BY JIM MACPHERSON
10:54 AM EST, December 4, 2014
BMW appears to be on a mission. The goal: To offer a vehicle in every premium segment and, in some cases, develop a model that creates a new niche. The latest example of this second approach is the new 4-Series BMW Gran Coupe.
The 4-Series was created last year when BMW developed a new naming system that called for two-door model designations to begin with an even number. Last year’s 4-Series coupes were previously 3-Series coupes. The previous odd-numbered series models know have four doors.
However, the 428i Gran Coupe that BMW loaned my wife Paula and me is an interesting exception to the new rules. It’s a four-door model; five doors, actually, since it is a hatchback. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Or, looked at another way, BMW made the rules; they can break them.
This new 4-Series Gran Coupe comes in two versions, the 428i we drove and the 435i. The most significant difference between the two is found under the hood. The 428i is powered by BMW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, rated at 240 horsepower. The 435i uses a turbocharged six-cylinder engine that delivers 60 more horsepower. Both models are equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission; no manual is offered. Rear-wheel drive is standard while all-wheel drive is an option with either motor.
The four-cylinder engine is impressive. It delivers plenty of power and refinement offers a rapid response to the driver’s demand for more power. Shift paddles that control the transmission’s operation are within an easy fingertip reach of the steering wheel for drivers who think they can do better than the automatic transmission’s electronic controls. Letting the transmission control the shifting, our run to 60 miles per hour took six seconds. BMW claims the 435i can shave 1.1 seconds off that time.
Our car also had the standard stop/start system, which can be disabled with the push of a button. When active, it turns the engine off when the car is stopped to save fuel. The engine restarts when the driver releases the brake pedal.
We also had the M-Sport package with its upgraded adaptive suspension and 18-inch wheels with low-profile tires. Handling was sharp and balanced, with above average steering feel. Many cars with stop/start use electric power steering, but this isn’t the case in the 428i. Its hydraulic power steering, that uses a pump driven by the engine, is undoubtedly one of the secrets of its exceptional steering feel. However, when stopped, the power assist is gone. A tug on the steering wheel will restart the engine while the car is still stopped.
The interior borrows heavily from the 3-Series, which means that the design, materials and construction are top notch. The front seats are low but comfortable. The rear cabin is a little tight, however. The sloping roof, which contributes to the handsome exterior design, puts a crimp on headroom. Legroom is also limited. Larger adults do fit, but they won’t be comfortable.
The cargo area has about 14 cubic feet and loading items is easy thanks to the hatchback design. Fold the rear seats and cargo capacity rises to nearly 46 cubic feet.
Driving the BMW 428i is extremely pleasant. In one longer trip into New London County, the car impressed with its straight-line stability and agility. The only disappointment was the tire noise that was generated on some older parts of I-95. Coarse pavement can raise a ruckus. Wind noise is low, a tribute to both the caliber of design and assembly as the Gran Coupe uses frameless door glass.
The 428i is undeniably stylish. However, the comparable 3-Series sedan costs less and offers more interior room. Driving enthusiasts will note that the 3-Series still offers a manual transmission too. It’s style verses function. Whichever wins, the buyer will have a car that is thoroughly enjoyable.
I liked nearly everything about the 2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe. I liked the looks. I actually thought it was a coupe when I first saw it in our garage. I liked the unusual color combination featuring a bright blue exterior and a red interior. And, I liked the way it drove.
The smaller steering wheel made the car responsive, the engine was powerful and the controls were easy to reach. I’m getting used to BMW’s unique turn signal and windshield wiper stalk functions – they return to the center “off” position even when on – and the center console control knob for many of the infotainment functions. Climate controls are also higher up than in many cars and easy to use.
However, the highlight is how much fun driving this car turns out to be. Acceleration is brisk, the engine is responsive and the steering is so precise that you feel as if you could thread a needle with the car. My only suggestion would be for BMW to offer this car with a manual transmission.
This is one of the few cars that is comfortable for both taller and shorter drivers. I wasn’t bothered by the bolstered seat backs on the optional sport seats, which my taller husband Jim also found comfortable. I could be happy in the backseat; Jim would not be. Cargo room is good and is easily accessed thanks to the standard power rear hatch. This Gran Coupe doesn’t look like a hatchback.
Our review car had the optional backup camera and parking sensors, front and rear, which are part of the Driver Assistance Package. To get blind spot and lane departure warning, which would be nice to have in a car of this caliber, requires buying the Driver Assistance Plus Package. It also includes a top-view camera system and collision warning and mitigation capabilities. This will apply the brakes if it senses a collision is imminent.
Despite the performance, fuel economy was impressive. We averaged 31.7 miles per gallon on the premium fuel that BMW specifies. The BMW 428i Gran Coupe is a very good car.
Engines: 2.0-liter 3.0-liter
HP: 240 300
Torque: 255 295
EPA AWD: 22/32 23/34
EPA RWD: 20/31 21/32
Starts at: $40,300
Next Week: Mitsubishi Outlander GT
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant