Car reviews - BMW - 4 Series - Gran Coupe
Handsome design, quality interior, strong and efficient performance, hatchback practicality, solid road feel, impressive dynamics
Room for improvement
Expensive options, blind-spot inducing B-pillar, some road-noise intrusion, part of a confusing array of similar BMW models
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14 Nov 2014
BASING an all-new model on a BMW 3 Series is a sure-fire way of ensuring a great-driving and quality-engineered product.
That there are currently several completely different bodystyles available – ranging from the F30 Sedan and F31 Touring wagon to the 4 Series-badged F32 two-door Coupe, F33 Convertible and now the F36 five-door liftback evocatively known as the Gran Coupe – is enough to confuse even the savviest brand trainspotter.
And the less said about the F34 3 Series Gran Turismo – Bavaria’s frumpiest by some lengths – the better.
But is the 4 Series Gran Coupe the most compelling, considering it brings an altogether more practical take on the evergreen 3 Series Sedan without upsetting the styling or proportions?Let’s check it out.
Except for an oddball B-pillar treatment, this might be the best looking of the line for quite some years – although the F36 does lack the take-a-second-glance grace of its 6 Series Gran Coupe big brother.
For the Australian launch in the Yarra Ranges near Melbourne, BMW elected to bring along only the higher-specced Gran Coupe variants – the expected volume-selling 428i from $81,000 and the range-topping 435i from $109,000, excluding on-road costs.
Sadly, then, there were no 420d diesels or the base 420i petrol base cars to scrutinise.
What we did find was a spunky 428i GC with handsome 19-inch alloys filling the muscular wheel arches, while the solid and beautifully built interior featured lashings of smart leather trim lining supportive front seats.
Sat surrounded by a driver-orientated dashboard brandishing high-quality materials, clear instruments, an intuitive array of switches as part of the company’s iDrive controller unit, and a gorgeous three-spoke steering wheel, both cars sampled certainly exuded the role of a sports luxury sedan.
The bonus here was the six-window layout that added an extra level of vision compared to the regular four-door version 3 Series.
Being German, there was enough space up front for your 178cm correspondent, yet it was the rear seat area that threw up a couple of surprises.
Firstly, after the dinky rear doors and low roofline had been negotiated, head, leg and shoulder room was more than adequate.
BMW says three people will fit at a squeeze, but settle for two and the experience will be of a similar salubrious level to those enjoying the ambience up front. Mind you, the plastic cupholder lid in the armrest seemed like it was from the supplier who pitched the cheapest quote, while leaving the car again did require a degree of neck contortion. Taller folks beware.
Beyond the back is a huge electrically operated tailgate that hides a sizeable area of luggage space, bringing a level of versatility that no 3 Series Sedan has ever managed to achieve.
Whether that considerable rear cavity affects the way the Gran Coupe steers and handles (due to a reduction in body rigidity as well as the 100kg weight penalty it must carry) was not discernible.
Maybe that’s only really possible if the Sedan is driven alongside the newcomer for a back-to-back comparison.
Anyway, even with just 2.0-litres to contend with, the 180kW/350Nm 428i GC was no slouch over the Victorian mountain roads, sprinting off the line (especially in Sport mode) with rapid conviction.
And the racy performance just kept on coming, aided by an engine that loved to rev and a ZF auto transmission that responded with almost telepathic intuitiveness. We’ve said it before, but this might be the greatest gearbox of its type ever tested.
Yet the best thing about the 428i Gran Coupe was its sprightliness through sweeping turns and tight corners alike, gripping gamely while handling the changes in direction with athletic poise and control, and backed up by a brilliant set of brakes.
The 19-inch low-profile rubber (and runflats at that) did not present any upsetting ride issues, which was down to two things – the latest-generation tyre technology and the ultra-smooth launch roads chosen by BMW.
We will await a final verdict when sampling the 4 Series Gran Coupe in more urban conditions.
Switching to the six-cylinder 435i revealed a car of contrasts.
This car’s real plus point was its magnificent 225kW/400Nm in-line turbo six, that provided ultra-creamy refinement combined with soaring, sonorous acceleration right across the 7000rpm rev range.
It was music to our ears charging forwards with such controlled thrust.
However, with a 55kg weight deficit, the 435i GC somehow felt less zippy and agile than the top four-pot turbo version – though the differences could only really be felt in degrees rather than in any lasting dynamic decomposition.
It just felt a little heavier straight after the 428i.
That would not deter us from buying one if we could, though, for the sheer and epic ease of this car’s ground-covering capabilities makes it a memorable driving and travelling experience.
On some road surfaces, road noise intrusion was detected, and a curious thump from the suspension also came through inside, but otherwise the 435i behaved just as one would expect from this brand’s offerings.
Which leads us to an unexpected conclusion as well as a confession.
Prior to our drive, we were ready to dismiss the new 4 Series Gran Coupe as a pretentious and superficial distraction away from the established 3 Series Sedan.
However, on the strength of the 428i GC and 435i GC, we instead experienced a secure, swift and supremely confident grand tourer that, in terms of practicality and exclusivity at least, provide a compelling reason not to buy an equivalent 3 Series.
With the A5 Sportback that clearly inspired BMW now in its twilight years, and the upcoming Mercedes W205 C-Class-based liftback and all-new Jaguar XE rivals still some time away, the 4 Series Gran Coupe may just be the best of the six F30 offshoots on offer.
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