2015 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe

It's hard to say what a coupe is anymore. Is it merely a car with two doors? Does it have to have an arching roofline? Do frameless windows count for anything? Can a five-door hatchback or even an SUV be a coupe? At some point in the last few years, nearly everything we thought made a coupe a coupe has been challenged by something that calls itself a coupe, but to most people isn't. Our friends at BMW have led most of this line of questioning.

The new 2015 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe is one of the latest Bimmers to challenge the moniker (which also challenges the idea of "Gran," for that matter), and unlike some of its other "coupe" variations – we're looking at you, X6 – this one is a pretty one. The 4 Series Gran Coupe is essentially a four-door version of the 4 Series, which is itself a two-door version of the 3 Series. Huh? Wouldn't that simply make it another 3 Series? Of course, but this one is prettier, as it uses the 4's sexier body styling, with its lower nose, wider-looking stance and edgier lighting graphics. It is also technically a five-door hatchback, not a sedan per se, and it utilizes frameless side door glass, which apparently does count for something in BMW coupe-land. Significantly, the 4 Gran Coupe's wheelbase is identical to the two-door; if it was longer – as is the case with the 3 Series and 5 Series hatchbacks – that might make it a "Gran Turismo." Confused yet?

We recently got our first chance to drive the 4 Series Gran Coupe at a press launch in Spain, and while the only version we were given was a rear-drive 428i Gran Coupe with the M Sport contents, the harrowing roads around Bilbao gave us a good idea of what this car is all about from a driving dynamics standpoint. Here's some of what we found:

Driving Notes
  • The Gran Coupe will be available in base 428i, all-wheel-drive 428i xDrive, and 435i forms, starting at $41,225, $43,225, and 446,725, respectively, including $925 for destination. A Luxury Line package with elegant trimmings can be added for another $1,700 on the 428i models and $1,400 for the 435i, while a Sport Line brings larger wheels (18-inchers vs. 17s), sport seats, and various other sport-flavored bits for $2,100 on the 428 models or $1,700 for the 435i. And of course, an M Sport model builds on the Sport Line's stuff with an aero kit, a sport steering wheel, and some blue trim pieces while adding $3,500 to the bottom line of the 428 models, or $3,100 to the 435. Of course, there are a many more a la carte options, and a suite of technology and convenience packages ready to bloat the final out-the-door price up over $60k if you're really feeling spendy.
  • The 4 Series Gran Coupe looks longer than the two-door version, but in actuality, it's identical in length and width. The roof is a half an inch taller, and the roofline stretches nearly all the way to the back of the car. It has an aggressive stance and excellent proportions. Incidentally, the 3 Series is also about the same length, about a half an inch narrower, and another inch and a half taller. The Gran Coupe may be the best-looking of the lot.
  • Alas, there is a catch, which comes in the form of more than 200 pounds of added weight due to structural reinforcement, including the weight of the standard power tailgate. Happily, BMW tuned the Gran Coupe to mimic the sporty feeling of the two-door 4 Series, changing only what it had to under the skin in order to accommodate the added mass and accompanying change in the center of gravity. To a large extent, it succeeded in keeping it quite the capable performance sedan. Or coupe. Or whatever it is.
  • Inside, the occupants sit a little lower in the 4 than in the 3, giving you a feeling of intimacy not found in any of the Threes. The black headliner also contributes to this sensation. We also expected to get more of a "sitting in a bathtub" feeling than we actually experienced. The M Sport's seats are absolutely fantastic, as is the perfectly contoured steering wheel.
  • The 4 Series Gran Coupe is pure 3 Series inside, albeit with a one-inch lower seating position for both rows of seats. This makes the lower roofline less impactful on rear-seat headroom than you'd expect; indeed, this model's longer roofline allows adults to ride back there more comfortably than in the regular 4 Series (non-Gran) coupe.
  • The lower seat height also helps the rear seat not feel as cramped as one might expect, with six-footers able to squeeze back there better than in the two-door. Legroom is also about the same as in the 3 and the two-door 4, which is to say decent. It's not the limousine that the 3 Series GT is, but it's pretty good by "coupe" standards.
  • The Gran Coupe's hatchback body makes for a wide and deep cargo area, and the rear seats now fold 40/20/40 style. A power liftgate with programmable opening height is standard, and can be opened by waving your foot beneath the bumper. The drawback? Seeing out through the sliver-like rear window is a real challenge when you're on the road.
  • The rear doors open quite wide, making it easy to load people and things back there despite their short length. You won't bump your head on the roof as you get in, either, since the roofline doesn't slope down until aft of the door.
  • The turbo four-cylinder is sufficiently powerful and sounds pretty awesome, though the Gran Coupe's extra 100 kilos or so makes itself known. Speed demons are going to want to spring for the 435i, which we are looking forward to driving ourselves in the States soon.
  • The eight-speed automatic – the only available transmission – is as magical as ever in this installation, and the paddle shifters operate with a satisfyingly snickety action and are easy to find even with some lock dialed in.
  • High-speed stability is and always has been a 3 and 4 Series forte, and it is no less so in this case. We only wish we could select Sport mode on the Driving Dynamics Control-which adjusts shift points, throttle response, and steering effort-to get its better-weighted steering along with the top two gears on the highway, but unfortunately, Sport mode locks them out.
  • Grip levels are high during aggressive cornering, though as we've noticed in other 3s and 4s, the steering response is a little delayed at initial turn-in, resulting in a tendency toward understeer and early intervention of stability control. The lack of feedback through the wheel doesn't help matters, but the car does go where you point it. We just wish it told us what was going on in the meantime.
  • BMW has long been a master of shock absorption, and as with so many other Bimmers, the 4 Series Gran Coupe takes the edge off bumps without floating over them. The 4 Series Gran Coupe we drove, with the M Sport equipment, is heavenly in this regard. The only demerit: tire noise on the highway can get loud, especially on grainy pavement.
  • The M Sport line is available with upgraded brakes that offer excellent pedal feel and crisp response; we would recommend the $500 upgrade (on top of the $3,500 you'll pay for the M Sport pack) if you like to drive like we do, especially if hills happen to be part of your everyday commuting.
  • Given their similar interiors as well as the added practicality of the 4 Series Gran Coupe's hatchback body, we can't help but wonder why anyone would choose a 3 Series, which comes in about $3k less, similarly equipped. That would make a big difference if the MSRP was under $20k, but at this price point, the upgrade to something that looks and feels more special than a workaday 3er seems more than worth it.