BMW 420I COUPÉ VS 420D GRAN COUPÉ

Win­ning the style wars

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © BMW SOUTH AFRICA

IF YOU THINK THAT THE BMW 4 SE­RIES COUPÉ LOOKS SUR­PRIS­INGLY MUCH LIKE THE 3 SE­RIES SEDAN AND THAT THE 4 SE­RIES GRAN COUPÉ ALSO BEARS MORE THAN A PASS­ING RE­SEM­BLANCE TO BOTH, YOU’D BE RIGHT. THEY’RE ALL RE­LATED, WITH THE 3 SE­RIES BE­ING THE COM­MON DE­NOM­I­NA­TOR. BUT WHY THEN HAVE THEM ALL IN THE FIRST PLACE? BERNIE HELLBERG EX­PLAINS…

Years ago, when BMW started plan­ning their all-out model of­fen­sive, which was de­signed take beat ri­vals Mercedes-Benz at their own game, they also de­cided to ra­tio­nalise their nam­ing con­ven­tion, adding even num­bers to mix, us­ing said even nu­mer­als to de­scribe coupé and con­vert­ible strains of their ex­ist­ing cars.

The 1 Se­ries Coupé be­came the 2 Se­ries, and the 3 Se­ries Coupé, nat­u­rally, mor­phed into the 4 Se­ries. Then the Bavar­ian au­tomaker be­gan ex­pand­ing the line-up of of­fer­ings un­der the new num­ber conventions, adding the 4 Se­ries Gran Coupé to the mix as well. It all sounds mighty con­fus­ing un­til you re­alise that it ac­tu­ally makes per­fect sense to sep­a­rate de­riv­a­tive lines in this way.

WHY THE 4 SE­RIES?

So the 4 Se­ries shares many of the 3 Se­ries’ good points, such as its ef­fi­cient en­gines and classy in­te­rior, but with a healthy in­jec­tion of style. It should be ideal, then, for peo­ple who fancy a coupé but need a pair of rea­son­ably prac­ti­cal rear seats for oc­ca­sional use.

A mid-life facelift in 2017 (Driven, Au­gust 2017) added a new in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and lightly tweaked styling for the lights and bumpers.

There’s lots of space in the front, and although ac­cess to the rear is a lit­tle tricky, the same ap­plies to the BMW’s ri­vals. Once in­side, rear legroom is bet­ter than in the Audi A5, although any­body over six-foot tall will still strug­gle with head­room.

Also, while the boot isn’t quite as big as that of the 3 Se­ries or the Audi A5, there’s more space than you get in a Mercedes C-class Coupé, and enough room for a large suit­case and sev­eral smaller bags.

Whether the BMW 4 Se­ries is a com­fort­able car de­pends very much on the model you choose. Our test car– the 420i Sport Line with sports au­to­matic gear­box (R652,398) – came with the stan­dard sus­pen­sion that of­fered a sublime driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Adding to the ex­pe­ri­ence, BMW’s ZF-sourced su­per smooth eight­speed au­to­matic has di­rect ac­cess to all the power you need when spir­ited driv­ing is re­quired.

Whichever model you choose, you’ll en­joy com­fort­able, sup­port­ive seats and a driv­ing po­si­tion that’s very adapt­able. A Mercedes C-class Coupé on op­tional Air­matic sus­pen­sion still of­fers the most com­fort­able ride in this class though.

By coupé stan­dards, vis­i­bil­ity is pretty good in the 4 Se­ries. Our model also came fit­ted with front and rear park­ing sen­sors that, along with light steer­ing at town speeds, help with park­ing.

AND THE GRAN COUPÉ?

For many, the four-door coupé is the ideal com­pro­mise. While some pre­fer the lines of a clas­si­cally de­fined two-door coupé, hav­ing another set of doors to the rear of the car won’t hurt. But why then buy a four-door coupé in the first place, comes the ar­gu­ment.

At the very least, the 4 Se­ries Gran Coupé is de­signed to look as svelte and sporty as any of its coupé brethren, such as the Audi A5 Sport­back, yet it still boasts enough prac­ti­cal­ity to make it a vi­able al­ter­na­tive to the sa­loon-con­scious buyer.

Added to that, in fuel-sip­ping 2.0-litre tur­bod­iesel guise, it adds a layer of thrifti­ness to the mix too. But let’s take a brief look at the Gran Coupé to see how it mea­sures up as an all-rounder…

Although the same length a 4 Se­ries coupé, the ad­di­tion of two rear doors ap­par­ently makes ac­cess to the Gran Coupé’s rear seats much eas­ier. Once in, there is enough legroom for two adults, but those over six-foot tall will find that the slop­ing roofline eats into head­room.

Fur­ther back, the 4 se­ries Gran Coupé has the same-sized boot as a 3 Se­ries, but be­ing a hatch­back rather than a sa­loon is ar­guably more use­ful. You can also fold the rear seats flat to fur­ther boost space.

And when you’re trans­port­ing the crew, the 4 Se­ries Gran Coupé is good at soak­ing up bumps in the road, although mod­els with the M Sport sus­pen­sion can feel too firm. For the ul­ti­mate in ride com­fort, you’ll need the op­tional adap­tive sus­pen­sion, which smoothes out the ride around town.

The diesel en­gines in the 4 Se­ries Gran Coupé are a bit clat­tery when cold, par­tic­u­larly at low speeds, but the same could be said of those in the Audi A5 Sport­back. For­tu­nately, they set­tle down on the mo­tor­way, and you don’t hear much road- or sus­pen­sion noise, so the 4 Se­ries Gran Coupé is a re­lax­ing long-dis­tance cruiser.

On the in­side you’re greeted by the 3 Se­ries’ dash lay­out, mean­ing that the 4 Se­ries Gran Coupé is hard to fault, both in terms of ma­te­rial choices and func­tion­al­ity.

The car’s cen­tral iDrive sys­tem uses a screen placed on top of the dash so that you can al­ways keep half an eye on the road when you’re us­ing it. It is used to con­trol most of the car’s sys­tems, in­clud­ing the ra­dio and sat­nav, and even read­ing the in­struc­tion man­ual, and is op­er­ated us­ing a ro­tary dial that’s po­si­tioned just be­hind the gear­stick.

For such a stylish car, all-around vis­i­bil­ity is not bad, and the Gran Coupé re­turns a delectably smooth driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery time.

LAST WORD

The BMW 4 Se­ries Coupé is an el­e­gant, yet sporty tourer that can waft its oc­cu­pants in com­fort over long dis­tances or be great fun on your favourite coun­try road. The Gran Coupé is much of the same. In the end, it likely comes down to per­sonal pref­er­ence, and whether you oc­ca­sion­ally need eas­ier ac­cess to the rear seat to carry more pas­sen­gers. Where en­gines are con­cerned, I was im­pressed by both the 420i re­spon­sive­ness and the cruis­ing abil­ity of the 420d. Sure, there are more pow­er­ful six-cylin­der en­gines avail­able in both ranges, but for the most part, the four­pot­ters will rep­re­sent the best com­pro­mise be­tween per­for­mance and price.

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