BMW Gran Coupe blurs lines between sport sedan, SUV

The 2015 BMW 435i Gran Coupe doesn’t need to exist. Of course, neither does my 55-inch, high-definition, Web-browsing television set, or your weekend getaway cabin.

Somebody created all those things because someone else wanted them. In the case of the 435i Gran Coupe, BMW realized that a few people wanted a car that blurs the boundaries between sport sedan, coupe and SUV.

The 435i Gran Coupe has four doors and can be mistaken for BMW’s signature 3-series sedan. The roofline is a bit lower to create a sportier profile, though. And behind that roofline, a capacious cargo area hides under a hatch that’s cleverly disguised to look like a traditional trunk.

That combination of characteristics makes the 4-series Gran Coupe a dish for a very particular appetite: drivers willing to give up a bit of passenger space for more luggage and cargo room, but unwilling to move to a full-blown SUV like BMW’s X3.

While we’re defining things, abandon all hope of the name Gran Coupe making sense. It has no more basis in reality than an airline calling a seat with a quarter-inch more knee room “comfort plus.” German automakers fixate on the word “coupe,” but ignore the fact that the rest of the world agrees it means “two doors.” Kelley Blue Book, for instance, defines coupes as “sleek, 2-door cars.”

“Gran,” incidentally, means “great” in Spanish and Italian. The justification for that? According to Environmental Protection Agency figures, the 4GC has two cubic feet more passenger space than a 4-series coupe.

The four-door, hatchback 4-series Gran Coupe is slightly longer, lower and wider than a BMW 3-series sedan. It’s the same length and width as a 4-series coupe, with a 0.5-inch higher roofline. The 4GC’s drivetrain options are essentially identical to the sedan and coupe.

Prices for the 4-series Gran Coupe start at $40,300 for a rear-wheel-drive 428i with a 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The base Gran Coupe is the least expensive car in the 4-series family. All-wheel-drive models start at $42,300.

Upgrading to the 300-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six 435i GC costs $45,800 for rear-drive and $47,800. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on all 4-series Gran Coupes.

I tested a nicely equipped rear-drive 435i Gran Coupe with navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio compatibility, Harman Kardon audio, power hatchback, a big sunroof and more. It stickered at $63,275.

That means the 435i Gran Coupe’s primary competition are traditional compact sport sedans: Audi S4, Acura TLX, Cadillac ATS, Infiniti Q50, Lexus IS 350 and the upcoming 2016 Mercedes C450.

The 435i Gran Coupe’s prices are at the high end of that set, and my test car lacked some common features. For instance, it had a backup camera, but that feature is part of a $950 option package, not standard equipment. The GC provides the driver with good sight lines, but I was surprised my car did not have blind spot and cross traffic alerts, features common in less expensive cars.

The 435i Gran Coupe’s fuel economy leads the pack. The EPA rates it at 21 mpg in the city, 32 on the highway and 25 in combined driving.

The 435i’s 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo produces less power than the S4, ATS 3.6-liter, Q50, and IS 350. The all-wheel-drive 2016 Mercedes C450 4Matic’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 produces a whopping 362 horsepower, but there’s no word yet on its price or fuel economy.

Despite its power deficit, the 435i GC accelerates to 60 mph in a bracing 4.9 seconds. The automatic transmission features fast, firm shifts for quick throttle response.

The chassis and suspension keep the 435i Gran Coupe planted and stable through fast curves and quick maneuvers.

The interior offers plenty of front seat passenger space and much easier rear seat access than the 4-series coupe. The controls are easy to use, thanks to the latest version of BMW’s iDrive rotary controller, buttons and dials for climate and audio, and very good voice recognition for phone calls and navigation.

The touch pad built into the top of the iDrive dial is not much use, particularly when the car is moving.

The cargo space is enormous, while the sleek design admirably conceals the Gran Coupe’s identity as a hatchback, mimicking the sedan look American buyers prefer.

The BMW 435i Gran Coupe is a fine car that’s trying to find a home on the fine line separating BMW’s 3-series sedan, 4-series coupe and SUV.

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