Anyone who has watched the television programme Grand Designs shouldn’t be surprised when cost blow-outs affect the progress of a person’s dream home. Yet the owners rarely seem bothered, and shoppers of stylish cars might feel the same way.
A buyer of the 2018 BMW 430i Gran Coupe will be asked to find $7000 extra for its swoopier five-door liftback design over a close-to-identical 330i four-door sedan with roughly the same dimensions, performance, economy and standard equipment.
But just like someone has made the decision to style their own housing masterpiece rather than pick a Masterton Homes cookie-cutter brick veneer special off the shelf, the 4 Series is meant to stand out from the plethora of medium sedans available.
As it happens, as a bonus you also get liftback versatility – if not any extra luggage volume – to boot. But is that enough to make this the BMW mid-sized car pick?
Vehicle Style: Medium liftback
Price: $79,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 185kW/350Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 5.8 l/100km | Tested: 8.8 l/100km
Viewed another way, the BMW 430i Gran Coupe asks the same price – $79,900 plus on-road costs – as its 430i two-door coupe relative. BMW wants you to think of this more as a five-door coupe than a sedan with a liftback instead of a bootlid.
If you wanted style without the performance, you could select the 420i Gran Coupe for $69,900 (plus orc), with 135kW of power, 270Nm of torque, a 7.5-second 0-100km/h claim and combined-cycle fuel consumption of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres.
Spending the extra $10,000 to this middle-tier model buys 185kW and 350Nm from the same, but tuned-up 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, with 5.8-second 0-100km/h performance and unchanged fuel economy.
However, it is then another $20,000 jump to the 440i Gran Coupe with 240kW and 450Nm from its 3.0-litre turbo six-cylinder engine, a 5.0-second 0-100km/h and fuel usage of 6.8L/100km.
- Standard Equipment: Cruise control, power windows and mirrors, electric tailgate, dual-zone climate control, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, leather seat trim with electrically adjustable front seats, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and head-up display.
- Infotainment: 8.8-inch colour screen with USB/AUX inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Spotify and news/weather/Google app connectivity, digital radio, satellite navigation with traffic reports, voice control and nine-speaker 205-watt sound system.
- Options Fitted: $2100 BMW Individual leather dashboard, $2000 Merino leather trim and $1200 16-speaker 600W Harman Kardon sound system.
- Cargo Volume: 480 litres.
For the $10,000 premium over the 420i Gran Coupe, the 430i Gran Coupe also brings with it a few equipment sweeteners as well as the extra performance.
Specifically, an M Sport package with bodykit and a sports steering wheel costs $2600 extra on 420i but is standard here. Keyless auto-entry asks a further $846 on that base model, and the nine-speaker 205-watt audio system another $539 – both of which are included on 430i.
Although leather trim with electrically adjustable front seats, head-up display, 8.8-inch screen with satellite navigation and digital radio, and dual-zone climate control are all standard, however, there are a few surprising omissions.
Heated front seats, adaptive cruise control, automatic reverse-park assistance, automatic adaptive high-beam and a 600-watt 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio system forms part of an Innovations Package priced as a $3440 option, for example.
And arguably such equipment should be standard for $80K.
While the $81,500 (plus orc) Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro – the 430i Gran Coupe’s closest rival – has a similarly excessive options list, it also starts from a richer base in terms of cabin quality and technology. It even includes the car-maker’s lauded Virtual Cockpit full-colour driver display as standard.
While BMW’s iDrive 6 infotainment system works seamlessly via the rotary dial and shortcut buttons, and looks suitably high-end on the widescreen display, even that former benchmark system is now outgunned by that in the A5.
More concerning is the 430i’s interior design, which is a mirror image of the 330i sedan’s that came out in 2012 and hasn’t changed much since then. There are attempts to lift the ambience via a leather-trimmed dashboard, but without the above equipment the 430i fails to feel different enough or special enough for the price.
A highlight is the coupe-style frameless doors and electric tailgate, which make for a great combination of style and sensibility. Beyond the adequately comfortable front seats, though, the rear bench is positioned low to the detriment of under-thigh support and headroom is crimped for the tall.
There are rear air vents, but no separate climate zone as is standard in the Audi.
Even the 480-litre boot volume of the 4 Series Gran Coupe is identical to that in the 3 Series, although you do score 40:20:40 split-fold backrest versatility, and the practicality of a liftback that electrically raises.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, RWD
- Suspension: Strut front, independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Where a 420i can feel a bit restricted – its lesser outputs are all computer coding holding it back – the 430i’s 2.0-litre turbo feels keen, edgy, responsive and charming. Matched with an eight-speed automatic with a short first gear, it leaps off the line and lathers its best outputs all over the rev band.
Example? It makes its maximum 350Nm of torque from 1450rpm to 4800rpm, then peak 185kW of power at 5200rpm. From idle to past that point, when it hits a 7000rpm cut out, there is simply surging progress everywhere.
And the auto crisply shifts through every gear, and in manual mode via the tipshifter or paddleshifter, can even throw the tachometer needle right to cut-out when braking for a corner and asking for a lower gear early. Most autos simply refuse to do so.
With a relatively lithe 1540kg kerb weight, this BMW seems every bit as quick as its hot hatchback-challenging claim, while feeling light and nimble through corners.
The 4 Series Gran Coupe does claim to deliver a 30mm-lower centre of gravity than the 3 Series sedan, teamed with a wider front and rear track, up 14mm and 22mm respectively. But on the road there’s nothing in it.
More obviously, a recent facelift of this five-door liftback has brought with it “stiffer suspension featuring more advanced damping technology and an upgraded steering set-up” according to BMW.
It continued: “These measures have resulted in a tangible improvement in both lateral and longitudinal handling properties, regardless of the load on board. The upshot is reduced roll [and] more neutral responses when driving at the limit.”
Sure, the 430i Gran Coupe feels tight in either Comfort or Sport mode, but on standard 19-inch wheels it creates a sometimes fidgety ride. Body control seems improved, however there’s no doubt that feeling a bit more tied down also means the rear-end is less susceptible to rolling into a corner to help the nose point.
Only a back-to-back test could confirm this, but the impression is that the ‘4er’ is a bit less playful than before. Beyond nuances, though, and the handling at large remains agile and the steering fluent, although – nuances, again – it is a tad vacant on-centre.
What the 430i Gran Coupe does deliver is a tight, spirited drive with gutsy performance and good economy – we recorded a still-impressive 8.8L/100km on test. It certainly feels more like a $70K experience than one for $80K-plus, though.
ANCAP rating:The BMW 4 Series range has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and rear-side protection, ABS, ESC, pre-collision and pedestrian warning, lane departure warning, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear parking sensors, and rear-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Servicing: Condition-based servicing (CBS) costs $1440 over five years or 80,000km, which is competitive in the premium medium segment.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A CLA250 Sport is smaller, more affordable and a lot of fun, but it feels cramped and similarly cheap inside. It’s a wild card alternative here.
The BMW’s closest rival is that A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro. There’s nothing in it for performance and economy, but the 4 Series has the better gearbox. Conversely the Audi has a nicer cabin, improved ride quality, and similarly entertaining handling.t
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In isolation the 430i Gran Coupe is a tempting proposition. It arguably looks the part while being practical, its performance is slick and strong, its handling entertaining and its plethora of options can help it feel suitably and justifiably upmarket.
Is the 430i worth $7000 over the 330i, though?
Well, both BMWs are in the latter part of their lifecycle and both have aged inside, in particular. And ultimately this liftback just doesn’t quite feel special enough over the sedan beyond the exterior styling differences, leaving it to cling to extra equipment that it asks for anyway.
It’s a great drive and an impressive medium liftback overall, but the cost blow-outs can be tough to cop. After all, though, maybe those into grand designs won’t mind…