BMW 4 series VS Lotus Exige
BMW 4 series
- 'Old' multimedia system is still great
- Superb engine-transmission combo
- Sublime ride and handling balance
- Limited in-cabin storage options
- Substandard warranty
- New-generation model due soon
- Unassisted, unadulterated steering (at speed)
- Beautiful balance and stiff chassis
- Sheer impracticality
- Heavy steering (at low speeds)
- Getting in and out of it
BMW 4 series
Life comes at you fast, especially in the automotive industry, where model lifecycles are becoming shorter as each new generation comes and goes.
Take the BMW 4 Series for instance. It’s been a segment stalwart since 2013, but the current model’s time in the sun is finally coming to an end a little later this year.
And that got us thinking whether or not the old saying rings true in this context. So, we put the flagship 440i coupe to test to find out if the older you get, the wiser you are.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Driving naked is ill-advised, and possibly illegal, but taking a spin in the Lotus Exige 350 Sport is as close as you'd ever want to get. It's not so much that you feel you've left your clothes at home, but that the car has shed its accoutrements, and indeed its very flesh, leaving you with a kind of skeletal vehicle; just bare bones and muscle.
What this punishingly hard and fiercely focused machine does to your bones and flesh is best described as extreme chiropractry - in particular the stress of ingress and egress - but fortunately it makes up for the moans, bangs and bruises by fizzing your adrenal glands in a big way.
The question is whether the fun is worth the suffering, and the $138,782.85 price tag.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW 4 series7.5/10
Is now the right time to buy a 4 Series coupe? With the next-generation model a matter of months away, probably not.
That said, those buyers who decide to park a new ‘old’ 4 Series coupe in their driveway will be very pleased with their purchase.
At the end of the day, the current-generation model is still a cracking sports-luxury coupe, and more so when in 440i form. It’s just that good.
To say the Lotus Exige 350 Sport exists at the very pointy end of motoring is a sharp understatement. It is, in essence, a track car that you’re somehow allowed to drive on the road, which means it's hugely compromised in various ways as a vehicle for day-to-day use, yet it's not really fair to criticise it for those failings, because commuting was never its intended purpose.
While it would obviously shine in its natural environment of a race circuit, the fact is you could also enjoy it enormously between track days if you pointed it at a suitably smooth and winding bit of country blacktop.
The performance, handling, steering and stopping are all fantastic, in the right conditions, and you can see how someone might justify it to themselves as a far cheaper version of a ($327,100) Porsche 911 GT3. The difference being that a Porsche doesn't make you fold yourself up like a pocket knife every time you get in.
The Lotus, then, is a car for the extreme enthusiast, only. And possibly for nudists, too.
Would you put up with the Lotus's hard edges for the thrill rides? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
BMW 4 series7/10
The first-generation 4 Series coupe has aged relatively well, despite sharing most of its design cues with the superseded sixth-generation 3 Series sedan.
Compared to current BMW models, the 4 Series coupe’s signature kidney grille is small, flanked by angry-looking adaptive headlights with hexagonal daytime running lights, all of which are of the LED variety.
The 440i’s standard M Sport body kit adds to the aggressive styling with chunky front bumper with three large air intakes, the outer two of which also contain the LED fog lights.
Around the side, a strong shoulder line stretches from the front wheel arches to beyond their rear counterparts, while BMW’s Air Curtains split the difference between it and the sporty skirts.
The rear end is the 440i’s simplest angle, although its bumper is spruced up with a dark-grey insert and dual exhaust tailpipes. Predictably, L-shaped LED tail-lights punctuate the styling at the rear.
Inside, the 4 Series coupe is holding up well, but it's still clearly a generation behind most other new BMW models.
That said, it’s a throwback we quite like, particularly iDrive6, which is still arguably BMW’s best multimedia system to date. Powering a floating 8.8-inch touchscreen in this instance, it’s just so intuitive, partly thanks to its rotary controller.
An 8.8-inch digital instrument cluster is a late-life addition for the 440i, and while it looks great with its drive mode-specific views, it lacks the breadth of functionality of Audi’s set-up.
The 4 Series coupe’s cabin is otherwise pretty basic despite its apparent emphasis on sportiness, although the selection of luxurious materials used throughout is top-notch.
The entire dashboard, chunky M Sport steering wheel and old-school handbrake lever are trimmed in high-quality leather, while lower-quality Dakota leather covers the sports seats, armrests and door inserts.
Soft-touch plastic is used for the door shoulders and bins, even in the second row, while hard plastic is limited to the centre console, and gloss-black trim is used on the centre stack’s audio and dual-zone climate control surrounds.
The Lotus philosophy is summed by this slightly absurd mission statement: "Simplify, then add lightness". In the words of the great Barnaby Joyce "you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud" to work out that lightness is not something you can 'add', but you get the idea.
Everything about a Lotus is focused on the power-to-weight ratio, and this 350 Sport version takes the Exige to the ultimate degree, weighing in a full 51kg lighter than the S version, at just 1125kg, and with its hefty 3.5-litre supercharged V6 it is capable of lapping the company’s Hethel, UK test circuit a full 2.5 seconds faster.
Lap times, rather than road manners, are what this car is all about, and as such there are no creature comforts of any kind.
The Exige is an eye-catching beast, though, looking a bit like Darth Vader's helmet strapped to a skateboard. Everything about it is a statement of intent, and while the interior is as bare as Barnaby's brain, the gear lever, with its exposed workings and shiny silver knob, is a thing of strange beauty.
BMW 4 series7/10
Measuring 4640mm long, 1825mm wide and 1377mm tall, the 440i coupe is a true mid-sizer, and that means it’s surprisingly practical – for the most part.
Cargo capacity is more than solid, at 445L, but stow the 60/40 split-fold rear bench via a pair of manual latches located in the boot and more storage space is quickly liberated.
To make matters even better, the boot has two bag hooks and four tie-down points, making securing a load a cinch. That said, the high load lip means bulkier items can require a little more effort to accommodate.
Up front, the door bins are large enough for a regular bottle each, while a pair of cupholders separate the gear selector from a seriously shallow storage tray.
The central storage bin is on the shallow side, too, albeit not to the same degree as the dedicated storage tray. That said, much of its space can be taken up by the optional wireless smartphone charger ($200), which was fitted to our test car.
The glovebox tries its best to make up for the lack of genuine in-cabin storage options by being quite large, while storage nets are attached to the backs of the front seats.
Rear occupants can also make use of a large storage tray that resides where a middle seat would otherwise go. They also have access to a fold-down central armrest that incorporates two more cupholders.
Speaking of armrests, the rear side ones are incredibly narrow, leaving tired elbows in a bit of a pickle.
It’s not all bad news in the second row, though, as legroom and toe-room behind our 184cm driving position are very generous, with the former offering several inches of wriggle room.
We’d go as far as to say the rear quarters are comfortable, but that would require ignoring the fact that headroom is seriously compromised with the optional power-operated sunroof ($3000) fitted, with our head pressed firmly against the 440i coupe’s Anthracite roofliner.
Either way, child seats can be fitted in the second row, with ISOFIX anchorage points available for the outer seats. Speaking of which, it’s worth noting ingress and egress to the rear bench isn’t too bad, with the front seats folding forward via manual latches.
Connectivity-wise, two USB-A ports are found in the first row, split between the centre stack and the central storage bin, while three 12V power outlets are spread across the front and rear of the centre console, and the boot.
Both the words 'practical' and 'space' have no place in a road test of this Lotus, so shall we just move on?
Oh, all right. There is no shoulder room to speak of and to change gears you have to fondle your passenger's leg. You're also in danger of breathing into each other’s mouths accidentally, you’re sitting that close.
Speaking of impractical, the door apertures are so small, and the whole car so low, that getting in or out is about as much fun as attempting to hide in a child's suitcase.
Cupholders? Forget it, nor is there anywhere to put your phone. There are two tiny oddment storage holes just near each well-hidden door handle, and a kind of slidey, slick shelf where a glove box might be, on which it’s not safe to leave anything.
Put things on the floor and they will slide under the super low seats and never be seen again.
The Lotus people pointed out a parcel shelf behind the seats, but I think they imagined it, and there is a tiny boot at the rear, behind the engine, which is smaller than some actual boots.
Price and features
BMW 4 series7/10
The 440i coupe is priced from $103,200 plus on-road costs, positioning it as a more affordable alternative to its main rivals, the Audi S5 coupe ($105,400) and Mercedes-AMG C43 coupe ($116,500), although it’s not as fully featured.
Standard equipment not already mentioned in the 440i coupe includes dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels, a mixed set of run-flat tyres (front: 225/40, rear: 255/35) and power-folding side mirrors with heating.
Inside, satellite navigation with live traffic, digital radio, a 600W Harman/Kardon sound system with 16 speakers, a windshield-projected head-up display, keyless entry and start, power-adjustable front seats with heating, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and ambient lighting feature.
The question of 'value' is a tricky one when you’re looking at a $138,782.85 car that’s about as useful in day-to-day life as a matchbox-sized handbag. But you have to consider what people buy a Lotus for, and the answer has absolutely nothing to do with practicality.
A car like this Exige 350 Sport is purely purchased as a toy, a track-day special that you can, in theory, drive to the circuit via public roads. Franky, if I was rich enough to have one I’d still transport it there on the back of a truck.
Relatively speaking, you could have a far more practical and infinitely more comfortable Porsche Cayman for $30K less, but the Lotus is $30K cheaper than the similarly track-focused and brutal ($169,990) KTM X-Bow.
In terms of features, you get four wheels, an engine, a steering wheel, some seats, and that’s about it. You can buy a circa 1993 removable-face two-speaker stereo, which you can't really hear over the engine and road noise, for $1199. Oh, and they do throw in air conditioning, which is also noisy.
Our slick-looking metallic black paint was also $1999, the 'full carpets' another $1099 (expensive floor mats, basically), the Alcantara trim pack $4499, cruise control (really?) $299 and the hilarious optional 'Sound Insulation' $1499 (I think they actually forgot to fit it). All up, our press car’s price climbed to $157,846, which, I have to say, is no one’s idea of good value.
On the plus side, the local Lotus people - Simply Sports Cars - do offer features a buyer would love, like regular Lotus Only Track Days, a chance to take part in the Phillip Island 6 Hour and the Targa High Country event, and various other racy experiences.
Engine & trans
BMW 4 series9/10
The 440i coupe is motivated by a silky smooth 3.0-litre turbo-petrol in-line six-cylinder engine that punches out 240kW of power at 5500rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1380-5000rpm.
An equally silky smooth eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission exclusively sends drive to the rear wheels – a characteristic that has become a rarity in this segment.
This combination helps the 440i coupe sprint from a standstill to 100km/h in a scant five seconds flat with launch control engaged, according to BMW. Its top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.
In the past, Lotus engineers were satisfied with the power they got from tiny four-cylinder Toyota engines, but this Exige 350 Sport is a Very Serious Car and thus has a relatively whopping 3.5-litre, supercharged V6 shoehorned into its backside, which makes 258kW and 400Nm, and that's enough to fire this tiny machine from 0-100km/h in just 3.9 seconds, although it feels, and sounds, a lot faster.
The six-speed gearbox feels like it's been stolen from an old racing car and is an absolute joy to snick shift at speed.
BMW 4 series8/10
The 440i coupe will drink a claimed 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, while its carbon dioxide emissions are 159 grams per kilometre.
Our week of testing skewed towards city driving over highway stints, and we averaged 8.6L/100km, which is impressive given the six-cylinder performance on offer. And yes, we did put it to use...
The 440i coupe's 60L fuel tank takes 95RON petrol at minimum.
BMW 4 series8/10
The 440i coupe toe the line between sports car and luxury vehicle very, very well.
The straight-line performance is definitely there thanks to its in-line six-cylinder unit, which is one of our favourite engines in any vehicle – period.
From top to bottom, the 3.0-litre unit is absolutely delicious. Maximum torque kicks in just above idle and remains on tap deep into the top end, at which point a fleeting moment of peak power is just 500rpm away. Needless to say, acceleration is strong.
Remarkably, the engine’s twin-scroll turbo exhibits next to no lag, making for a unit that you truly want to wring out. That said, don’t expect aural pleasure when you do so, as the sound it generates is lacklustre. Yep, no enticing crackles or pops are heard here.
The automatic transmission ties everything together beautifully, providing timely, quick and smooth gear changes on the regular, even without its Sport mode engaged. And, of course, there are paddle-shifters on hand if you want to take matters into your own hands – literally.
Given the 440i coupe’s apparent performance bent, you’d be forgiven for thinking it rides like an unforgiving sports car. Well, the good news is it doesn’t.
While potholes and coarse-chip roads would usually be met with hesitation, the 440i coupe silences the doubters with its composed ride. Can you feel them? Yes, but they’re relatively muted, especially in a car with sporty aspirations, like this one.
Simply put, the 440i coupe loves a twisty stretch of road, where its M Sport brakes (front: four-piston fixed callipers, rear: two-pot floating stoppers) and traditional rear-wheel-drive dynamics come out to play.
This experience is enhanced by its superb electric power steering, which is speed-sensitive, meaning it’s quick at low speed, for improved manoeuvrability, and ‘slow’ at high speed, for improved stability.
We absolutely adore this particular system, mainly because of its perfect weighting and surprising amount of feel. And in a surprise to no-one, it also turns in really well, too.
Of course, if you want to take the 440i coupe’s handling to the next level, you can engage its Sport drive mode, which stiffens up the adaptive dampers for even flatter cornering and adds more heft to the electric power steering. But we’d say both are unnecessary.
It's rare to find a car that is such an improbable mix of furious fun and infuriating annoyance. The Lotus is rattly, noisy, hugely firm to the point of punishing, with seats that offer encouragement but not support.
It is the opposite of comfortable and so hard to see out of that driving it around town, in any sort of traffic, feels borderline dangerous. There’s also the distinct sensation that you’re so low and so little that all those people in their SUVs won't see you.
Throw in the fact that it's so painfully, stupidly difficult to get in and out of and it's definitely not the sort of car you take if you're heading to the shops. I got so sick of its hard-edged annoyances at one stage that I became too grumpy to even take people for joy rides in it. I just couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, but then an inner-city suburb with high kerbs and even higher speed humps is not the Exige's natural environment.
Making it even more of a challenge around town, at low speeds or in parking situations is the steering, which isn't so much heavy as wilfully obtuse. Doing a three-point turn is the equivalent of 20 minutes of bench pressing your own body weight. At least.
Out on a winding bit of country road, however, the steering becomes one of the best things about the car, because its pure, unassisted weighting feels so alive in your hands. There’s a sense of actually wrestling, or finessing it around corners that makes you feel a bit Ayrton Senna.
Indeed, the whole car comes alive, and starts to make some kind of sense, once you're on a smooth, perfect piece of tarmac. It is fast, noisy, thrilling, utterly and overtly involving, stiff of chassis and firm of ride, with brakes capable of pulling you up with indecent haste. It’s also, thanks to its low centre of gravity and mid-engined layout, beautifully balanced.
The gearbox is a thrill a minute, as is the engine, particularly once you explore the upper rev ranges, at which point the scenery really does become a scary blur out the ridiculously small windscreen.
Sure, you can't see anything behind you other than the engine, but what a lovely sight that is, and nothing is going to catch you anyway.
It does feel edgy, of course, and sharp, and it’s not as easy or refined to drive as some cheaper sports cars; an MX-5 makes for a far more pleasant companion. But this is an extreme Exige, a machine built by and for genuine enthusiasts.
And, above all, for the sort of people who will take it to a race track, which is where it both looks and feels completely at home.
Unfortunately, on public roads, it would be annoying more often than it would be thrilling, but the truly hardcore Lotus aficionados would never admit such a thing.
BMW 4 series7/10
Advanced driver-assist systems in the 440i coupe extend to low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, a manual speed limiter, speed-sign recognition, high-beam assist, park assist, surround-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, hill-start assist and tyre pressure monitoring.
Other standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), electronic stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes (ABS) and brake assist, among others.
That said, high-speed AEB, lane-keep assist and rear cross-traffic alert are among the notable exclusions.
Neither ANCAP nor its European sibling, Euro NCAP, have awarded the 4 Series a safety rating yet.
Unsurprisingly, considering it will sell fewer than 100 cars in Australia, Lotus has not had the Exige ADR crash tested, so there's no star rating. You do get two airbags, passenger and driver, as well as ABS, 'Hydraulic Brake Assist', 'Lotus Dynamic Performance Management', driver-selectable ESP with three modes, cornering brake control and EBD.
BMW 4 series7/10
As with all BMW models, the 4 Series comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with three years of roadside assistance, both of which are two years short of the premium standard now set by Mercedes-Benz.
The 440i coupe’s service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Owners can opt for a $1650 five-year/80,000km capped-price servicing plan, which is well-priced.