BMW 420I COUPÉ VS 420D GRAN COUPÉ
Winning the style wars
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.
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.