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We set out to give you serious buying advice on four-door coupes. Then, somebody got a beanbag to laze on, a dog got into the car, we spilt some wine and some rubber got burnt

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A four-door coupe seems like an idea that germinated in the usual marketing mind that thinks, “I am so smart and everybody else is so dumb, I can sell them anything”. Because a car with four doors is not a coupe.

But then, think about it. That sloping roofline, low-slung seating, minimal body height1… it’s got all the virtues of a sporty coupe with the benefit of rear seats and proper-sized doors to get there. Moreover, four-door coupes are way more interesting to drive, own and be seen in than their executive and luxury sedan cousins. The Audi A7 you see here is way better looking than the A6 or the A8. The all-new BMW 6 series Gran Coupe makes more of a statement than the 5 or 7 series. The Mercedes CLS? It’s the one that started it all.

And just so we don’t get blinded by the allure of those sweeping lines, we thought we’d give these pricey machines some pricier tasks.

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Which is the best car to carry beanbags in?

The boots of all three cars are humungous.

The Gran Coupe has 460litres and loses some surface area on the sides where the boot hinge goes in. And the beanbag struggles to fit. Thankfully, the rear seats fold down, increasing loading space to 1265litres. The rear seats in the CLS don’t fold. Yet, it has a 520-litre boot. More importantly, it’s well shaped. So, with a bit of adjusting, the beanbag does go in.

The A7, at 535litres, is a bit more magnanimous. And when the rear seats fold flat, you get 1390litres. Which means it has already won the beanbag fight. What makes the deal sweeter is the fact that the A7 is actually a hatch. So when you open that boot, not only do you have the biggest capacity at your disposal, it also makes loading stuff easier. So while all the cars will let you take in that beanbag, the A7 lets you do way more.

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What if your dog needs to go to the vet?

Queenie here is just like the cars.

She isn’t of pure breed. Just like the cars are trying to be sedan, coupe, sportscar and limousine, Queenie is a bit of German Shepherd Albino plus some other genes. And like the cars, she is of a very gentle and undemanding temperament. Now, the rear seat configuration on all three cars is rather unconventional.

The BMW and the Merc are strictly four-seaters. They are both comfortable, have enough leg and shoulder room and the contoured bucket-ish seats in the rear provide ample support to your shoulders and hips. But with the transmission tunnel and storage bin in the centre, it’s impossible to have a third person in the rear. And while the Audi has a spare seat in the centre with just about okay legroom, the car doesn’t actually have a seatbelt for the centre seat.

However, the centre seat is cleanly designed and doesn’t have any protrusions for storage or cupholders, allowing for a nearly flat surface. And for this, while Queenie refused to go on record, we presume she would have liked the trip to the vet in the A7 more than in the 6 or the CLS.

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Which is the best car to relax at the back with some wine?

Before you send us letters saying we’re encouraging drinking and driving – we aren’t.

Sitting at the back of your sports coupe-ish sedan should be relaxing. And instead of getting into a fistfight over ride quality, we thought we’d give it to the car that spills the least wine. Now, the CLS is extremely comfortable at express speeds. But at slow speeds, the suspension shakes and jiggles quite a bit over bumps. Enough for a bit of Nashik’s finest (sort of) to spill.

Moreover, the CLS has only two suspension settings – Comfort and Sport. They don’t radically alter the car’s personality, either. What does is Audi’s trick suspension. You have three modes – Comfort, Auto and Dynamic. And the fourth mode, Individual, lets you alter the steering, gearing, suspension, even the seat-belt tensioners. However, whatever you select, the A7’s ride is never quite perfect. It’s comfortable, but with so many combinations, you just can’t get it right. It didn’t spill much wine, though.

The Gran Coupe turned out to be the best car for the job. In Comfort+ or Eco Pro mode, it’s the softest riding of the lot. Sport and Sport+ do make things a bit firm, but if you want to enjoy a glass of wine over a typical Indian road at typical Indian speeds, the Gran Coupe is it.

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Which is the best-looking car?

If you didn’t care about looks, you’d be getting yourself any one of those conventional exec sedans.

And all three of them look way better than their conventionally-styled cousins on which they’re based. The A7 looks clean and neat. But from the rear three-quarters, you can see the line from the roof gracelessly plop down into the boot. It’s the only ungainly bit about the car. The 6 looks superb in matt brown and is the only car here that doesn’t have any ungainly or fussy details. But its low, ground-hugging proportions make it a pain over speed breakers. Yet, for all their style, the A7 and the Gran Coupe will still pass off as stylish sedans.

It’s the CLS, in our opinion, that looks the most distinct, and therefore, the best. I’d say the previous-gen CLS looked cleaner, but the new one still retains that firm distinction between being merely a cool sedan and an altogether new, unconventional class of vehicle. Some of the detailing on the headlights, the tail-lights, and that bulge that goes from the rear door to the top of the rear wheel arch could do with less fuss. But the CLS is the only car here that doesn’t look like some modified version of a sedan or coupe sibling.

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What if the only seat you like in the car is the one with the steering?

Surely, you didn’t pay all that money and get a four-door coupe to take the dog to the vet, shift beanbags around and sip wine in the back.

And the car that gives maximum bang for your buck from the driver’s seat at first is the Gran Coupe. Despite being a diesel, the six-cylinder in the BMW sounds wonderful. Put everything in Sport and you’ll enjoy the 6 as its transmission allows the engine to spin to 5000rpm. In fact, the 6 is the best sounding car of the three. It’s also quickest to 100. The eight-speed gearbox is good, but in stop-and-go traffic, it isn’t smooth. Handling is good, but not BMW good. The steering wheel is way too large, and the speed-sensitivity keeps intruding into the experience. It’s not as intrusive as the A7, though. The Audi lets you select a whole lot of steering and handling modes. But even at its most dynamic setting, with the steering at its tightest, you can feel a curtain of artificiality in the car. The A7 is rapid, refined and dynamically capable. But, like the BMW, it just doesn’t offer that last mile of fun or involvement that you want – something the CLS delivers in abundance.

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The key with the CLS is its simplicity. It doesn’t have complicated suspension or steering settings. High-speed handling and dynamics are predictable and neutral. And the entire car seems to have been engineered by someone who believes simpler is always better. Moreover, it’s the Merc that feels – and is – the lightest and nimblest. This in a car that’s done over 20,000 motoring journalist kilometres.

And despite the brakes feeling knackered, the CLS returned the quickest braking times. The only thing letting the Merc down is the engine.

It’s the ancient 3.5 V6 petrol. It’s the most feeble-sounding of the three, the slowest to 100, and the least fuel-efficient. And considering the other two cars here are diesel, somebody at Mercedes needs to stand facing a wall for not offering better engine options in this car in India.

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At the end of the day...

We very much like the idea of four-door coupes. And these three are the best compromise between a boring luxury sedan and a sports coupe. The Audi is admirably versatile and spacious. It might be the best to carry beanbags and your dog in, but it just doesn’t offer a thoroughly enjoyable and sound driving experience here. Besides, it takes a really trained eye to immediately differentiate this from an A6 or an A8. However, compared to the other two, the A7 is the best value. Then again, there’s a whole lot of extras waiting for your money. In this band of four-door coupes, the A7 is the saxophone. Suave and sophisticated. But it still has the artificiality of a man-made object.

The BMW is much better to drive. It’s the fastest off the line, sounds incredible, and in Comfort mode, is the best car to have some wine in. Despite not being the ultimate driver’s car, the Gran Coupe is a sound dynamic package. What lets it down are the goodies. It’s got soft-shut doors, night vision and front fender cameras, seat warming and cooling, heads-up display and a whole lot more. But they’re all cost options.

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In fact, if you tick every option in this car, it will cost you a cool  Rs 35 lakh over the base price. And the car we drove had about Rs 22-25 lakh worth of extras. That’s a lot for a car that already costs a crore. In our band, the 640d Gran Coupe is the bass guitar. Aggressive and energetic, but can go a bit overboard.

The CLS is a brilliant package. And what makes it brilliant is its simplicity. It did not win the beanbag-pet dog-wine contest. But all of these everyday tasks can still be done. Besides, it satisfies the two big reasons you got yourself a four-door coupe in the first place – distinctive looks and fun behind the wheel. In an age when fun is up to computers deciding the optimum steering and suspension settings, the CLS sticks to basic, very neutral, non-intrusive chassis engineering and delivers superb dynamics and comfort.

It doesn’t come with fancy tech like doors that shut automatically and seats that warm your bum. But it has every convenience feature you need in a sporty, luxury car. And it all comes as standard fitment. In this band, the CLS is the flute. It’s carved out of something as simple as a stem of bamboo, but in the right hands, it dishes out the purest, deepest, most soulful music.

We need nothing more. (Words: Sriram Narayanan, Photos: Himanshu Pandya)

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