In the 1970s and 1980s, several European carmakers offered premium hatchback sedans, but the traditionally conservative German brands were not among them. That situation began to change in recent years with the advent of Audi’s A5 Sportback and A7, and now BMW is joining the premium hatchback party with the 4-series Gran Coupe, a car that the brand’s head of exterior design Karim Habib calls “perhaps the most beautiful variation of this architecture.” By architecture, he means the F3x platform, which underpins no less than seven body styles: 3-series sedan and SportWagon, long-wheelbase China-only sedan, and Gran Turismo; the 4-series coupe and convertible; and now the 4-series Gran Coupe.
The 4-series models have a wider stance than do the 3-series, and the Gran Coupe actually looks a lot more substantial than the 3 sedan. With its 4-series-specific detailing, a sloping roofline, and frameless windows, it is also quite elegant. Looks are a matter of taste, but to our eyes, the 4-series Gran Coupe is the most beautiful BMW south of the far more expensive 6-series Gran Coupe. And it is station-wagon practical: The rear seats can be folded down, increasing the cargo space of this big hatchback from 17 cubic feet to a maximum of 46. Sure, that’s less than the tall and long 3-series Gran Turismo, but—trust us—you’d rather be seen in the way-more stylish 4.
BMW has limited customer choice to just two engines: the well-established 240-hp 2.0-liter four and the 300-horse 3.0-liter inline-six. Both powerplants are direct-injected and turbocharged, and they provide ample thrust. With the four-banger, the big hatch should reach 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The same exercise is likely to take just 4.9 seconds with the 3.0-liter six. In both versions, top speed is governed at 130 mph, but that can be raised to 155 mph if optional high-performance summer tires are specified when ordering. All-wheel drive is a $2000 option on the 428i, and will come later to the 435i. BMW won’t offer any 4-series Gran Coupes with a manual transmission, so all takers will get a ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic.
Sampled on twisty and slightly slippery roads in Northern Spain, the 4-series Gran Coupe handled just like, well, a 3-series sedan, which is to say it’s athletic. Pushing the Sport + mode button next to the shifter brings heightened agility and dials back the overboosted feel to the steering, but does little to mitigate the lack of feedback through the steering wheel. Still, the car’s near-even front/rear weight balance helps it respond to inputs organically and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get the Gran Coupe’s tail to rotate into a corner. With other drive modes selected, the BMW behaved in a far more docile manner, losing some of its sporty character. If we have a major gripe, it would be that the 4-series Gran Coupe is too quiet and isolated. Thus, the 428i feels slower than it is, and the nondescript, muted sound of its four-banger doesn’t help. We’d go for the 435i—It adds a bit of sound and the mid-range responsiveness that we expect of a BMW.
At $41,225 for the 428i and $46,725 for the 435i, the 4-series Gran Coupe comes in at just a few thousand dollars more than the 3-series sedan. With a diesel, a manual transmission, and an M3 in its portfolio (there won’t be an M4 Gran Coupe), we think the 3-series lineup offers plenty of customer choices, but for buyers going for one of the mainstream powertrain options, the 4-series Gran Coupe is worth considering as a stylish alternative. Rear-drive versions of the 4-series Gran Coupe and the 428i xDrive go on sale this June, with the 435i xDrive to follow in September.