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(AP) - Officials at German automaker BMW did a fine job differentiating their new-for-2014 smallish coupe from last year's 3-Series coupe.
The new, rear-wheel drive, two-door BMW is wider, longer and lower than its predecessor; it's attractively styled and has great handling dynamics and a new name: The 4-Series.
Better yet, a twin-scroll turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that's in the base 2014 428i Coupe earned a 28 percent higher federal government fuel economy rating in city driving than last year's 328i Coupe that had a six-cylinder powerplant. This translates into a 23-miles-per-gallon city driving mileage rating vs. last year's 18-mpg rating in city driving for a comparable 3-Series Coupe.
Yet, both this year's turbo four and last year's six cylinder generate a maximum 240 horsepower.
Highway fuel economy in the new 428i Coupe is rated even higher _ 35 mpg compared with last year's 328i Coupe that rated only 28 mpg on highway cruises.
But BMW's 4-Series Coupe, which the company describes as mid-size but the federal government classifies as a subcompact, isn't low-priced.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $41,425 for a base, 428i Coupe with the 240-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder. Buyers can choose between an eight-speed automatic transmission and six-speed manual, with no price differential.
The 4-Series Coupe also is offered with BMW's xDrive, or all-wheel drive system. Retail prices for a 2014 428i with xDrive start at $43,425. A more powerful engine _ a 300-horsepower, twin-turbo six cylinder _ also is offered in the 4-Series Coupe. Starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a rear-wheel drive 435i Coupe is $46,925.
Likely vehicles to be cross-shopped against the new 4-Series are other European sport, luxury coupes.
For example, the 2014 Audi A5 Coupe has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $39,895 with 220-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and six-speed manual transmission. The base 2014 A5 Coupe with eight-speed, automatic transmission starts at $41,095.
Meantime, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $39,125 with 201-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and seven-speed automatic transmission.
The BMW 3-Series line, by the way, continues with its sedan, wagon and Gran Turismo models.
The 4-Series Coupe that was the tester was a 428i model with base engine that surprised because of its well-managed, smoothly delivered power. Some passengers didn't notice the engine was a turbo, because there was nary any turbo lag and the power response was strong but not uncontrolled.
The 428i was as easy to drive sedately as it was to drive aggressively.
Engine sounds were sporty and mature, not cheap, boy-racer type. Torque peaks at 255 foot-pounds and is available at a low 1,250 rpm all the way to 4,800 rpm for pleasing responsiveness and power in a range of driving situations.
But, drivers will need to keep a close eye on the speedometer since driver can underestimate how fast the 4-Series is traveling.
Fuel mileage isn't exaggerated by the federal government, judging by the test car results. Without babying the 428i Coupe at all, the tester averaged 26 mpg in city and highway travel, which is just shy of the federal government's combined rating of 27 mpg.
This is good, since the required fuel is premium unleaded, and the cost, at today's gasoline prices, for filling the 4-Series' 15.8-gallon tank would be $57. As a result, the mileage range for the tester on a single tank was a decent 426 miles.
At, 3,470 pounds, the 428i felt lighter in weight than most other BMWs. But it still felt solid and precisely constructed. Doors closed with a quality thud, and the large side windows on the long doors immediately slid up the final fraction of an inch and snugged into the weather stripping to reduce wind noise.
Confident and strong engine sounds during acceleration came into the passenger compartment, and road noise from the M Sport package 18-inch performance tires was heard, too.
Still, the effect was more to give the driver auditory cues about the car's performance than to aggravate or annoy, and there was still a palpable sense of luxury in the 428i.
And this was despite the fact the car didn't have leather seating. It came with BMW's Sensa Tec upholstery that looks like textured leather and feels like a durable, rather than soft and pliable, kind of leather. But Sensa Tec did feel colder to the skin on cold mornings than leather might and seemed to take longer to warm up under a warm body.
No matter. The real pleasure was the driving the 428i Coupe.
The car harkens back to earlier BMW 3-Series models that focused less on iDrive and electronics and more on the sheer pleasure of a car's performance and balance. BMW officials acknowledge the 4-Series has the lowest center of gravity of any current BMW. This low-to-the-road position makes the car very stable.
So does the terrific 50-50 front-back weight balance. It was evident in how tenaciously the test car held its line in mountain curves and handled slalom maneuvers.
Combined with the optional, adaptive M Sport suspension and optional BMW variable sport steering that required just the right amount of steering effort, the stable and balanced character of the test car brought smiles.
Drivers accustomed to higher ride heights may fuss that they sit low enough to stare at pickup truck bumpers, however, and can't see around traffic. It also can be difficult to fit tall passengers in the two back seats because headroom is sufficient for someone only 5-feet-4 inches tall.
Additionally, items going into the trunk must be sandwiched through an opening that is narrow, from top to bottom.
Note: BMW recently revealed a convertible version of the 4-Series.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)