Just to recap, the BMW 4-series Gran Coupe is the higher-roofed, quad-doored partner to the regular two-door 4-series Coupe – which is itself based on the 3-series saloon. So it’s the four-door version of the two-door version of a four-door car. Just wanted to make things clear.
Joining the range a few months after the Gran Coupe’s initial launch is this, the four-wheel-drive xDrive version. There’s a choice of four engines to go with the all-wheel-drive system, including some burly six-cylinder diesels and a perky four-pot petrol, but tested here is the sensible 420d diesel. That means 2.0 litres, four cylinders and 181bhp.
Can you feel the 4WD system at work on the road?
Not in a way that’s at all intrusive. But the 420d xDrive’s chewing gum traction and surefooted stance could only be that of a car with four-wheel drive.
During our time with the BMW the roads were coated in the kind of slimy winter film that can help you really rather warm to the idea of a car that drives all its wheels. At no point did it feel anything other than balanced, grippy and stable. It won’t indulge any hooliganism – grip, grip and more grip is the order of the day here.
Our test car was a top, semi-sporty M Sport derivative fitted with adaptive dampers. Set to Sport mode the ride’s too busy for most surfaces but in Comfort it’s as smooth as it comes.
What’s the engine like in the 420d?
It’s a familiar, well-proven powerplant from elsewhere in BMW’s range with enough performance to lug a relatively heavy amount of car around without breaking sweat, if not make it sports saloon-quick. There’s a bit of gruff diesel noise as the revs build but it’s nicely hushed at a cruise.
You can have a manual gearbox, but this particular car’s fitted with a butter-smooth eight-speed auto and feels all the better for it. It’s better suited to the 420d’s cruisy character than the slightly elastic-feeling manual shift you’d have to put up with otherwise, although the auto does add an extra grand and a half to the car’s already sizeable price.
To BMW’s credit the 4WD system doesn’t mean a huge jump in fuel or tax costs, with a 4mpg and 7g/km difference over the equivalent rear-drive model.
Is the 4-series Gran Coupe really that practical?
It really is, actually. Rear headroom’s a little tight if you’re above average height but otherwise there’s plenty of wriggle room for legs and shoulders.
Unlike the 3-series saloon (which, incidentally, is also available with xDrive), the Gran Coupe has a tailgate hatch, making it a whole lot easier to access its 435-litre boot. That’s the same size as that saloon in fact, and 35 more than the two-door 4-series. With the rear seats flopped down there’s not much that won’t fit inside.
Question is, tailgate apart, would a 3-series saloon not be just as good? Sleek enough though it is, it’s hard to argue that the 4-series GC looks a great deal more glamorous.
Very good car in isolation though, and better to drive than the Audi A5 Sportback, its most logical rival. As a practical BMW saloon that’s less ubiquitous, and therefore a bit more desirable, than a 3-series it just about makes sense. More so than a 3-series GT, anyway.
Whether it’s worth ticking the xDrive box depends how remote an area and how iffy the roads you’re likely to present the car with. Traction and handling are hard to criticise but a £1600 premium – and a marginally less involving drive – are the prices to pay.