Who better to test BMW's segment-straddling 428i Gran Coupe executive express than our resident chief executive?
The CarAdvice garage has just grown to accommodate a new long-termer: a BMW 428i Gran Coupe.
Why not just the two-door 4 Series Coupe, we hear you ask? Because some of us at CarAdvice believe that the Gran Coupe is the far more interesting variant of BMW’s newfound passion for even numbers rather than odd ones.
And in the case of this latest addition to our long-term garage, our esteemed journos decided that the best way to test the real-world ownership experience of BMW’s latest executive express was to wedge CarAdvice’s own executive-in-residence behind the wheel for the next three months.
Now, if ever there was a way to gain favour from the boss I reckon this has to be up there. Thanks team.
Personally, sliding behind the wheel of the Gran Coupe emblazoned with the famous blue-and-white roundel logo evokes some of the best memories from my twenties.
My first Bimmer was funded with a personal loan, plus a part-time job at the local pub washing dishes. It was a silver E21 323i, and I loved that car more than my girlfriend, and spent about a hundred-times more on maintaining it.
And the BMW badge? Well you could say it meant a lot to me back then, driven by regular visits to the dealer to pick up a new one after the local lads yet again ripped the old one off on the way home from the pub (where I was washing dishes no doubt).
Even then you could say I was investing in the BMW brand.
Sliding into the Gran Coupe is instantly familiar. The driver-focussed, angled dash design – which was first launched back in my long-gone E21 series – is still present, although is so tightly integrated into the overall interior design that it takes a keen eye to notice the asymmetrical influences around the centre stack.
The stippled leather and soft-touch dash hark back to the original BMW designs, although unlike the early versions these plastics can no doubt stand more than one Australian summer without cracking and warping like my poor E21 did at the first sign of a 40-degree day.
Some have debated the entire ‘can a four-door car actually be called a coupe?’ angle ad nauseam – certainly I’ve come across this criticism in the context of the BMW Gran Coupe.
I’ll leave the technical nature of the debate to those trainspotters that feel compelled to argue, and instead get straight to the point: if ever there was a four-door sports saloon that deserved to be called a coupe the 428i is it. This is a great-looking car and, to this eye at least, is one of the most attractive of the current BMW range. The ultimate marketing coup perhaps?
‘Ah-ha!’ say the trainspotters, giggling at my faux-pas on the use of the term ‘four-door’ because – and here comes the best bit – the Gran Coupe is actually a five-door. A liftback that has, for BMW at least, arrived five-years late to the big booty party that the upstart Audi from Ingolstadt kicked off with the A5 Sportback in 2009.
Both the A5 and the 428i play up to their maker’s coupe claims with the use of frameless doors and by retaining the long, tapering rooflines from their two-door donor siblings.
And at the rear? The – wait for it – coup d’état that defines the one aspect of the Gran Coupe that makes this way more than a four-door 4 Series…
Press the button, and the fully electric lifting tailgate/hatch/liftback starts to open. And open. Old people stare and kids stop in the street and point. You begin to wonder whether you are parked under a low roof clearance, or in a flight path of landing aircraft.
When it silently – and actually rather quickly – completes opening you are left staring into the maw of what is frankly an enormously functional boot area. With the 40/20/40 split rear seats upright, the Gran Coupe offers up only an additional 35 litres more than the two door 4 Series Coupe, bringing the total to 480 litres.
However fold the seats flat, and cargo capacity increases to a very usable 1300 litres combined with an opening aperture that will allow you to take golf bags, a racing bike, or a European holiday’s worth of luggage without resorting to Tetris-like packing skills.
The centre folding section is the perfect solution for skis and snowboards (although provision for integrated roof-rack mounting is available, honestly you would look like a doofus and you should probably be thinking about an X4).
Passenger comfort in the Gran Coupe is excellent in the front with plenty of head and legroom for this 186cm tall driver, despite the sunroof. While rear seat legroom is also good for adults around my size, headroom is somewhat restricted for taller passengers, no doubt due to the 12mm lower roofline height over the two-door Coupe.
One of the unexpected benefits of the Gran Coupe’s packaging is the simple effect of jamming four doors in the same length as the two door Coupe: shorter doors.
For this tester this is a substantial positive as frankly, large doors are a pox upon car-using humanity. This situation is compounded by Westfield carpark designers, and anyone who has ever had to try and manhandle takeaway Thai food out of the car, while parked on a steep hill, holding a coupe barn-like door open with your foot.
First-world problem I’m sure, however your personal-wealth politics notwithstanding, a shorter car door is a friendlier door unless of course it is not big enough for entry and egress – a problem that our Gran Coupe does not present.
Our particular 428 Gran Coupe is a fiery Melbourne Red which despite growing up in its namesake city (how appropriate), was news to me as I didn’t know there was actually an official colour with such a name.
At a hefty $1840 for the metallic paint options (including ours), I’m sure the paint at least went to a good school. I like the colour, my wife doesn’t like it, and the vote at the office is 50/50.
More surprisingly, and refreshingly for a press car, ours is only very modestly optioned. In fact the options added (apart from the coat of Melbourne’s finest) are in my mind exactly how I would specify the Gran Coupe for my own purchase – limited to the factory sunroof ($2920), Internet ($200), ConnectedDrive ($1200) and the excellent value and potentially life-saving Driving Assistant ($900) technology.
The BMW Driving Assistant includes lane-departure warning via visual and steering wheel vibrations, combined with collision early warning and light semi-autonomous braking and pedestrian detection. Trust me – if you can afford the metallic paint option, you can afford technology that may save at best a life, or at worst, your insurance rating.
The most glaring options omissions that I’d like on this car would be the full-colour Head Up Display ($1700), as annoyingly this is the only way to get a digital speedometer into your 428 Gran Coupe.
Unfortunately the standard TFT display is not configurable for the inclusion of a speed display, which in Australia’s current nanny state is highly desirable if you want to avoid those ‘just 2km/h over the limit’ fines.
The other option that caught my eye from the recently reviewed 435i was the highly desirable M-Sport tiller, as while the standard helm certainly does the job with highly ergonomic infotainment and cruise control integration, the leather-wrapped finish is a tad low-rent compared to the beautiful finish of the premium wheel.
The standard equipment inclusions are what I would describe as generous for this class of vehicle. Standard kit includes comprehensive LED and Bi-Xenon lighting, the full suite of three-letter acronym safety features (ABS, DSC, DTC, CBC), rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto headlights and wipers, powered tailgate and Dakota leather seats and trim, and BMW’s excellent Professional Navigation System.
The BMW iDrive infotainment interface is one that our testers consistently rate as the gold standard for intuitive usability, fast rendering and menu animations, and a glitch-free user experience.
One month in and I see what they mean. With iDrive, like Apple, it just works as you expect it to every time. You don’t need to refer to the manual, and if you did it’s mostly stored in the system with helpful image-based search should you not know the name of your core component.
Bluetooth connectivity is fast to establish the initial connection and seamless for telephony, as is call clarity and speaker pickup – after all you would expect nothing less from an executive mobile office.
One issue that has proved problematic is maintaining a reliable audio streaming connection, although further troubleshooting may prove this to be my device not iDrive.
The entire suite of internet connectivity and downloadable apps, enabling remote activation of services such as climate control, door locking and geo-locating the precise place you parked you car within 1.5 km via your smartphone, are all technologies we will explore as our ownership experience unfolds.
The 428i engine is a firm favourite amongst the wider CarAdvice team and yours truly is no exception. Delivering 180kW and 350Nm of the torquey stuff from a near idling 1250rpm, this 1997cm3 unit is an absolute winner.
Combined with the possibly even more remarkable ZF eight-speed automatic ‘box, this drivetrain is without a doubt one that all keen drivers will love, serving up a 0-100km/h time of six-seconds flat, and while we have yet to run it against our V-Box (coming soon) it certainly feels every bit as fast as the manufacturer claims.
In fact, so good is the ZF in this application – with lightning fast shifts and even a DSG-like ‘whump’ on upshifts in Sport+ — that it better prosecutes the case against semi-automated gearboxes than any other car on sale I can think of.
Conversely, left in ‘D’ for the daily commuter grind the drivetrain delivers a silky smooth experience that befits the Gran Coupe’s executive duties to the highest standard.
Throw into that already pitch-perfect partnership of engine and gearbox BMW’s M-Sport adaptive suspension which is standard fitment on the 428 and you have a trio of tricks that allows the Gran Coupe to be both Jekyll and Hyde at the press of a few buttons.
We will leave a deeper exploration of the driving experience of the Gran Coupe until the next update, however from a sneak preview perspective it is very good indeed, to the point of having myself and a few of the team here at CA wondering whether there is any need to stretch to a 435i Gran Coupe when the 428 delivers very close to the same levels of sporting experience, for significantly less of the folding stuff.
Fuel consumption to date has averaged a very reasonable 8.7L/100km (as compared to the ADR listed 6.4L/100km) with the car spending far too much time in the heavy Sydney daily commute, with a few trips to the north coast thrown in when time permits.
With a few longer trips planned in the next few weeks, stay tuned as we give this Bavarian beauty a chance to stretch out on the open road.
BMW 428i Gran Coupe
Date acquired: August 2014
Odometer reading: 2521km
Travel this month: 1243km
Consumption this month: 8.7L/100km
Driving Assistant ($900)
Total manufacturer's recommended list price: $86,220