They say life is all about choices, and some bright sparks at BMW have definitely been paying close attention, as attempts to fulfil that adage have shown. The 2000s saw an unfettered expansion from a simple trio of product lines (3, 5 and 7) and the occasional oddity to a lineup that now spans seven numerical model ranges and an ever-growing host of variants and sub-variants within that deck.
Diversity is of course the operating word, all very cleverly done. The previous 3 Series ran sedan, convertible and coupe (as well as Touring) in the same family, but the coupe and convertible forms of the new 3 have spun off into the 4 Series, the F32 and F33 respectively. Still simplistic enough, even in the delineation and doors, the 3 having four and the 4 having two.
You’d think it would all end there, or with something like the F34 3 Series Gran Turismo. But when you’ve got the platform, why not spread the cheer even further? So do we come to a four-door (or five-door, if you will) version of a two-door version of a four-door car. Loopy as that descriptor sounds, it’s all measured, really.
The advent of the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, dictated by the success of its larger 6 Series Gran Coupe sibling, comes very much as a response to something like the Audi A5 Sportback, late as it may be. The game never ends, naturally, and while undeniably practical, the five-door 3 GT is hardly the sort of car to make the Ingolstadt kid sweat, looks-wise. This one finally does the trick, and rather neatly at that.
The F36 Gran Coupe shares much in common with the 4 Series Coupe – it borrows the front and rear ends of the two-door, and aside from having a 12 mm taller (height is 1,389 mm) and 112 mm longer roof line to provide additional headroom for the rear occupants, shares the same overall dimensions, being 4,638 mm long, 1,825 mm wide and with a 2,810 mm wheelbase.
Comparatively, the F30 3 Series measures in at 4,624 mm long (-14 mm), 1,811 mm wide (-14 mm) and 1,429 mm tall (+40 mm), sitting on the same 2,810 mm wheelbase. That 40 mm difference in overall height that the 3 Series sedan has translates into more headroom, but it’s not radical. More on that later.
Some figures for the 3 GT too, since we’re at it – that one stretches the tape at 4,824 mm long (+200 mm), 1,828 mm wide (+3 mm) and 1,508 mm tall (+119 mm), with a 2,920 mm wheelbase (+110 mm), making it a larger offering than the Gran Coupe in every respect.
To sight, the reinterpretation from the two-door suffers very little translation loss as far as sleekness goes. The line flow remains well integrated and overall resolution remains high, and there’s none of the slight blockiness evident on the 3 GT, which now looks a bit dowdy in comparison. It certainly has more flair and external substance than the regular 3 Series, all this without sacrificing boot space.
Cargo carrying volume is 480 litres, 35 up from the 4 Coupe and identical to the F30 3er, but ditching the bootlid and opting for a hatch-styled automated tailgate route like its Gran Turismo cousin means acreage can be expanded to 1,300 litres with the 40:20:40 splitting rear bench folded down.
Not quite 3 GT territory (520 litres, 1,600 with rear seats folded down), but losing a 40/300 litre capacity for inherently sharper and sexier looks is a worthwhile tradeoff, it can definitely be argued. Like its Coupe sister, the 4 GC is likewise unmissable, a visually arresting form despite the extra doors.
Some other numbers and differences between the Gran Coupe and Coupe – the 4 GC is marginally heavier than the two-door. In its 428i form, the car tips the scales at 1,605 kg, 60 kg more than the 428i Coupe. The weight gain translates into a marginally slower 0-100 km/h sprint time, the GC doing it in 6.1 seconds to the two-door’s 5.9. And, aside from featuring specific car body reinforcement measures, the Gran Coupe also has a different suspension tune and damping rates to the coupe version.
Munich’s official designation for the car – which features frameless doors, like the 6 GC and 4 Coupe – is as a “4+1 seater,” because the centre seat of the rear bench has been raised to allow a more sculpted shape for the other two seating positions. Having had a short sample of it, the centre seat didn’t turn out to be uncomfortable, and feels adequate enough for short haul runs.
Internally, the 4 GC’s height from seat base to roof line is 1,011 mm for the front seats and 944 mm at the rear. The 3 Series sedan’s corresponding numbers are 1,023 mm (+12 mm) in front and 957 mm (+13 mm), making for better headroom in both positions.
Nonetheless, rear roominess is crucially decent – all the evaluation mules on the international media drive in Bilbao, Spain, featured a light beige interior, which undoubtedly helped increase spatial perception, but the space levels are well workable. I measured a two-finger height clearance from head to the roof line, sitting straight up, and knee room offered sizeable clearance.
Ingress and egress levels are satisfactory, though not quite the level as that offered by the 3 GT, which has a higher crossover-level hip point height that makes it easier to get in and out of.
Elsewhere, the cabin features the same 3 Series-derived interior as the rest of the 4 range, so no surprises here or any feeling of bespoke, unfortunately, even if you do sit lower than in a 3. Which is a shame, as the 6 GC at least demarcated itself with a differently appointed interior – as it is, there’s really nothing to tell you that it’s special or different; for all intents and purposes, you could well be in a 3 Series or 4 Coupe, such is how generic it looks.
In terms of trim lines, the Gran Coupe can be had as a base model, moving upwards to the usual Luxury, Modern and Sport lines. There’s an M Sport package as well, which was the chosen configuration on call for all the drive evaluators. Finished in Estoril Blue, the cars were shod with an Adaptive M Suspension as well as upsized optional Style 442 five-spoke 19-inch alloys wrapped with 225/40 front and 255/35 rear Bridgestone Potenza S001 tyres.
Available engine options for the Gran Coupe at point of launch consist of three petrol and two diesel units. The gasoline powertrains are led by the 3.0 litre turbo six in the 435i, with 306 hp at 5,800-6,400 rpm and 400 Nm of torque from 1,200-5,000 rpm, followed by the 2.0 litre turbo in two states of output tune – for the 428i, 245 hp at 5,000-6,500 rpm and 350 Nm at 1,250-4,800 rpm, and on the 420i, 184 hp at 5,000-6,250 rpm and 270 Nm at 1,250-4,500 rpm.
As for the oil burners, there’s the 2.0 litre turbodiesel, offering 184 hp at 4,000 rpm and 380 Nm at 1,750-2,750 rpm in the 420d GC and 143 hp at 4,000 rpm and 320 Nm at 1,750-2,500 rpm in the 418d version. New diesel engine variants are due to join the lineup very soon, these being a 313 hp/630 Nm 435d xDrive and a 258 hp/560 Nm 430d. In terms of xDrive, the 420d and 428i can be specified with the all-wheel drive option, and the 435i and 420i are also due to get the xDrive alternative in the near future.
Rather interestingly, the uniform specification model used in Spain was the 428i in its rear-wheel drive guise. Normally, there’s a mix of powertrains to pick from, but the choice of going a single unit route was decided on for this one, which also involved sampling the new X4 (review soon enough, hopefully) in a double run.
I asked about this peculiarity, and was told that while there was definitely a preference to showcase the oil burners, the move to only use the 428i was to ensure a suitable sampling for every market was catered for, and eliminating the chance of ending up with an irrelevant model for one’s market meant that the chosen lump was a uniform example, common to all.
Likewise the transmission, which as far as I could tell was the ZF eight-speed Sport automatic; no manuals on tap. A Sport Line 420d in Melbourne Red on display at the BMW lounge in Bilbao airport as well as a 435i Individual variant at the midpoint stop was all there was to be seen of the other variants.
No complaints about the eminently workable twin-scroll N20B20 as the knife of choice – the mill didn’t feel inadequate for the job at hand, which was tackling a 188 km-long first leg route from Bilbao to Elciego on the second day of the drive. The route provided enough mixed terrain conditions to sample the Gran Coupe quite comprehensively – it had rained on the single-leg run on the first day, but that time was spent ambling along in the X4.
Like the Coupe, the GC is thoroughly civilised puttering about town and cruising on the motorway, aided by the neat low-mid pull of the mill and the exemplary smoothness of the eight-speeder. The Servotronic electric power steering feels light – and a bit over-assisted – in Comfort mode, but is quick and places well going into Sport, even if lacking in outright feel.
Likewise the engine, which has plenty of scale and workable range, even if it never sounds the business, something that was already evident from the F30′s international drive. The absence of engine note coming your way otherwise, it responds ably when shoved, and its tractability continues to be winsome.
Handling-wise, what’s on the Gran Coupe is about on par with what the two-door serves up, and somewhat tauter than the 3 Series. On a windy stretch not far out from the city, a couple of local drivers decided that the sight of all those blue cars was too good an opportunity to resist the chase down bit. One in particular, an E90 330i, offered the chance to drive the GC hard, providing an informative four kilometres of hustle.
In Sport mode and with manual shifting, the Gran Coupe tracked into corners neatly, with good follow-through. Kept tidy, the car displayed a keen sense of balance and poise. Traction levels are actually quite high, and it wasn’t until Sport + was engaged and towards higher limits of approach speeds that untidy lateral behaviour began to surface. All good enough to keep the trailing E90 far off for the duration of the run, though the brave soul finally managed to get past when we caught up with a train of other GCs and X4s.
Admittedly, the overall presentation is much like that presented by the two-door. Dynamically, it’s all a bit clinical, efficient more than emotional, but most will find the clean, accomplished nature very workable and, more importantly, likeable.
What’s on is still sharper and more engaging than the 3 Series sedan equivalent, as demonstrated by the local 428i Coupe (read Hafriz’s review of the 428i) – as it stands, the Adaptive M Suspension and Variable Damper Control continues to play a significant role in lending an edge, but it’d be interesting to pitch baseline versions (420i GC and 320i) in a head-to-head and see how that turns out. Will weight (at 1,495 kg, the 320i Sport is 85 kg lighter than the 420i GC) help tip the scales?
Lastly, some quick points about wind and road noise. The wind noise levels weren’t intrusive at motorway speeds, at least to me or my co-driver, but the GC suffers from the same aural malady of tyre noise as the Coupe. The roar coming off those 19-inchers in Spain was certainly pronounced.
The somewhat similar traits to the 4 Series Coupe isn’t surprising, because both are cut from the same cloth, only angled differently. The point is of course about choice, and that’s what BMW has done, put another on the table to pick from. The 4 Series Gran Coupe is a fine-looking car, prettier than its 3 Series ilk and definitely a sight more stylish than its closest relative, the 3 GT. It also drives better than both, at least in the configuration that was on call in Spain.
But pretty comes at a price, and you can expect that the 4 GC will go for around that asked for the Coupe, if not more, which means a premium of RM50-60k (likely, more) over a 3 Series equivalent, be it a 420i or 428i. There’s the sharp looks, the versatility of the cargo carrying space and, of course, that sense of uniqueness. Will that be enough? Ah, choices, indeed.