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Nobody knows how to work niches quite like BMW.
First, there was the four-door 3 Series, which then begat a two-door 4 Series spin-off, which, in turn, begat a five-door 4 Series Gran Coupe. They’re all essentially the same car with a different number of doors and their own design riffs.
The 3 Series sedan, being the high-volume mainstay of the range, has retained its conservative please-the-masses styling and regular-sized kidney grille. The 4 Series models take a more risqué and polarising approach with their curvy rooflines and giant grille — the latter leaving observers either shocked or delighted.
If the supersized nostrils leave you in the delighted camp, the Gran Coupe could well hit the sweet spot in the range as it delivers 3 Series-like practicality with the edgier looks of the 4 Series.
It’s a more family-friendly 4 Series that retains the fastback shape of its two-door cousin, but the sloping roofline is extended to make room for rear doors and a larger boot.
Apart from being easier to get into, the Gran Coupe’s rear seat offers more head space and there’s room aplenty in the cabin for four adults. Back seat passengers get their own air vents and climate controls, along with a pair of USB charging ports.
The Gran Coupe’s other advantage is the cargo space under its big tailgate, which opens and closes electrically. Not only is the 470l boot 30l larger than the two-door’s, but its wide loading maw comfortably swallows bicycles and other large lifestyle accoutrements, while the rear seats flip down to expand the cargo area to a huge 1,290l.
The cabin lays on the Bavarian brand’s typical business-class ambience, and everything feels solid and smartly executed. BMW hasn’t dived into the digiverse as enthusiastically as some of its peers, and the car retains many physical buttons, which I found to offer a less distracting experience than using a touchscreen.
The venerable iDrive knob remains as part of the interior fixtures, allowing control of the infotainment system without getting grubby fingerprints onto the 10.25-inch colour display.
At R1,312,696 the car is fairly well stocked out of the box with features like wireless phone charging, electric front seats, a sunroof, a powerful Harman/Kardon audio system and a parking camera, to mention a few. It has voice control too but, alas, getting it to understand spoken commands is a hit-and-miss affair.
Driver aids such as lane control, adaptive cruise control and laser lights cost extra, as does a head-up display.
The six-cylinder all-wheel drive M440i xDrive is the flagship of a range that also includes four-cylinder 420i and 420d models with two-wheel drive.
Despite what the badge says there is no thumping 4.4l engine under the M440i’s bonnet, but the six-cylinder 3.0l turbo petrol that serves duty does not lack pace. It sends a muscular 285kW and 500Nm to both axles via an eight-speed automatic, and it’s a hearty performer as attested to by the car’s rapid 4.7 second 0-100km/h sprint and governed 250km/h top speed.
Perhaps more impressively, given all the power on hand, the test car averaged a frugal 8.4l / 100km, which is just a snip higher than the factory-claimed 8.2 consumption figure.
Acoustically, the straight-six engine hits the sweet spot too. It makes a satisfying howl when the revs are awoken, but in normal driving it’s soft-spoken and doesn’t drone irritatingly.
The car hunkers through fast turns with the typical agility of sports-focused BMW, and the all-wheel drive and an M Sport differential help quell wheelspin when the throttle is thrust early out of tight turns. Power is transferred to the road without histrionics. It’s not an intimidating car to drive, and has plenty of grip.
The driver can select Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport modes to change the throttle response and gearshift patterns, while the adaptive M Sport suspension automatically varies the suspension firmness in reaction to driving and road conditions.
The ride is generally on the firm side but it’s not a deal-breaker. More of an issue is the low front apron lip that can get snagged on steeply angled driveway entrances.
The apron is part of the standard M Aerodynamics kit, which includes a prominent rear spoiler and side skirts. It's part of what makes the M440i Gran Coupe stand out as the extroverted cousin of the 3 Series sedan. The sporty four-door coupé blends practicality with visual verve (if you like that giant kidney grille), and though it lacks the pyrotechnics of an M4 it’s more than fast enough to excite.
Audi S5 TFSI Sportback Quattro, 260kW/500Nm — R1,142,000
Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe 4Matic, 287kW/520Nm — R1,278,802
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.