BMW’S obsession with mining new and undiscovered niches on a seemingly monthly basis has resulted in the 4 Series Gran Coupe, on sale now from $70,000 for the base 420i.
The F36 Gran Coupe is not a two-door in the conventional sense, but rather a five-door liftback version of the current F30 3 Series sedan.
Its swoopier, sportier style is important, and not just because it helps produce a strikingly slippery 0.27Cd drag co-efficiency rating.
Since BMW says the 4GC is aimed directly at Audi’s successful A5 Sportback (an A4 spinoff), it wears the more exclusive 4 Series nomenclature also worn by the two-door Coupe and Convertible models.
Don’t forget, there are already two 3 Series-badged five-door models built off the same architecture – the rather dumpy and near-invisible 3 Series Gran Turismo hatch and the Touring wagon. Yes, we’re slightly bewildered, too.
Not surprisingly, the 4GC comes with a price premium – $500 more than the equivalent 420i Coupe and $9500 more than the 320i Sedan that – at first glance – the newcomer resembles.
But the 4GC seats five people (at a pinch) rather than the Coupe’s four, and comes with a standard electric tailgate.
It also has nearly $10K worth of extra features over a 320i Sedan, such as a Sport Line package (Modern and Luxury lines are also available at no extra cost) with 18-inch alloys and leather upholstery, a rear-view camera, bi-xenon headlights and an upgraded sat-nav system.
That’s on top of the regular items including idle-stop, regenerative braking, front and rear parking sensors, climate control air-con, electric front seat adjustment and full Bluetooth phone and audio streaming connectivity.
The 4GC shadows the Coupe at 4638mm long and 1825mm wide, and sits on an identical 2810mm wheelbase, but the roofline is 112mm taller to aid entry and egress.
Being a liftback, the 4GC has a practical side, with 480 litres of cargo volume, equalling the Sedan and bettering the Coupe by 35L, but falling 40L shy of the 3GT. Tipping the split-fold rear backrests down increases the load space to 1300L.
Like other 4 Series models, the 4GC offers four turbo engines, all driving the rear wheels via a ZF-supplied eight-speed automatic transmission.
Both the 420i and the 420d turbo-diesel (from $72,300) use 2.0-litre four-cylinder units.
The petrol version puts out 135kW and 270Nm for a 0-100km/h-sprint time of 7.6 seconds and consumes 6.1 litres per 100km.
The diesel delivers the same 135kW, but torque is much higher at 380Nm, cutting the 0-100km/h time by 0.1sec. The diesel also wins the economy race, returning 4.6L/100km.
Unfortunately, neither of these were available to drive at the 4GC launch in Melbourne this week, so we steered the $81,000 428i and the $109,000 435i flagship.
Expected to be the volume seller of the range, the 428i GC sticks with 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo power, but with the wick turned up to 180kW and 350Nm for a 6.0sec sprint time and 6.4L/100km consumption.
The 435i, powered by a 225kW/400Nm 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder, cuts the sprint time to 5.2sec and consumption is rated at 7.6L/100km.
We can understand why most BMW traditionalists would choose the straight-six turbo, since its engine note is as seductive as the speed, which is instantly accessible when you slot the gear lever (and Drive Mode switch) into Sport and stomp on the accelerator.
In the right conditions, the 435i GC slashes distances with astounding insouciance, backed up by fluid, precise handling, exceptional grip and an unexpectedly absorbent ride quality from the Bridgestone Potenza rubber (225/40 R19 up front and 225/35 R19 in the rear).
As with most contemporary BMWs, the (electric) steering is defined by a degree of muted feedback, but there is nothing wrong with the 4GC’s ability to be placed exactly where you need it to be mid-corner.
If you need a rousing, rapid and refined mid-size sedan-cum-liftback with a useful cargo configuration, then look no further.
However, the cheaper 428i GC – even with the $2000 M Sport wheel and tyre option – is almost as fast in the real world, if not quite as mechanically mellifluous, with a lighter and sharper edge to the way it feels and drives.
What it lacks in mid-range grunt and growl, the 55kg-lighter four-pot screamer makes up for in better agility and response through fast, tight turns, leveraging the advantages of a near 50:50 weight distribution.
Away from the laid-back Eco Pro and Comfort modes, the 428i is right up there for point-and-shoot performance.
At first, we were sceptical – and the entry-level pricing is still steep at $70K, despite the added value – but there is a cohesiveness to the way the 428i and 435i GCs drive that makes them somewhat more beguiling than expected.
If nothing else, the 4 Series Gran Coupe stands out from the sea of 3 Series sedans plying our roads.
Model: BMW F36 428i Gran Coupe
Plus: Steering; handling; performance; design
Minus: Fat B-pillar is a blind-spot nightmare; exxy options
Engine: 1997cc in-line 4 cylinder, dohc, turbo
Max power: 180kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 350Nm @ 1250-4800rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 6.4L/100km
Price: $81,000 plus ORCs
On sale: Now