The 3 that wanted to be an A5

The BMW 4-Series Gran Coupé was created as an Audi A5 beater, but can it?


BMW made its mark on the world with the 3-Series. When you’re as old as I am, you will remember that this was a two-door car and that is how I think god wanted it. Of course, the 3 then became a full sedan which is how most people understand the car today. The coupé, convertible and estates became variants, but they were still essentially 3s.

A rose by any other name

IMG_6793If there was one thing you could count on BMW for, it was keeping things simple…until now. In their infinite wisdom, they decided that all coupes would take on an even number code and thus the 3-Series coupé became the 4-Series. The company would like you to believe that you’re buying a different line of cars and while perhaps a little disingenuous, still logical.

So just when you thought you could get back on the road, they introduce the 4-Series Gran Coupé, which means it’s a coupé, but has 4 doors. For clarity, The International Standard ISO 3833-1977 defines a coupé as having a closed body, usually with limited rear volume, a fixed roof of which a portion may be openable, at least two seats in at least one row, two side doors and possibly a rear opening, and at least two side windows.

So it’s not a coupé but has the coupé nomenclature, and it has four doors but it’s not a 3-Series. Seems like BMW took a page out of the VK Lingam school of management…”looks like me, sounds like me but it’s not me”.


To Ingolstadt we will go

Why is BMW doing this? In no small part, it’s a response to the success of the Audi A5 range and, indeed, the 4-Series Gran Coupé – with its five-door, five-seat layout shoe-horned into a coupé-like silhouette – hopes to gain ground on the similarly configured A5 Sportback.

The Audi is slightly longer and wider than the BMW, but they are dimensionally closely matched. They share an identical wheelbase and boot capacity of 2810mm and 480 litres – which are also vital statistics of the 3-series saloon. So while the 4-series Gran Coupé aims to compete with the Audi, it might also up-sell potential 3-Series buyers.


Same but different

Externally, the Gran Coupé retains much of the coupé’s shape, though it’s a little more cab-heavy. Having said that, with the exception of small cues, it’s not that different looking from the sedan. It would seem that the engineers erred on the side of roominess over style. This has resulted in a “neither here nor there” look. It certainly does not elicit the emotions one has comes to expect from a coupé.


IMG_6683The interior is deja vu – the dash layout and switchgear are largely from the 3-series – and if you choose black, the cabin is quite gloomy. A few surfaces are moulded in disappointingly hard plastic, but materials are generally good, and driver ergonomics are faultless.

Rear-seat ingress is made tougher by the wheel arches but legroom is ample and headroom acceptable. A fifth passenger will struggle for head and shoulder room. The boot has a high lip but is wide and uniformly shaped. Remove the two-part parcel shelf, flip the splitting rear seatbacks forward and you will get 1,300 litres of maximum capacity.

The 4 Gran Coupé drives like a 4-Series Coupé. Which means it is nimble, fluent, forgiving and well-connected. But, like the coupe, the steering sniffs at cambers, and our less than manicured Malaysian tarmac will throw up a fair bit of high-frequency vibration , even though the primary big-bump ride is adequately supple. You sit lower in the car than in a 3-Series, and the car is lower to the road, which all helps the feeling of agility.

IMG_6657If there is one thing the 4 Gran Coupé can count on, it’s the lovely synchronicity between motor and tranny. In the 428i that we drove, the unity of engine and gearbox was sublime making you constantly look for opportunities to go up and down the eight speeds available. It does the century sprint in six seconds and the 1997cc 4-cylinder turbo’s 245hp with 350Nm of torque is sure to provide you with very entertaining drives.


Et tu BMW?

In the final analysis, the 4 Gran Coupé is not a bad car. It’s quick, drives well and can fit the mother-in-law. But wait, isn’t that a 3-Series? And here’s where it all starts to unravel. BMW did a stonking good job with the 6 Gran Coupé. It’s one of the few times that the extra two doors don’t take away from the elan of a coupe. You can’t blame them for thinking they could apply the same rules here. Unfortunately, the execution is somewhat wanting to say the least.

It’s sadly in a kind of no-mans-land. While it’s larger than a coupé, it’s not as roomy as the sedan and despite all the visual cues, doesn’t have any of the emotional value of the coupé. At RM 387,800 that’s a whole RM31,000 more than the coupé and a whopping RM 79,000 more than a 328i. So either way, you end paying more, and for what?  It’s a compromise but not a good one. But that’s what happens when you build a “me too” product. Maybe BMW should think of a separate naming code. The BMW 3.5-Series perhaps?


BMW 428i Gran Coupé

Price RM387,800 (w/o insurance)
Engine 2.0L petrol, 4-cylinder, turbocharged
Output 245ps, 350Nm
Transmission 8-sp auto w/ steering shift paddles
Performance 0-100km/h in 6.0sec, top speed 250km/h
Wheels/tyres 18in alloys, 225/45R18, Run-Flat Tyres