2021 Lexus RC350 F Sport AWD vs. 2021 BMW 430i xDrive Coupe vs. 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe: Which is the most fun for 60 grand?
This week: BMW 430i xDrive Coupe
Price: $61,220 as tested. Wireless charging added $500. Much more mentioned below.
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver notes a “controversial new design,” “overachieving engines,” and “$13,000 price premium may turn off some buyers” for the 3.0-liter six.
Marketer’s pitch: “A cutting edge coupe.”
Reality: It’s more like a Lexus, and I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.
What’s new: The 4 Series coupe is all new for 2021. It’s the second generation of the model first unveiled in 2014. Now it’s longer with a great big grille up front.
The 430 is a low-slung, sporty two-door coupe, and from the get-go feels a lot like the RCs Lexus has sent to me again and again, hence the comparison.
The 4 Series also comes in sedan and convertible form.
Up to speed: At first, the 2.0-liter Twin Power turbo power train didn’t feel particularly fast. There’s a slight delay when the accelerator is smashed, but the 255 horses more than make up for that. Speeds of 70, 80, even near 100 came far more quickly than that initial hiccup might have led Mr. Driver’s Seat to believe.
It took a couple days of driving to feel the full performance of the 430. BMW reports the xDrive version tested gets to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds, and that’s credible. An M440 version with a 3.0-liter six shaves a second off that time, but this is still plenty of car.
Note that the BMW has 55 fewer horses than the Lexus but still beats its 0-60 time by 0.7 seconds, yet their curb weights are roughly the same (around 3,700 pounds).
Shifty: BMW’s 8-speed Sport Auto transmission remains a delight. Shifting has just the right feel, paddles add another method, and automatic mode also works just fine. There’s not a lot of downshifting help in Sport mode, but I’ll take that over cars that grab back the shifting again and again.
On the road: The M Sport Package ($3,800) adds variable sport steering, and the Dynamic Handling Package ($2,450) certainly played a part, but whatever the cause, the 430i’s handling was dreamy. This also took a few days for me come to terms with, but a few rides in the country showed me how the car just held to the road like any sports car worth its weight. (Adaptive M suspension for $700 also helped with this, I’m sure.)
Driver’s Seat: The M Sport Package also adds SensaTec seating, and the seats were remarkably comfy, not too snug, not too steep. The Premium Package ($2,300) heated the front seats and steering wheel, added lumbar support and more.
Friends and stuff: One look at the car and it’s clear that the 430i is not meant for a large family or group of friends.
But the rear seat beats the Lexus RC on all counts. Legroom is good, and although foot room and headroom are snug, sitting can happen without contortion.
The trunk offers 12 cubic feet of space, 20% more than the Lexus, and while the seats don’t fold, a pass-through armrest helps with the skis, hockey sticks or, in the case of Mr. UnSporty Driver’s Seat, shepherd hooks (for the bird feeders, not for my role in the Christmas play).
Play some tunes: One way a BMW is definitely better than a Lexus is when it’s time to change a song or find a path: No touch pad to mess with, just a nice familiar dial that’s easy to manage, coupled with easy-to-read screens that make getting around a breeze.
The Harman Kardon surround sound ($875) is pretty good, maybe an A-, but the Lexus beats it on this score. The BMW equalizer requires some complex tuning to get just the right sound. The Lexus is instant symphony.
Keeping warm and cool: The HVAC has nothing on the infotainment controls, though they’re not a real problem. A row of buttons manages things, and temperature adjustment seem difficult to find at first. Eventually it all becomes reasonably clear, but a few dials would be so much more user-friendly.
Night shift: LED headlights have been giving me fits in some cars recently, but the 430i’s seemed to cast plenty of light. Still rides a little low but I didn’t feel blinded when I had to lower the high beams. The cornering lights probably help, because I find cornering in a car with LED headlights can probably be the biggest challenge.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 18 mpg in the usual array of police-disapproved driving.
Where it’s built: Dingolfing, Germany
How it’s built: The 2019 4 Series achieved a 5 out of 5 reliability rating from Consumer Reports, but no updates have been made since then.
In the end: The 4 Series Coupe offers great performance and a little more space than the RC 350.
Next week: The Corvette Stingray. A whole lot more fun, right?