By Jonathan Crouch
The first generation 'F36'-series version of BMW's 4 Series Gran Coupe, sold between 2014 and 2020, offers a flexibly stylish choice in the mid-sized executive segment. For once, two rear doors don't compromise the visual appeal of a model of this kind, nor does their extra weight dilute the handling purity. Of course, there are more practical choices in this segment from this era - and certainly cheaper ones. After trying this BMW though, you might not be quite so attracted to them.
Our business carparks are full of cars owned by people who'd really rather be driving something else. In many cases, they'll have something practical with five doors - when what they'd really like is a smart sports coupe. Any brand with a product able to offer the best of both will have a successful sales proposition on its hands - the kind of thing in fact boasted by this model - the first generation version of BMW's 4 Series Gran Coupe, originally launched in 2014.
You might already be familiar with the kind of car this is - a coupe that also offers a set of conventional rear doors, while managing to stay relatively stylish and individual. As long ago as 2008, Volkswagen arguably pioneered this idea in the mid-sized class with their Passat CC, building on a concept Mercedes had already introduced in the larger executive segment back in 2005 with their CLS-Class. Of course, it didn't take long for other brands to notice and follow suit. Of these, Audi were the cleverest, deciding that if you wanted to create a practical car that looked and drove like a coupe, the best thing to start with was a coupe - something like their A5. Re-working that car into a sensible five-door hatch that was still rather smart can't have been easy, but the A5 Sportback model they introduced in 2010 as a result of that thinking rewarded them by selling in such prodigious numbers that rivals BMW had to respond.
Mind you, it took Munich until the middle of 2014 to properly do so and bring us this 4 Series Gran Coupe. They'd wanted to wait until the launch of their 4 Series model line in 2013 before doing an extended coupe version, but in the interim, the brand took the opportunity to test the concept with their larger 6 Series Gran Coupe, a variant that quickly accounted for over 60% of all 6 Series model sales. Important then, for them to have a smaller 4 Series-based version, even though BMW dealers in this period could already offer two smart five-door models to customers shopping in the compact executive market segment - namely the 3 Series Touring estate and the 3 Series Gran Turismo five-door hatch. Commentators like us wondered whether there was really room in the company's range for another similarly-sized, similarly-priced five-door design sharing most of the same mechanicals and all of the same engines as these two existing models. The Bavarians though, were determined to find out.
They pointed out that a car bearing the 4 Series badge could be a slightly more focused thing than one from the 3 Series range. And that, free from the over-riding shackles of practicality that had toslightly compromise the style of 3 Series Touring or Gran Turismo models, this 4 Series Gran Coupe could be a much more stylish thing - and so at last properly challenge that Audi A5 Sportback model whose success it clearly wanted to emulate. The car was lightly facelifted and updated with various new petrol engines and suspension changes in 2017. And in that form, it sold until mid-2021, when a second generation design arrived.
What You Get
If we accept that one of the primary purchasing priorities for potential buyers of this car is going to be the way it looks, then BMW seems very well set here. This 4 Series Gran Coupe appears at first glance to be larger than the two-door 4 Series Coupe model it's based upon - indeed, you would have thought that a Gran Coupe would have to be to accommodate its two extra rear doors and larger boot. Apparently not. As it turns out, the extra versatility comes solely through changes to the shape of the roof - it's 112mm longer and sits 12mm higher. Otherwise, all of the other basic dimensions of this car - body length, width, wheelbase and so on - replicate not only the ordinary MK1 4 Series Coupe but also the 3 Series saloon it was originally derived from. Certainly the long bonnet, the short overhangs and the set-back passenger compartment are very familiar.
After admiring the outside, particularly eye-catching if you've paid the extra for M Sport trim, you might be expecting more from the interior than BMW actually delivered. Yes, the way the look of the cabin flows right around the inside of the doors and into the rear seating area is a neat distinguishing touch but otherwise, you could be in pretty much any of the Munich maker's 3 or 4 Series models. That means a set of virtually faultless ergonomics but also cabin that can feel a little dull and plain unless you get a car whose cabin was lifted by the original owner with some of the more colourful trim treatments. The driving position's lower-set than it would be in the kind of more ordinary 3 Series model that shares most of its engineering with this car. And you get a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel that feels great to hold.
The level of infotainment on offer was upgraded with the facelifted version of this model introduced in 2017, though still not to the point where the high-mounted centre-dash screen could be touch-sensitive. Standard models come with a 6.5-inch monitor, but most original owners upgraded to the larger 8.8-inch display that's standard with the more capable 'BMW Professional' media package.
And in the rear? Well the process of getting in through the lovely frameless doors is a little inhibited by the wheel arches - you have to climb in and then fall back onto the cushion. Once you're in place on the back seat, that stretched, heightened roofline delivers head and legroom that are both remarkably good for a car still professing to be a 'coupe' - though if you're expecting to carry five people and use all three rear belts provided, you might need a bit of a reality check. BMW describes this car as a '4+1' seater, which means that it's been designed for four but has a centre rear bench that can be used for a child or, in emergency, by an adult. The luggage bay, though shallow and accessible only over quite a high loading lip, is decently sized, with 480-litres on offer.
What to Look For
Most of the 4 Series Gran Coupe buyers in our ownership survey were very happy with their cars but inevitably, there were a few that had issues. One owner had to replace a catalytic converter, an exhaust pipe and an auxiliary radiator, while on another, the air tube on the turbo broke. Elsewhere in our survey, there were problems with water pump thermostats and rear indicator bulbs. On one car, the front camera tended to fail in high climate temperatures or when sunlight directly shone on it. Niggly problems included a failure of the trunk release, the remote entry system and the front passenger's electric seat. There are also issues with the surfaces of the alloy wheels pitting: check the rims carefully on the car you're looking at. There was a recall regarding the fuel pump on cars made between September 2014 and April 2015; make sure that if the car you're looking at is affected, the work has been done.
(approx prices based on a 2017 420d ex VAT) An air filter costs in the £8 to £11 bracket. An oil filter costs around £8. Front brake pads sit in the £40 to £80 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £100 for pricier brands. Front brake discs sit in the £105 to £122 bracket, though for pricier brands, you could pay much more. Rear discs can cost up to around £356. Wiper blades cost around £12-£14. A rear lamp is priced at around £145-£163. A front bi-xenon headlamp costs in the £546 bracket.
On the Road
So, how does a 4 Series BMW with five doors differ from a 3 Series model with five doors? It's a fair question, given the premium the Munich maker was asking for this Gran Coupe variant. Part of the answer comes with this car's sleeker look - and part with the thing that goes a long way towards creating that sleeker look, namely this 4 Series model's lower ride height. It comes courtesy of the wider front and rear track that slightly differentiates all 4 Series models - Coupe, Convertible and this Gran Coupe - from their 3 Series counterparts, hunkering them better down into the road and lowering the centre of gravity.
In this period, over 60% of customers favoured a black pump BMW, so you're most likely to find this car in diesel form, probably in 420d guise, which was offered in rear-driven or xDrive 4WD forms. Either way, the 190hp diesel engine offers nearly 30% more pulling power than this variant's 184bhp 420i petrol-powered counterpart. If performance isn't a crucial consideration in your choice of 4 Series Gran Coupe, then the lesser 143hp 418d diesel variant might well be sufficient. It does, after all, still make 62mph from rest in only a fraction over 9s. Don't drive it though, after a trip in one of the silky-smooth six cylinder diesel models, either the 258hp 430d, good for 62mph in 5.6s, or the 313hp 435d, which is nearly a second faster and offers xDrive 4WD as standard. Both models must be artificially restrained at 155mph, as must the two properly quick mainstream petrol variants. First amongst these from launch was the 245hp four cylinder 428i which, thanks to the same TwinPower Turbo technology as the 420i, is good for 62mph in 6.1s, which makes it only fractionally slower than the six cylinder 306bhp 435i - and at a substantial saving.
This Gran Coupe was updated in 2017 and as part of the changes, the 428i and 435i petrol variants were, respectively, replaced by 430i (252hp) and 440i (326hp) models, which sat below the range-topping 431hp M4 variant. Across the range, the suspension was also revised as part of this model update, the standard passive set-up as a result being firmer than before. That slightly increased take-up of the 'Adaptive M Sport Suspension' variable damping set-up we'd recommend. As with the original version of this car, a 'Drive Performance Control' system tweaks response from the throttle, the steering and the optional 8-speed auto gearbox to suit the way you want to drive.
Not all cars that claim to be coupes are stylish enough to really deserve that title - particularly those that must also accommodate two rear passenger doors. This 4 Series Gran Coupe though, wears its badge credibly yet still offers enough practicality to justify its existence. If you were thinking of a decently specified 3 Series saloon or Touring estate from this era, you ought to consider it. And if you were thinking of a 3 Series Gran Turismo hatch and didn't mind a slight price premium you'd get back anyway at resale time, then we can't really see why you wouldn't buy this car instead. Indeed, we could see many potential buyers here thinking in much the same terms about the kind of 4 Series 2-door Coupe model that would cost exactly the same as this car. After all, a Gran Coupe offers you more - and the downsides are few.
Overall, if you're looking at buying a conventional mid-sized executive model from this period, you may well not already have a Gran Coupe on your wish list. If so, then perhaps it ought to be. After all, just for once, the kind of car you've dreamed about may also need to be the one you really need to buy.