2012 BMW 640i GRAN COUPE REVIEW
Conceived as BMW's first four-door coupe, the Gran Coupe started life as a clean-sheet design. It debuted as a concept before the Coupe and Convertible had ever appeared.
As a result, the Gran Coupe's sleek bodywork is an elegantly cohesive design with breathtaking style.
There's more to it than mere good looks though. Beneath the Gran Coupe's skin lies a highly capable chassis and a luxurious interior. And there's plenty of cutting-edge gadgetry to sweeten the deal.
At its core the Gran Coupe is a magnificent fusion of style, grace and athleticism, but it's a pricey beast.
With the six-cylinder 640i Gran Coupe starting at $184,800 it's a vastly more expensive proposition than its obvious competitors, the Audi A7 3.0 TFSI and Mercedes-Benz CLS 350.
So what do you get for your money?
The dashboard, front seats and much of the centre console are identical to those of the two-door 6 Series models, and this is both good and bad.
Good because the level of quality is exceptional – there's vast swathes of leather on the dashboard, soft plastics everywhere and typically robust BMW switchgear – but bad because it's cosier than it should be for such a big, wide car.
The driving position is excellent, however the sweeping dash intrudes on front passenger knee-room and you feel quite hemmed-in from the left-side seat.
The low roofline, tall centre console and high shoulder line gives the back seats a similar level of cosiness, but it's actually not at all uncomfortable once you're settled in. Headroom is decent for a low-roofed four door coupe, as is knee-room and shoulder-room.
Although it's equipped with five seatbelts, BMW is savvy enough to realise the Gran Coupe's centre seat is unusable for all but the shortest trips.
Rather than call it a five-seater, BMW describes the 6 Series Gran Coupe as a “4+1”. Having perched ourselves atop the awkward saddle-like centre seat we can see why.
At $184,800 before on-roads, the 640i is hardly a bargain. However, you get a huge amount of standard equipment for that outlay, and a lot of that equipment is cutting-edge stuff.
Things like a full-colour head-up display, radar-assisted active cruise control, Internet connectivity and all-LED headlamps and foglamps.
Also standard are heated seats, quad-zone climate control, a glass sunroof, sat-nav, parking sensors, a reversing camera, keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth and a USB audio input.
And while it's filled with features, owners who want to personalise have plenty of scope to do so.
The 640i Gran Coupe's options list is extensive, and includes everything from a heated steering wheel to a pedestrian-detecting night vision system to a $16,000 Bang & Olufsen sound system.
ON THE ROAD
For now there's only one engine variant in the 6 Series Gran Coupe – the 640i's turbocharged 3.0 litre petrol inline six.
A 4.4 litre twin-turbo V8 will join the range later this year (there are no plans for a diesel), but for now the six-cylinder is the only choice of powertrain.
It's a brilliant unit. The N55 3.0 turbo six sees service in the 135i, 335i, 535i and 740i, as well as the X6, X5 and 6 Series two-doors. With a proven track record as a strong performer, the N55 doesn't disappoint in the 640i Gran Coupe.
Power delivery is surprisingly linear for a turbocharged motor. Power peaks at 235kW, enabling the 640i to run from zero to 100km/h in a brisk 5.4 seconds.
Low down torque is substantial, with a full 450Nm available from 1300rpm.
Such low-rpm tractability is welcome given the 640i Gran Coupe's 1750kg kerb weight, and only a slight prod of the throttle is needed to summon up a strong surge of acceleration.
Backed up by BMW's now-ubiquitous eight-speed automatic, the 640i's powertrain/drivetrain combo is flexible enough to deal with both low speed peak hour shuffling and high-speed corner carving.
The transmission is a fantastic example of a conventional hydraulic automatic, with lightning-fast and super-crisp shifts when in Sport mode.
You can also manually belt through the ratios via the shifter or the two wheel-mounted paddles, but we found the transmission's habit of automatically upshifting at redline to be an annoyance when trying to string together a series of corners.
Steering is electrically assisted, and unfortunately lacking in feel and feedback. It's certainly direct and responsive, but filters out too much information about what's going on under the front wheels.
Ride comfort is great though, even on the massive 20-inch wheels that come with the optional M Sport package.
Switching between Nomal, Comfort and Sport on the Driving Experience Control alters not just the throttle and transmission mapping, but also the damper tune and steering assistance.
Comfort mode was a little too floaty for our liking on undulating country roads and Sport a tad too stiff for rougher, rippled tarmac - the default mode yielded the best ride-quality by far.
Cornering grip is superb, and the 640i Gran Coupe's 50:50 weight distribution gives it a neutral balance in hard corners. Keener drivers can opt for rear steering and active dampers, but our experience with the standard suspension confirmed that the 640i's dynamic abilities are already of a very high calibre.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Out of the current crop of four-door coupes (Audi A7, Mercedes CLS and Porsche Panamera), the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe shines brightest.
It has universally appealing aesthetics, outstanding on-road performance and an impressive equipment list, not to mention solid build quality and all of the luxury that you'd expect of a car in this segment.
It commands a hefty premium over its competition from Audi and Benz, sure, but is the more special drive.
As for the Panamera GT, the BMW's price and performance advantage over that car makes it the better buy by a large margin.
Watch out for our full review of the 640i Gran Coupe, and stay tuned for more news of the upcoming V8-powered 650i Gran Coupe and M6 Gran Coupe.
The 2012 640i Gran Coupe is priced at $184,800 before on-roads.
By comparison, the 640i Coupe is priced at $178,300, and the Convertible at $194,300. The 535i starts at $115,600, and the V8 550i at $179,900.
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