(Editor’s note: While this article is not part of our summer road trip series for July, it does involve a road trip. Journal East Coast editor Andy Reid drove from Connecticut to Cincinnati and back to cover the concours d’elegance at Ault Park, so this report is basically a Driven article. But there’s a lot of road trip in it, so it provides us another opportunity to remind you of that series and to let you know that we are eager to share your stories about summer road trips you’ve done — with family, in a classic car, perhaps in a classic car when it was just the family cruiser. Please submit your stories and a few photos from your trip to [email protected].)
The loan from BMW of a new 430i convertible press-fleet car coincided with my trip to the Cincinnati Concours d’ Elegance at Ault Park, so I was able to do a twofer — a test drive and a road trip. Fun for me and a good test for the vehicle.
I have to say that I am not one of those who think that the new grille is a monstrosity. Yes, it is somewhat extreme to some, but if BMW is targeting a younger audience, I have it they pretty much nailed it as younger folks said again and again how much they loved the new look.
Beyond that subject, this design is quite elegant, especially from the side and rear. It also looks good with the soft top in the up position, something that many automakers have yet to accomplish.
The interior is a wonderful place with logical controls, supremely comfortable seats, and exceptional attention to detail spent on the leather and soft-touch plastics. Also, this current version of iDrive is easy to use and intuitive. The car I was driving was optioned with Vernasca leather in what BMW cals Tacora Red, which offered a wonderful contrast with the Mineral White Metallic exterior paint. The quality of the leather was very Jaguaresque, meaning in Andyspeak “of the finest quality.”
Loading the car with 4-day’s worth of luggage, camera gear, and laptop bag at first deemed a bit difficult, until I realized that the flap in the trunk flipped up. I then saw just how cavernous the trunk was with the top up. With the top up the 430i has to be one of the largest trunks available of any car in this class of luxo but affordable drop tops and seems to go on forever, swallowing just about any luggage you might have. Yes, even a Louis Vitton Steamer trunk should fit nicely should you have one. When the top is retracted you lose a fair amount of space, but are still left with plenty of room for what’s needed for a weekend trip for two.
I left for the trip to Cincinnati at 4:30 p.m. on a Thursday with a stop planned a few hours out of the Hartford area in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
On the road the car was superb, quick and capable of some impressive high-speed runs. The handling was excellent and for a convertible the car felt as solid as a coupe. In addition, on the interstate with the top up the 430i was remarkably quiet for a convertible. If I have one complaint about the 430i it is that the engine sound is not even close to a BMW inline 6. It has plenty of power but the turbo 4 just lacks any drama or excitement familiar to those who have driven BMW’s straight-6.
I arrived in Scranton at dusk and on the way to my hotel went scouting for dinner. If you live in Scranton I apologize, but I found it to be a place with few restaurants outside of 15 pizza joints, at least near my Marriott Fairfield Inn, so ended up at Wendy’s for a Baconator. The burger was just OK, but with few other options I made do.
The next morning, I loaded the 430i and headed for Cincinnati. Again, the car was great on the interstate and the traffic avoidance system in the on-board navigation system beat the Waze app in avoiding a major road closure outside Dayton. This is the first time that any car companies on board navigation has done better than Waze and BMW deserves serious credit for a truly great system. I will add that I still used Waze in the background to look for Police Hats on the route as the BMW system does not yet have such a feature.
I arrived in Cincinnati and my first stop was Eric Keller’s Enthusiast Auto Group or EAG as it is known to BMW fans. If you do not know who EAG are and love BMW cars you owe it to yourself to check out the site at http://enthusiastauto.com/ or, better yet, set up a visit. In a nutshell, if you are looking for the world’s greatest example of a rare new or older BMW M car, this is your one-stop destination. Think Z4 M Coupes with 4,500 miles, an M1 or a E30 M3 Evo in completely original condition. You name the BMW M car and it’s there. EAG also services and reconditions these legendary cars and has an extensive rare-parts department.
After spending a few hours seeing the shop and eating a delicious dinner of Mexican food, Keller and I horsed around with 430i, keller agreeing that an inline-6 or V8 was needed under the hood (Eric is an M car snob this was not at all surprising).
The next day the 430i and I headed to Dayton to finally see the US Air Force Museum. This is a museum I have always wanted to see and have passed by a number of times on the way to other places.
After driving through a swarm of Cicadas requiring me to pull off the interstate and clean the windshield, I finally arrived at the museum. Now I have been to many air museums across the country and the sheer size of the museum in Dayton is impossible to imagine until you get there. Even from the outside the huge building appears smaller than it is.
Go inside the four hangers and you see just how many aircraft are inside of each and realize that it is a trick of the eye and brain that make it seem not that huge on the outside. These hangars have to be at least the size of an old airship hangar; hanger 3 houses more than 50 aircraft including a B-36 Peacemaker, the largest U.S. bomber ever constructed, a Boeing B-50 Superfortress, a SR-71, F101 thru F106 fighters, a B-58 Hustler, and a B-2 stealth bomber among them.
If you have seen any of these planes in person, the fact that the planes were all nicely spaced gives you an idea as to the sheer size of the place, especially considering there are more than 40 other planes in that single hangar.
I only had 3 hours to spend at the museum due to having to get back to Cincinnati in time for the Concours Hangar Party where I was showing the 430i. This was a shame as even after 3 hours at the museum I only really got an overview of what was there. If you are a fan of military aircraft and spacecraft, you should consider it a must-see museum as it is unparalleled in its exhibits. Plan on at least spending a day there.
On the way back to Cinci I stopped at Frisch’s Big Boy for, of course, a Big Boy burger. The restaurant was a 1950s throwback offering excellent service and a tasty burger that reminded me of my childhood. I sadly had to forego their famous hot fudge ice cream cake due to being absolutely stuffed and knowing that the dinner at the hangar party was only a few hours away.
Back to Cincinnati, I immediately sought out a car wash to finish dealing with the Cicada remains. I was greeted by a sign at the car wash that said it was Cicada crunch time, something that I already knew. To reinforce that, there was a sign over the entrance: Bugs Eat Cars. Again, as the picture of the sign thru my windshield with many bug hits shows, I was aware of that. After two times thru the car wash the remains were gone.
I joined a caravan of BMW cars going fro EAG to the hangar party. The caravan included a number of rare BMW M cars, including an M1. I felt that with the 430i I might be a little overmatched for the party, but it seemed to fit right in.
The hangar party at the Cincinnati concours has to be one of the most enjoyable of such events. At this party you are surrounded by amazing cars and aircraft, from WW2-era planes to the newest Honda Jets. The display is not too crowded, there is more food than you can possibly eat, and enough tables so that everyone how attends has a way to eat their dinner in a civilized manner and not while standing.
After the party I headed back to the hotel, finding a parking spot right next to a stunning classic BMW 3.0 CSI, a perfect end to the long day and evening.
The next morning found me at the 7 a.m. judges meeting, followed by judging in the concours’ open-wheel racing class. Our winner for best of class was a 1991 Lola T9100-20.
Every class was filled with exceptional cars and this concours is one you should if able plan on attending next year.
After photographing the best of show winners — the 1961 Chaparral 1 owned by Bruce Amster in the sports/racing class and, in the road/full classics category, a 1929 Duesenberg Model J-118 by Bowman and Schwartz, restored by Manns Restoration — I got back to the hotel, jumped into the 430i and quickly headed back to Connecticut, where BMW was picking up the car the next day.
As I drove the car, I was again struck with the versatility of the 430i convertible. Over the weekend it handled interstates, traveling at a good clip, with all the refinement, poise, and comfort you expect from a top-tier GT car. It is surprising how soon you forget behind the wheel that you are driving a convertible. Even passing Harleys with very loud pipes does not disturb the serenity of the car’s cockpit.
I decided to drive a stint with the top down and was again surprised at how civilized the car was at highway speeds with the top lowered and the wind blocker in place. I was able to have phone conversations along the way and everyone I spoke to was amazed at the sound quality of the onboard Bluetooth with the top down, even when traveling at quite high speeds.
The word that comes to mind is civilized. The 430i is definitely that. Adding to that civilized feeling is the little valet arm that hands you the seat belt. Like the one in the 1980s Mercedes-Benz SEC coupe, this was a nice feature that surprises you and then becomes something you get used to.
Another very civilized feature is one I found by mistake. There is a button on the center console that has a pictogram of a seat with wavy likes coming from it. Since I knew where the heated seat button was, and this wasn’t it, I pushed this to see what it would do. BMW call this a neck warmer and what it does is to blow warm air on your neck. This was perfect as it cooled off after the sun set and the top still down. Civilized indeed.
The other surprising part was just how well this drop top handled while being spiritedly driven on twisty back roads. If you did not have the top down you would never guess it was a convertible, the chassis is just that great. The true test was when I was following the EAG group to the hangar party. We were moving quite quickly on very challenging roads at a very quick pace and the 430i was easily and effortlessly capable of keeping up with the 6 M cars it was following which I never expected it to be able to do.
As it grew darker I started to look for food spots and the BMW navigation suggested I might want a break after 5 hours behind the week and asked me what I wanted. I chose restaurants and the iDrive recommended the Plaza Restaurant at the Emelenton Truck Stop in Emelenton, Pennsylvania. I figured why not, and it was only 2 exits away.
The truck stop was a throwback to the 1970s, with many cheesy and awesome items in their gift shop, trucker supplies, food, drinks, books, magazine, clothing, you name it. The Plaza Restaurant which was part of the truck stop was simply amazing. I had a NY strip steak dinner with all the fixings for less than $20. It was also delicious, and the servers were both friendly and attentive. Thank you, BMW Nav, for the great food recommendation.
A few hours later I stopped for the night at another Marriott Fairfield Inn for the night only 240 miles from home.
Monday morning, I got up at 6 and quickly headed down the road to get back to Connecticut. My last fast-food lunch stop was as much of a throwback restaurant as the Plaza, a brand-new Roy Rogers restaurant at the PA/NJ border. I had a terrific how roast beef sandwich and then drove the rest of the way home without issue.
After spending 5 days behind the wheel I came away pretty impressed with the car. As a GT car it is a tremendous platform and with the 2.0 liter turbo engine offered good performance and delivered highway fuel economy in the mid-30s and in the mid-20s in the city. Keep in mind that is not driving the car in a economy way for much of the trip.
The interior is very well finished, the build quality is excellent, the technology is well integrated and intuitive, and the audio system is fantastic. I do miss the sound and feeling of a BMW inline 6 but this had nothing to do with a lack of performance but more of a personal preference of me missing the feel and unmistakable sound of the bigger BMW engine.
The 430i convertible is perfect for those wanting a sporting car that can carry 2 on an extended trip or 4 in a pinch. The car is as good at the country club as it is on a cross country road trip.
Now for the elephant in the room, the front-end styling. It is not my favorite piece of BMW styling, but the reaction of younger people was just the opposite. People from their teens to their late 20s simply loved the car, so maybe BMW is on to something with the next generation of buyers.
With that said the 430i is a truly excellent convertible that has presence, is fun to drive, and eminently usable.
2021 BMW 430i Convertible
Vehicle type: 4-passenger convertible, rear-wheel drive
Base price: $53,100 Price as tested: $67,220
Engine: Twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4, 255 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm, 295 lb-ft of torque @ 1,550 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches Overall length/width: 187.9 inches / 72.9 inches
Curb weight: 3,918 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 24 city / 33 highway / 27 combined
Assembled in: Germany