Road test: 2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupé
The Oxford Dictionary defines a coupé as “a car with a fixed roof, two doors and a sloping rear” – the word originates from French, literally meaning “cut carriage”. Who’s to argue with the language experts? Actually, BMW is.
No matter how often you bring up this little titbit, company officials here in Bilbao, Spain, at the official launch of BMW’s 4 Series Gran Coupé, smilingly insist that the new car is actually a true coupé, because it has a sloped roof; this despite the fact that it also has four doors. And, as such, it’s positioned in the 4 Series category – reserved for two-door coupés – as opposed to its 3 Series segment for four-door saloons.
I can’t help but let my cynicism get the better of me. I’ve never been a fan of the new “four-door coupé” moniker, which just basically means a saloon with a sloped roof and less room inside. I get it; it’s a styling purpose, and I really like the look of some of them out there; but that’s what it is, isn’t it? A different design, not a different segment.
There is reasoning behind it, however. The Gran Coupé is built on the same dimensions as the two-door car (track, length, wheelbase), and is mechanically identical under the skin. With the roof 12 millimetres taller and the slope pushed back farther towards the boot, the BMW folks say that it’s for those people who want the sportiness and size of the two-door 4 Series but with the convenience of having four doors. OK, it’s starting to become slightly clearer. Slightly.
So, put the cynicism in your back pocket for a moment, and actually look at the car; no matter what BMW calls it, it’s a stunner. From the front bumper to the A-pillar, it’s standard 4 Series, but with that longer roofline and shorter rear boot, it actually looks sleeker and racier than the coupé it’s based on, despite being taller. The one that I’m being let loose in, the 428i, is decked out in an M Sport trim kit, adding to its overall sporty look.
Inside, the two front occupants have plenty of room, but that sloping rear roof means taller passengers will be brushing their hair on the headliner. And though it appears to have a normal boot opening like the two-door version, it actually has a hatchback, with shut lines cleverly hidden by the rear glass. Plus, the Gran Coupé has 35 more litres of cargo space (480 in total) than its portal-challenged sibling; if you have longer items, you can still seat two in the back and pass through your skis or a ladder with the 40:20:40 split seat back. And if pressing its button for the power lift is too much for you, get the option that lets you kick your foot under the bumper to raise or lower the hatch.
Strap inside and you’ll find the typical 4 Series interior – a sort of austere elegance using aluminium, soft-touch plastics and leather. This car is equipped with just about every electronic convenience, efficiency and safety feature, including auto stop/start, iDrive infotainment system, multi-mode engine and suspension configuration, a head-up display that works in tandem with the navigation system, active cruise control – there’s really not enough room here to go into it all, but you really wouldn’t want for much more.
Starting our drive on a major highway headed south, the biggest surprise in driving this 428i is its power, especially knowing that you’ve only got four pistons working under the bonnet. The car feels effortless in its acceleration and power; the real effort is keeping this BMW at a sane enough speed to avoid the attention of the police. It’s certainly not a car that will scare you with its viciousness, but a zero-to-60kph time of six seconds is very respectable. A solid, quiet ride and firm steering add up to a pleasant and capable car for the motorway.
Get off that high-speed track and onto a twisty mountain road, however, and you’ll find the drive even more rewarding. That suspension stays firm in tight corners, with almost no roll, and the power – especially in Sport mode – never seems to disappear, with an even delivery at all speeds. The only disappointment, very slight as it is, would be the steering; while taut, it has a hint of vagueness that you wouldn’t expect from a car that used to be trumpeted as the Ultimate Driving Machine. It’s a problem that BMWs of late seem to have, especially with electric steering, and I hope that the company works out this little kink.
Regardless, you’ll find little else to quibble about here. After spending some time with this latest BMW, here’s my advice: put the dictionary away and just drive the car. I don’t care what the Germans want to call it – the 428i Gran Coupé is fantastic, no matter the rationale, and it may even give BMW’s own 3 Series a run for its money.
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Published: June 26, 2014 04:00 AM