’s the successor to the 228i, which was our favorite 2-Series in a comparison test. The people whose business cards say “Angel Investor” should go straight to the upper-echelon 6-Series.

Drivers who have 6-Series taste on a 4-Series budget, on the other hand, will find this car is just the ticket. If BMW is Fleetwood Mac, then this 430i is their Mirage album, and for the same reason: after four decades of rock, this coupe is now strictly adult contemporary.

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