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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Driving the 2015 BMW 4-Series Grand Coupe: The right way to slice

YAHOO AUTOS

                    
BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe
                    BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe
 
We’ve all been to that birthday bash where a small cake gets cut into wafer-thin wedges to serve all the partygoers. That’s what comes to mind with BMW slicing up the sporty luxury segment into delicate pieces with the 3 and 4 Series; not only you do you have traditional sedan and coupe, but there’s also the endangered wagon, and awkwardly proportioned Gran Turismo, which potentially competes with the bro-mobile X4.
 
Then you get into the different engines, or whether you should get the AWD xDrive. Choosing the right trim sounds daunting, until you realize one’s sweeter than the rest: the 4 Series Gran Coupe.

When
BMW dropped the car off at our offices, the 435i initially struck me as a 3-Series with a hatch tacked on, with a porthole-sized glass for a rear window. But take in the swept-back silhouette of a high-speed yacht, and it’s clear this is the stunner of the line-up.
 
 It felt right at home cruising through the gold-hued hills of Napa Valley for our press junket, passing by the jet-black Mercedes S-Classes and the occasional Bentley in Yontsville (where BMW engorged and pampered journalists with a dinner at French Laundry). The raked greenhouse does cut into rear headroom compared to a standard 3, but the mild compromise is worth the aesthetic payoff.

 
 
Moreover, it drives like the two-door coupe instead of the emotionally detached sedan. The venerable 3-Series saloon has gotten soft over the years, like a long-time boxing champ starting to take it easy in training. It’s to the point where a Cadillac trumps it as the better driver’s car with the ATS. The 3-Series GT is even less engaging.
 
Fortunately, the 4-Series Coupe addressed much of those wrongs, even if the mechanical differences between the sedan are minor; the ride height is lower, suspension geometry is tweaked, and it uses the same electronic-power steering system.
 
Yet the coupe has a livelier steering and chassis, and communicates the changes in grip more clearly. Since the 4 Series Gran Coupe is more closely related to the 4-Series Coupe (the front clip is the same), it retains all the laudable dynamics of the two-door.
 
 The only exception is the xDrive trim, which although feels snappier upon corner exit, loses a lot of the tactile feel of the RWD 428i and 435i.

That raises the question: is the 435i preferable to the 428i? Normally you’d choose the more powerful of the two; after all, 300 horses should be better than 240. Neither will send your heart racing, though.


 They’re subdued and well-behaved to the point of being devoid of personality, like playing with a German Shepard that won a Crufts Obedience Cup. The 435i’s turbo 3.0 inline six has more top-end zing that encourages you to send the revs up towards its 7000 rpm redline, but the 428i feels slightly less nose-heavy.


 Plus, the power from the 2.0-liter four-banger is plenty, even for spirited weekend drives, and you only lose  about a half second from 0-60--5.6 seconds versus 5.0--so I’d rather save the $5,000. Both come standard with the sublime 8-speed automatic.



 
Whichever you choose, their lithe handling epitomizes the Ultimate Driving Machine. While not as crisp or responsive as the new M3/M4, the quintessentially Teutonic suspension, civil road manners and a forgiving torque band makes it a far more rational and even desirable choice (until the inevitable M4 Gran Coupe comes along).
 
 Dial up the M adaptive suspension to Sport and Sport+ and the dampers stiffen progressively. The five-door hugs the road with reassuring tenacity, and the power builds progressively in spite of the turbo, making it a carefree pleasure to throw it around corners.

The main downside to the Gran Coupe is pricing — it starts at $40,400, but that price tag quickly inflates when you add amenities that should come standard nowadays, such as Bluetooth audio and a back-up camera. Plus the interior design is starting to show its age, especially compared to the swankier C-Class.
 
Yet with its combination of style, refined yet bewitching driving dynamics, it’s still a one of the highlights of a crowded segment. So while BMW may cut up its lineup into finer slices, choosing the best 3 or 4 Series is, well, a piece of cake.