Parked beneath the porte cochere of a hotel in Savannah, we were surrounded by people who had just come to this realization. They wanted to know what this BMW was and where they could get one. It’s so specialized, purposeful, and exotic. Maybe it’s a European model?
Imagine their delight when we told them that this particular 2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe gets good gas mileage thanks to its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and if vacations in the snow are your thing, you can have the all-wheel-drive 428ix Gran Coupe. Plus if power is your deal, then an M Sport option package and the turbo six-cylinder of the 435i Gran Coupe are waiting. The crowd practically gasped in surprise. We felt as if we were on the BMW stand at the Detroit auto show.
Thinking outside the Camry-size box
Just like all of us, this little crowd in Georgia had become so accustomed to seeing the BMW 3 Series sedan in daily commute traffic that they had come to think of it as a kind of Lexus-branded Camry, a simple bland box with a respectably premium label. And just like all of us, they figured that if you were looking for something special in a BMW 3 Series, you would choose one of the many models based on this platform.
Getting all Euro with a hatchback package
For years, the hatchback sedan was what Europeans had instead of the sport-utility vehicle. It carried stuff but wasn’t too big and would get decent fuel economy. Many carmakers tried to introduce such models to the U.S., but Americans weren’t much interested in the looks of a hatchback. But now that SUVs and crossovers have taught us that a great big box on wheels is maybe more than we need, maybe the hatchback sedan will find a place in this country at last.
We sure like the hatchback of the 4 Series Gran Coupe. The hatch opens electrically simply by triggering the sensor beneath the rear bumper with a wave of your foot, and the large opening makes it effortless to slide in your cargo. There’s 17.0 cubic feet of space behind the Gran Coupe’s rear seat (well, maybe if you measure all the way to the ceiling), and the high load floor makes it easy to move things in and out, like suitcases or recreational gear. Plus you can flip down the 40/20/40-split folding rear seat to expand the cargo area to 45.9 cubic feet.
Once you’ve reached your destination and checked in — because this is the kind of car in which you check in, not camp out — there’s enough passenger room to take friends to dinner. The roofline is about a half-inch higher than a coupe, and while the rear seat is hardly limousine-like, your friends will surely be fine for the short ride into town. Even better, this sedan-size car is compact enough to find a parking spot at the curb when you get there.
The completely stylish experience
When it comes to a BMW, the way it looks really matters. And amidst all the moaning and groaning about the way in which the BMW styling vocabulary has been stretched, folded, and mutilated to accommodate packages of different shapes, the 4 Series Gran Coupe is a refreshing return to everything that’s good about the BMW look. The taut, compact greenhouse of the Gran Coupe idiom — even with its extended roofline here — energizes the familiar shapes below. And the frameless windows, a traditional signature of coupe styling, add a welcome spirit of elegance.
When you’re behind the wheel, you also have a rewarding impression of style. The interior architecture is familiar, but its message has been transformed by one of the styling formats BMW has created: the familiar blacked-out look of Sport; the chrome and color of Luxury; and the performance-type equipment of M Sport. The cockpit-style cues of the BMW driving position also help deliver a special experience, as the car feels wrapped around you, even as there’s enough space and seat travel to stretch out.
A little traveling music, please
And there’s style in the way this car drives as well. Even as big tires and multi-mode suspension get all the headlines when it comes to BMWs, the real advances in the last decade by the Munich engineers have really been made in comfort. We drove from the orchards and broad-leaf forests of the South Carolina Piedmont to the old brick-paved streets of Columbia, then continued to the coastal marshes around the Savannah River, and even we were surprised at the Gran Coupe’s composure.
The eight-speed automatic transmission keeps the 240-hp, turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine humming at low rpm, reducing noise as well as improving fuel efficiency. Further calm is introduced by the car’s 0.27 Cd, so there’s not much wind noise. During urban driving for a coffee stop in Columbia, we left the engine’s stop/start feature engaged, which in the past has been a clunky and noisy experience in a BMW (especially with a four-cylinder engine). But by a miracle, some tinkering by BMW engineers has substantially improved the refinement of this powertrain’s refinement in stop/start mode, and it’s not bad at all.
The whole drive reminded us once again that four-cylinder engines are great for highway cruising, since such little throttle and such small power output is required to keep a car rolling, even this 3,610-pound Gran Coupe. And while this 2.0-liter BMW four-cylinder will growl coarsely when you get after it, the twin-scroll turbo ensures that there’s such a wide and useful band of power that we never longed for the 300-hp turbo six during our trip.
Big style costs big money
It is not fashionable to spend $52,300 on a relatively small car, as was done in this particular 2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe. Money and size are supposed to be commensurate in America, and there are plenty of people who will moralize about so much spent on what might appear to be so little.
But we have to say that very rarely have we enjoyed a trip in a BMW so much as in this one. This comes from a utility package that met all the demands of a widely varied itinerary, a styling expression both dramatic and comprehensively personalized, and a well-engineered platform that drives with the character that still lies inside BMW’s right-size sedan. No GT coupe from Aston Martin, Ferrari, or Jaguar could have been any better.
2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe Specifications
|Price:||$41,250/$52,300 (base/as tested)|
|Engine:||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/240 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm, 255 lb-ft @ 1,250-4,800 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||23/34 mpg (city/hwy)|
|Suspension F/R:||Struts, coil springs/multi-link, coil springss|
|Brakes F/R:||Vented discs|
|Tires F/R:||225/45R-18 /225/45R-18 Bridgestone Potenza|
|L x W x H:||182.6 x 71.9 x 54.7 in|
|Headroom F/R:||39.8/37.2 in|
|Legroom F/R:||42.2/33.7 in|
|Shoulder Room F/R:||54.8/54.3 in|
|Cargo Room:||17.0 cu ft|
|Weight Dist. F/R:||49/51%|
|0-60 MPH:||5.7 sec|
|Top Speed:||130/155 mph (base/optional)|