Paul Horrell22 May 2014

First drive: BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe

Another micro-niche from the prolific Germans. What’s the point of this one? Paul Horrell reports

Has BMW been back in the hall of mirrors?

Well you could look at it that way – a car you know with its body proportions distorted. In fact BMW now sells what's essentially the same car, the 3-series, as a saloon, touring and GranTurismo, and, under the 4-series label, as a coupe, convertible and now this 4-series Gran Coupe. The 3 Touring, 3GT and 4GC are all five-doors.

To clarify, the GC is simply the 4 coupe with two more doors, and a hatchback instead of a boot lid. So it's wider and lower than a 3 saloon.

Crikey, so how does this differ from that other hatchback, 3GT?

Pay attention. The 3GT has a longer wheelbase, and it's higher, so it's actually a very roomy car. The 4GC isn't, really.

So the 3GT is bigger than the 4GC. Duh. My head's spinning already.

And that's before we mention the X3. Or the X4, which launches at the same time as the 4GC.

I said my head's spinning. What's the 4GC actually like?

Well, it looks good, if maybe not quite as magically striking as BMW would have you believe, nor indeed as beautiful as the 6GC. The rear track is wide and the bodywork swells lavishly out over the tyres. But in truth the overall silhouette isn't much sleeker than anyone's mass-market hatchback, and the detailing is a bit busy in places.

No-one likes being crushed into the back of a coupe. Is this one any better?

Well, the tapering roof does make it cramped for tall people in the back. Not even tall, actually. Your 5' 10" correspondent bangs his head on the side rail. But there's legroom enough, and a big if shallow boot, and the hatch and folding seats are handy. I'd be tempted to say that you might as well have it over a regular 3 saloon if your regular rear passengers aren't fully grown.

How's it to drive?

The powertrains are BMW standard-issue. TG was in the 328i, the four-cylinder two-litre turbo with 245bhp. It sounds a bit grumbly at middle revs, but actually gets more purposeful as it goes up the dial, and the performance is usefully emphatic. There'll be a 420d for the company car market, and that uses the familiar and rather noisy diesel, not BMW's new-generation modular one that recently and quietly premiered in the X3.

Does it have the chassis smarts to back up the Coupe label (Grand or otherwise)?

You feel an extra degree of agility even over the saloon, which is about the best car this size. It's lower to the road, and you sit lower within, so there's a psychological factor at play. But also the dampers and springs are firmer. And as with the 4 coupe, there's extra bracing between the front subframe and the body, which makes the steering more responsive if more prone to surface kickback. In hard corners it rolls a bit and leans on its front tyres if you've gone in too fast – call that stabilising understeer. Drive it right and it feels beautifully fluent and well balanced if you power it through bends, and you get nice feel of what's going on. We had a car with optional M sport chassis and adaptive damping, by the way, and if the dampers weren't in sport mode it was a bit soggy, so that's an option worth ticking.

Come on, it's a five-door hatch. How's the ride?

Not that great. Fundamentally the springing is OK, it kicks up a load of tyre noise and feels a little gritty. The new Mercedes C-class is far smoother and more supple, though its cornering isn't so interactive. Sure we had big tyres, but experience with the related 3GT says road noise is always an issue.

It's three grand dearer, model for engine, than the 3 saloon. Bending metal into sexier shapes isn't expensive is it?

They figure the GC is the higher-end car, so they insist on bundling in extra spec. Xenon lights, leather, auto climate and 18-inchers are standard. Add those options to the saloon and the prices are close enough not to matter. Even so, the £37,335 of our test 428i GC in M Sport auto trim is not to be sneezed at for what is after all a four-cylinder hatchback.

Atchoo!

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