2013 BMW Gran Coupe: Bigger Beemer makes the cut

2013 BMW Gran Coupe: Bigger Beemer makes the cut
2013 BMW 650i xDrive Gran Coupe. (Jim Kenzie)
Jim Kenzie
By Jim Kenzie
Posted on June 1st, 2012
1 Comments

In the literal translation from the French, “coupé” means “cut,” as in “chopped off.”

In automotive parlance, it usually refers to a four-door car which has been “coupé-ed” — chopped off, or shortened to a two-door.

As compensation for the reduced functionality, coupe buyers typically get sportier styling and lighter weight, hence better performance.

Then there’s BMW’s Gran Coupé.

In a case of mixed foreign languages, “gran” in various Latin tongues means “large” or “great.” If “large” and “chopped off” sounds like a contradiction in terms, you may be getting close to understanding this car. Because while the Gran Coupé is based on the 6 Series Coupe, it actually has four doors.

It arrives in Canadian BMW stores this fall, in twin-turbo V8 four-wheel drive guise only (dubbed “650i xDrive” in BMW’s increasingly meaningless nomenclature).

Canadian pricing has not yet been announced, but we can draw some clues from the U.S. Down there, the 650i xDrive Gran Coupé ($90,395) is $4,395 more than the two-door 650i xDrive ($86,000).

In Canada; the 650i xDrive Coupe (the two-door, remember?) starts at $101,500. There better be some serious equipment differences to justify the outrageous $15,500 difference to the U.S. price.

So expect our 650i xDrive Gran Coupé to be in the $106,000 neighbourhood.

BMW isn’t alone doing a four-door coupé, of course, which probably explains the reason for its existence. BMW refers to the Porsche Panamera and even Aston Martin Virage as possible competition, but the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Audi A7 are closer in configuration, in intent, and — I’m sure — to alternatives this buyer will consider.

Not to mention from within the same showroom, the 5 and 7 Series sedans offer virtually identical mechanical packages in more sedate body styles.

The Gran Coupé wheelbase has been stretched 113 mm (4.3 inches) to accommodate the rear doors; as you’d expect, the extra space is dedicated to the rear seat riders. They’re not as well-accommodated as in the 7 Series sedan, but they’re considerably better off than in the regular 6 coupe.

If “coupé” implies better styling, well, no argument here — this thing is gorgeous, from any angle.

Now, what about that lighter weight?

Not so you’d notice.

It doesn’t just tip the scales, it crushes them, weighing in at 2,089 kg, some 150 kg more than the most-comparable Mercedes-Benz CLS.

BMW toyed with aluminum in the previous-generation 5 Series; its light-alloy front end was supposed to reduce overall weight and improve weight distribution.

But apparently it was too costly. And, the engineers have found a way to get the weight balance close enough to the optimum 50/50 using steel.

That said, the doors, hood and various suspension bits are aluminum, and the front fenders and trunk lid are reinforced composite.

But 2,089 kg? 4,605 pounds?

Yikes.

If you can follow BMW’s ever-changing numbering system, the last two digits of the model number no longer refer to the engine size in litres. So 650 means 6 series with a 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8.

The newly-added Valvetronic valve opening system bumps power from 400 to 445 horses, and peak torque from 449 to 480 lb.-ft., anywhere between 2,000 and 4,500 r.p.m.

Canadian fuel consumption numbers aren’t in yet, but the European combined cycle number of 8.6 l/100 km suggests this is a pretty efficient big, fast car.

A significant component of this number can probably be attributed to the stop/start feature, which shuts the engine off at idle, and to the eight-speed automatic transmission, which really allows the engine to loaf along at cruising speeds.

Rear-wheel drive is offered in most other markets, as are 3.0 litre turbo six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. The U.S. will have a 640i, 640i xDrive and the same 650i xDrive that we’ll get.

No diesels, of course. If the Americans don’t want it, we can’t have it.

Because we Canadians were part of a U.S. media program and the only model currently for sale down there is the rear-drive 640i, my driving impressions won’t be 100 per cent accurate for the Canadian model. But they should be close enough.

If the objectives for reducing weight — for car and driver alike — are better performance and efficiency, you’d have to say that the Gran Coupé does a decent job despite its mass: 0-100 km/h in 5.7 seconds for the 640 (4.5 seconds for the 650) needs no apology, nor does that fuel consumption number quoted above.

But you can’t help but wonder how much better they would be if the car was 300 kg lighter, as it should be.

True, nobody else does a whole lot better with a car this big, but isn’t BMW supposed to be on the leading edge?

You also feel the weight in the car’s handling. It generally carries this weight well. “Dynamic Damper Control” — electronically adjusted continuously variable dampers — helps keep the car flat through corners, and it responds decently to direction changes from the driver through the electrically assisted steering. But it also leaves the driver feeling vaguely disconnected from the road.

Our 650i xDrive will get hydraulic steering, which will surely be better.

The Driving Dynamics Control, a big rocker switch on the centre console, allows the driver to select from four settings — Comfort+, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ — with increasing firmness and responsiveness from suspension, engine and transmission management systems.

Chances are customers will find a setting they like and just leave it there. Probably Comfort or Sport: Comfort+ is too sloppy, Sport+ too harsh.

A new fifth setting, “Eco Pro,” helps enable more fuel-efficient driving, with damped throttle response, earlier upshifts and later downshifts.

Why does BMW expect Canadian drivers to give a darn about this? If they did care, they’d insist that BMW import the diesel engine. You could screw the throttle pedal of that thing to the floor and still get better fuel economy than your Grandma would in a 650i xDrive.

One serious drawback in the chassis affects all big BMWs these days — the car does not handle big bumps at all well. Potholes or other major road irregularities really pound the car hard.

Part of this may be the dreaded run-flat tires with their ultra-stiff side walls.

And again, if the car were only lighter, it would be so much easier to cover this.

I don’t usually devote much space in these previews to paint and trim, because you’ve got your own taste (or lack thereof).

But two tidbits are worth noting for the Gran Coupé.

First is an exclusive colour for this model called “Frozen Bronze,” which has a matte finish. It appears that matte might be the new silver; we’re seeing it everywhere. Quite lovely, at least in my view.

Second, BMW interiors have improved markedly in recent years, in fit, finish, and materials. The “Individual” program lets you customize it to your heart’s (and wallet’s) content.

One such combination (in the photos) is Opal White leather with Amaro Brown on the dash, headliner and accents. Some might feel it’s a bit over the top, but it garnered admiring glances everywhere it went.

To sum up the Gran Coupé:

A forty-five hundred pound car with less-than-pin-sharp steering isn’t the sort of vehicle that made BMW’s reputation.

But that seems to be what today’s customer wants.

If you’re one of those customers, then the Gran Coupé might be just the ticket.

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