Cars and Trucks

Column: Is the Gran Coupe a product of necessity?

Imagine, dear reader, that it’s 2013, and you’ve first laid eyes on the puzzling BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe. It’s been released not a year after BMW went to great lengths to convince people of the “even numbers coupe, odd numbers sedan” party chant. And yet…here you are, standing in front of what appears to be a sporty sedan wearing a big old chrome 6 on the back. What gives?

The Gran Coupe is a product of necessity. It was in fact Mercedes that drew first blood, not BMW. The CLS debuted as a model year 2006, looking quite unlike most anything on the road at that time. It was designed to combine the utility of a sedan and the looks of a sporty coupe, but I would describe it mostly as a “form forgot function” design language. Unfortunately for the purists and old men like me yelling at clouds, the car ended up looking kind of good, (MotorTrend lauded its “sensual” style) and offered an engaging drive, too.

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Others Followed

Naturally, since everyone seemed to love this “sensual” four door coupe idea, the other Germans took note and hastily copied Mercedes’ homework. VW debuted the CC, which stands for “comfort coupe” (I don’t have a joke for that – I believe the name speaks for itself). Presumably, platform-mate Audi then promptly hired a bunch of VW engineers, swapped some badges out and created the equally sensual and comforting four door coupes, the A5 and A7.

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Eventually, the clever boys at Porsche figured out that they could do even less work and make even more money, and called it the Panamera. Most of these looked, like the CLS, that someone had forgotten to draw the back half of the car. Most of these were received, like the CLS, fairly well.

The First And Last Of Its Kind – 6 Series Gran Coupe

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Finally, BMW brought the 6 Series Gran Coupe into play in 2012, debuting it at the Geneva International Motor Show. North America only saw the gasoline powered options, six-cylinder and eight-cylinder, and top dog M6 Gran Coupe and ALPINA B6 Gran Coupe models. Weighing in at over 2 tons, nobody would ever mistake the car for a lightweight – but period reviews laud the car for hiding its considerable weight well. Notably for the M6, it was the only “four door coupe” you could get in a manual transmission. Only 103 were made, so good luck finding one today.

Like the 6 Series Gran Coupe, the 4 Series Gran Coupe introduced in 2014 is lower and longer than its traditional 3 Series sedan counterpart. It too reduced rear passenger headroom in favor of a sloped rear end, but gained some usability by the virtue that it was more “hatchback” than “coupe”. The addition of a hatch, combined with the fact that it was fairly affordable – starting at about $41,000, instead of the 6 GC’s stratospheric $81,500 base MSRP – made this car a lot less useless than its predecessor.

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Available at launch with two different engine choices (a fuel sipping four-cylinder and the infamous N55 inline-six powerhouse), all-wheel or rear-wheel drive, competitive pricing, and added practicality arguably made this the most sensible four door coupe yet.

I suspect that the current 2 Series Gran Coupe only made it out of the design boardrooms due to the generally warm reception the 6 and 4 GC models received. Gone is the option for an inline six in this smallest sloped-roof sedan – you get two different turbocharged four-cylinders to choose from. Both are variants of the B48, one good for 228 hp and the other delivering an impressive 302 hp.

The weaker variant, the 228i, comes in either AWD or FWD (replacing RWD due to the shared platform the car is based on). The more powerful M235i xDrive is only available with AWD – and delivers a 0-60 time of a tidy 4.9 seconds.  Starting at just over $38,000, the 228i offers quite a lot of value – amenities abound, like Apple CarPlay and LED Headlights and all the other things us millennials so desperately need to survive in the day to day, or so we’ve been told. But it doesn’t really drive like a BMW.

Which I guess leads me to my point – the success of the 4 Series Gran Coupe cemented a future for cars like the 2 Series Gran Coupe, which offers nearly nothing you’d expect from a traditional BMW. Not even rear wheel drive, a staple of every BMW only 10 years ago. Just because it drives (and looks) like an angry Kia Carens doesn’t necessarily make it a bad car, but it does make you wonder how we’ve gotten here.

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To borrow an especially poignant quote from a review in MotorTrend of the 4 Gran Coupe: “…as we drive each variant, we wonder what compromises were made to the original formula to allow it to work for the additional models…”. In 2021, BMW is at around 20 models – 2001 offered less than ten. That’s before we get into engine options and M versions. And as you ponder that, a more curious question arises: would the people who bought these Gran Coupe models really have been that offended by a regular sedan? Or a “sport activity vehicle” like the X1 or X3? Or…heaven forbid, a more conventional, practical, and better-looking wagon?

It’s doubtful we’ll ever know whether there was ever a need for these “sensual” Gran Coupes, the Catholic psychedelic synth-folk of the automotive world. The only sense I’m getting is that they’re here to stay – for better or worse.

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