None of that would be communicated effectively if the steering mechanism itself weren’t just right, and Fröhlich was especially keen to avoid duplicating the 3 Series’ relatively mute on-center feel. The overall ratio is fairly similar—15:1 in the 4 Series, 15.1:1 in the 3—but the ratio increases more rapidly as the 4 Series’ wheel moves away from center, becoming a stout 10:1 at maximum lock. That may sound fairly high, but it’s right in line with the ratios used during the E36 era, and on the late-production E46 M3 with Competition Package.
As far as the type of information that the wheel delivers, it’s far better than that of the 3 Series, yet it’s somewhat muted compared to what comes through the chassis itself. Drive over a series of lane-departure ridges, for instance, and you’ll feel them more sharply through the floor than you will through the steering wheel. That’s because the electric power steering system can be tuned to filter not just the volume of information but the quality. It does so by damping certain frequencies, in particular those at the higher end of the spectrum that fail to add much information about available traction and merely increase driver discomfort over rough surfaces like roads that are being repaved.
On the street, the 4 Series’ steering felt just about right. It wasn’t as good as that of a new Porsche Boxster, the current feel leader with electric steering assist, but it did feel on par with that of a Porsche 911, which in an unusual twist is actually inferior to the Boxster in its current generation. Compared to the 3 Series, the 4 felt like heaven.
Even more impressive, however, was its nimble handling. On the twisty back roads of our test route, the car felt lighter and more agile than its 3,610-lb. curb weight would suggest…although we’ll admit that our sense of vehicle weight is somewhat skewed by having driven so many that top 4,000 lbs. lately.
In the case of vehicle mass, however, where matters more than how much. In the fore and aft direction, the 435i places 52.1% of its weight over the front axle and 47.9% over the rear, which isn’t quite the perfect 50/50 that BMW shoots for but is certainly close enough. Even more important, we can sense that most of that mass is concentrated well toward the center of the vehicle, where its effect on handling is minimized; for turning agility, nothing beats a low-slung mid-engine car, and the closer you can get to that ideal the better. We’ve already determined that the 4 Series trumps all other BMWs where center of gravity is concerned, and we suspect that it also sets the standard for center of mass. We can’t quantify that impression, but we can feel it.
Weight at a vehicle’s perimeter acts like a pendulum when the vehicle changes direction, and changing direction more than once in quick succession forces a delay until that weight stops moving and the car takes a set. There’s very little waiting in the 435i, something that becomes even more noticeable when we leave the public roads around Lisbon for a few laps of the small but superbly fun Estoril circuit.