The 3-Series has long served as BMW’s bread and butter model, bringing upwardly mobile folks into the fold of blue-and-white Roundel for nearly four decades. In the United States, we knew it best as a lineup that comprises sedans, coupes, and wagons.
Then, like a chef experimenting with new methods of baking bread (or churning butter), BMW began to expand on the premise. This brought about the introduction of the X1 and X3 sport-utility vehicles, and the 3-Series Gran Turismo, a modern riff on a hatchback. At the same time, the automaker rejiggered its naming strategy to designate some 3-Series models as 4-Series, like BMW also did with the larger 5- and 6-Series.
For its next innovation, BMW is presenting the 2015 4-Series Gran Coupe. It has four doors, a coupe-like roofline, cargo capacity to match a small SUV’s, and optional all-wheel drive.
The bigger question is: What the heck is it, really?
From the outside, the 4-Series Gran Coupe is styled to emulate its two-door brother. Headlights, taillights, and wheel choices are borrowed from the 4-Series, not the 3-Series. A wider track, lower roofline, and frameless windows are the key design elements meant to distinguish it from other models in the lineup. Viewed directly from the front or back, you’d be hard-pressed to know it’s anything but a 4-Series coupe. Other vantage points, such as its side profile, paint the 4-Series Gran Coupe in a much more sedate, sedan-like light.
Its interior is a light and airy space, with design nicked most obviously from the 4-Series coupe, and not the sedan – although all 3-Series models do share features and content. (Confused yet?) The driver-oriented cockpit insinuates a sporty driving experience, the controls are pointed more directly at the driver, and a high beltline assists in creating this focused atmosphere. Materials are generally top-rate for the class, save for some cheap-feeling trim pieces surrounding the B-pillar.
The biggest selling point for BMW’s most stylish 3-Series sedan, however, is behind the tight rear seats: a 17-cubic-foot cargo area that can be extended to 45 cubic feet with the back row folded. That’s practically SUV-like space, accessible by a low loading floor, as we learned by filling up the cargo compartment with hefty valises and assorted tchotchkes.
You could argue that the 4-Series, what with its significant cargo hold, makes the 3-Series Gran Turismo, or the Wagon, obsolete. But, according to 4-Series product manager Paloma Schmidt-Brakling, “with the Gran Coupe, the 4-series lineup is now complete.”
We had the chance to sample the 428i xDrive Gran Coupe, fitted with the smaller of two turbocharged engine choices that will be offered in the United States: a 2.0-liter, 240-horsepower four-cylinder mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. (Rear-wheel drive is standard.) The larger of the two, a 3.0-liter, six-cylinder engine that produces 300-horsepower, will only be available with rear-wheel drive. These two units are also standard-fare on many other 3-Series and 4-Series variants sold in the United States.
On the road, expect the 4-Series Gran Coupe to drive more like the 3-Series sedan than a true, sporting coupe – but that’s no insult. On the twisty, winding back roads in Spain’s Basque Country, the 428i xDrive Gran Coupe proved a balanced handler, finding composure that many sport sedans (and coupes) lack. It’s steering, while slightly over boosted for our taste, is among the best in the business; turn-in was sharp, and feedback was immediate. Ride quality was smooth, as expected, with some leeway given to the large wheel-and-tire package fitted to our test car.
You can also expect the 4-Series Gran Coupe with the larger engine to perform admirably, as well, if past experience with the 435i xDrive coupe is any indication. Fuel economy, with the larger engine, will likely come out lower than the 428i’s solid 33-mpg highway average.
After hours spent behind the wheel of the 428i xDrive Gran Coupe, we came away startled by its combination of versatility and style, very satisfied with the driving experience, and perhaps even more confused about the 4-Series’ space in the lineup than before.
If you’re looking for a more attractive way to own a German luxury sedan with a massive cargo area, well, allow us to present the 4-Series Gran Coupe!