BMW 4 Series Gran Coupé
2015 BMW 4-SERIES GRAN COUPE
PRICE: $44,900; $54,900
ENGINE: 2.0L turbo i4; 3.0L turbo i6
POWER/TORQUE: (hp/lbs.-ft.) 241/258; 300/300
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (estimated, L/100km) 8.7 City/5.4 Hwy; 10.0 City/6.1 Hwy
COMPETITION: Mercedes-Benz C Class, Audi A4
WHAT’S BEST: More room for rear passengers than coupe, more space for luggage than coupe, elegant looks
WHAT’S WORST: Still cramped in the back, road noise should be quieter, expensive
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Can a four-door car really be called a “coupe”? It can if you’re a German auto maker.
Driver can put this car through its paces or dull things down to be frugal
BILBAO, SPAIN — Sometimes, when the weather’s bad, you just don’t want to go outside.
It doesn’t matter that you’re in Spain, which is supposed to be warm and sunny and exotic. The rain pours down, smearing the windows, and Spaniards out on the sidewalk look miserable, huddled under umbrellas against the heavy grey sky.
Fortunately, I’m in a new BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, and the seat heater and the steering wheel heater are cranked. Outside the car, the North Atlantic lashes everybody and everything in all its fury but inside, I’m warm and dry and comfortable.
This is a sporty car and I should be attacking the curves with gusto, but instead I’m peering through the mist at the signs beside the road. The car is sure-footed, but I just can’t see far enough ahead to drive anywhere close to its limits.
Actually, the 4 Series can see ahead better than I can. Like all new BMWs that will be released after this summer, it’s equipped with predictive GPS technology that knows where the road is going and prepares the automatic transmission accordingly.
It knows there’s a curve coming, or a hill, so at your current speed and manner of driving, it won’t shift up to a more relaxed gear but instead hold the gear, for higher revs and greater response.
The system was pioneered in the Rolls-Royce Wraith, back when it cost a lot to research and prepare it, and then introduced into the top-of-the-line 7 Series so rich people could pay off the rest of its development. Now it’s just a software program with the kinks worked out — or in, depending how you see it — so it will be included right across the line.
The 4 Series is also loaded with all kinds of clever technology to make my slippery drive safer: the optional Active Driving Assistant that uses cameras to recognize and warn of pedestrians on the road ahead, Blind Spot Detection that warns of other vehicles alongside, and all the traction control you’d expect from a premium car.
But this is the Gran Coupe. It’s pretty much the same to drive as the 3-Series sedans and other 4-Series coupes. How is it different?
It’s all about style for the Gran Coupe, with some practicality thrown in. BMW calls it a four-door coupe, which would be a contradiction (coupes, by definition, have two doors) except that Mercedes and Audi are doing it, too.
This is a four-door car with a sexier fastback sloped roof line, similar to the shape of the two-door, which looks sportier but removes a fair chunk of space from the rear seats. It’s supposed to provide the elegant silhouette of the coupe with the practical comfort of four doors for the people inside.
The Gran Coupe makes sure those rear passengers aren’t as cramped as they’d be in the coupe, where they’re an afterthought for shuttling around in a pinch — designated-driving some unexpected friends home from a bar, or carrying your new girlfriend’s kids to school.
If you move in with the girlfriend, she’s going to want you to get the four-door. It costs the same as the coupe, so it shouldn’t be a big deal: $44,900 for the 428i with the smaller, more sensible engine, an all-wheel drive version for $49,000, and $54,900 for the 435i that reminds everybody of your masculinity. Its AWD version will be released later this summer.
(Please excuse the apparent sexism here. Sales research shows the Gran Coupe is a car that appeals to men. Very few women will consider one, preferring either a smaller and sleeker car, or a crossover or SUV.)
The dimensions of the Gran Coupe are identical to the 4-Series coupe, but the roofline has been stretched by 112 mm to allow an extra height of 12 mm for headspace in the back. That’s not much, and it’s still not very comfortable for adults, but the coupe proves it could be worse.
The trunk offers 480 litres of cargo space, which is 35 litres more than the coupe. BMW claims will it accommodate either two golf bags or a baby stroller — somebody in Munich is clearly thinking of our driver in his life transition.
Those rear seats fold down to create up to 1,300 litres of cargo space. What’s more, they fold in a helpful 40:20:40 configuration, so there’s room for a baby seat or child carrier back there while still providing some extra cargo space. There’s even a seatbelt now for a (cramped) third rear passenger over the driveshaft, unlike the coupe.
I was oblivious to this, however, as I navigated Spain’s misty roads. I was enjoying the 241 hp of the four-cylinder engine in the 428i. The road noise seemed a bit loud, but this might have been due to the 19-inch wheels on my tester, one inch larger than standard.
The Bimmer was fitted with the eight-speed automatic transmission that let me flick through the gears with paddle-shifters, and which costs an extra $1,600. The base model comes with a six-speed manual box.
Its flat torque curve meant the car didn’t struggle on the hills, peaking at 258 lbs.-ft. as low as 1,250 rpm. On the flat, BMW says it will reach 100 km/h from standstill in 6.0 seconds, though I never had the road conditions to test that claim.
I drove in the Sport setting, which firms the suspension, tightens the steering, shortens the shifting and makes the throttle more responsive. If I’d wanted, I could have pressed the button to drive in Sport+, which reduces the driver’s assistance from the computer, but that would have been foolhardy given the poor road conditions.
I could also have dulled everything down by driving in Regular or even Eco Pro, which saves fuel by decoupling the driveshaft while cruising without touching the throttle. It also suggests, through the Navigation system, the most frugal route to your destination. But I’m not quite that old yet and still wanted to enjoy my wet day on the roads.
If I’d been driving the more powerful 435i, with its 3.0L inline-six-cylinder engine that makes 300 hp and 300 lbs.-ft. of torque, the eight-speed, paddle-shift automatic transmission would come standard.
And if I wanted, I could upgrade the suspension, steering and brakes for an even sportier approach, though the price rises rapidly once you start ticking those boxes.
But with the rain lashing down, I was content in the smaller 428i. If anyone had looked up from under their umbrellas, they’d have seen a sexy coupe-like car swish by them, its driver making his own statement of youth and success.
That there could also have been a toddler inside in an easy-to-access car seat, with a stroller in the trunk where my golf clubs used to be, was irrelevant. The mid-life crisis can hold off for a few years yet.
Transportation for freelance writer Mark Richardson was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.