The Ford Mustang and BMW 4-Series don’t appear to have much in common, at least not at first glance. They go at it from opposite ends of the enthusiast landscape: The Mustang is the quintessential pony car—an American icon by almost any definition—while the BMW 4-Series is a luxury coupe that builds on decades of finely groomed performance pedigree, and the 3-Series sport sedans.
On the other hand, they are both rear-wheel-drive coupes that have been tuned—to varying degrees, depending on the exact build—for performance capability and a satisfying driving experience, all while offering up good long-distance touring comfort and some daily-driving practicality. (They also amp up the power with M4 and Shelby editions, but it’s the daily-driver cars we’re comparing here.)
Which one should you buy? The ratings might shock you. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Both models are nearly identical in overall width and height and within a few inches in overall length. Even their profiles have become quite close in silhouette—especially with the introduction of a somewhat more modern, sculpted, organic look for the Ford Mustang, which was completely redesigned this past year. Although it’s fair to say that the Mustang remains more boisterous and brash inside and out.
The BMW 4-Series is a relatively new model, too—although it’s not a new segment for BMW whatsoever. The 428i and 435i Coupe and Convertible models both took the place of similarly badged 3-Series (328i and 335i) models in 2015, as BMW has pushed its coupes and convertibles onto a separate 4-Series model line (still related to the 3-Series, but different in some key performance areas).
The 4-Series lineup offers a choice between 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder models, both turbocharged and direct-injected. The 428i uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder to generate 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, while the familiar 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 makes 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. Both of these models are offered in Coupe or Convertible form, with either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic for the 435i but only automatic for the 428i; Coupe versions can be had in xDrive (all-wheel-drive) form, too, which with a set of snow tires may make them pretty good all-season picks.
The Mustang, on the other hand, is more of a traditional performance car in its top Mustang GT guise; that’s where a 435-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 rumbles under the hood, mated to 6-speed manual or automatic transmissions, and at its best with a Performance Pack that wraps in a limited-slip rear end, summer performance tires, Brembo brakes, and extra body bracing. There’s launch control, too, and you can get a line lock for smoky burnouts and drag nights.
The turbo 4-cylinder version of the Mustang makes 310 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, and is offered with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. It offers a different personality entirely.
Both in GT form and in its 4-cylinder guise, the Mustang gallops past some of its rough-around-the-edges pony-car template and becomes a much more refined vehicle this time around. These cars handle extremely well; the Mustang especially has come a long way with last year’s redesign and its translation to more modern suspension-tuning expectations and a rear independent suspension. Rough pavement no longer leaves the Mustang feeling out of sorts, and it’s far more confidence-inspiring in the corners. We also appreciate the Mustang’s light, precise steering—and probably prefer it to the electric power steering in the 4-Series, which remains confoundingly numb.
Both models are essentially 2+2s and offer roughly the same amount of interior space. The Mustang Coupe and 4-Series Coupe both offer small back seats that work for adults for short stints yet are a bit too small for regular duty. The Mustang Convertible now has a top that lowers twice as quickly as before and preserves more of the racy profile, while the 4-Series, also with a soft top, is a step ahead in comfort (as it should be for the price) with a standard wind blocker and three-temperature neck warmers.
The BMW 4-Series lineup, of course, offers some features you won’t find in the Mustang—like a head-up display, and an iDrive infotainment system that matches up well against the Sync 3 system in the Mustang. However, the Mustang surprises here, too, with active-safety options like adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings, and blind-spot monitors all on the menu.
This is an unusual comparison, and as for which one you’re gravitating more toward: much of it depends on image. It’s worth considering what we’d call the charm factor. The Mustang, especially in GT form, with its raucous V-8 engine and classic pony-car style, is oozing with look-at-me charm. The 4-Series, on the other hand, is an understated, more grown-up luxury coupe to the uninitiated, in some of its forms—yet one with some brilliant handling reflexes, refined powertrains, and performance capabilities engineered in.
Price-wise there’s a vast difference. The Ford Mustang starts in the mid-$20,000s. You can grab a top-of-the-line GT Premium model, with its 435-horsepower V-8, and add the Performance Pack and its various additional performance upgrades, and still be under the $40k mark. On the other hand, the 4-Series doesn’t get any lower than about $43,000—and then, we think, you’d be challenged to find one completely options-free.
When shopping for a performance-oriented coupe, you can’t always assume that a higher price tag will put a bigger smile on your face. We give the BMW 4-Series lineup a higher rating because, within its own class, it manages a combination or grace, athleticism, and tech content that’s altogether unparalleled. But if you give value a little extra weight, as we tend to do here at The Car Connection, you could argue that Ford the Mustang is the champ of this comparison.