The 2018 BMW 430i xDrive Gran Coupe is in many ways the car that the BMW 3 Series should already be, and in a world where car companies didn't feel obligated to occupy every possible niche so as to ward off insolvency, maybe it would. Instead, it's a four-door hatchback version of the 4 Series coupe, a difference that matters for a number of reasons - especially when comparing this graceful swan against the 3 Series' ugly duckling of a hatch, the GT.
It's also very nearly perfect. Here, finally, is the BMW that can do everything, yet avoids the over-the-top personalities of the larger crossovers in the line-up while simultaneously stepping past the milquetoast styling afforded the more affordable people movers from the brand. It's the one you should drive back-to-back against any of the other entry-level offerings from the German marque, especially if you're looking to tote a family and want to avoid the SUV straightjacket that's gripped everyone else on your block.
4 Is Enough
I had the good fortune to sample the 2018 BMW 430i xDrive Gran Coupe not just during my day-to-day around Montreal, but also on an extended road trip to coastal Maine. I was at first wary of making the trip in a vehicle outfitted with BMW's most modest turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood, but I needn't have worried, as the 2.0-litre unit's 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque were more than adequate even through New Hampshire's White Mountains. The eight-speed automatic juggled its ratios quietly in the background, and when passing threw the correct one down like a street magician confidently slapping 'your card' on the sidewalk table.
If you want more oomph, then that's possible too. The 440i xDrive swaps in a 320 horsepower, 3.0-lite turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that's also good for 330 lb-ft of torque. It's a phenomenal motor, and one that dramatically spices up straight-line performance (as well as the car's soundtrack), for a little more than $2k over the base price.
Quicker than expected, the 430i Gran Coupe was also a better handler than I had predicted. All-wheel drive is standard with the car, and while there was some numbness up front due to the combination of additional driven wheels with the vehicle's electric power steering assist, overall the vehicle went where pointed with minimal complaint, all while delivering excellent mile-eating comfort. Part of the GC's handling edge over the 3 Series, it should be noted, comes from its somewhat wider track, a carry-over from the traditional two-door 4 Series coupe.
Form Plus Function
It's this more voluptuous body work that both advertises and conceals the Grand Coupe's considerable advantages over its four-door 3 Series rival. Quite simply it is a more attractive design, with arresting lines that can't be found on the handsome, but modest sedan. It's also leagues ahead of the clunky hatchback 3, (which doesn't benefit from the broader visage of the 4), but is matched in elegance by the similar Audi A5 Sportback, the car's most direct outside competitor. Look closer, and you'll discover that the sweeping rear deck isn't just stylish, but also functional, as it lifts up to reveal a positively gaping cargo area that is more than a match for most luxury sport-utility vehicles at its $52k price point.
All of this is accomplished without cutting in too much on rear passenger room, either, even with the dip in the roofline. Up front, however, is where one of my few complaints can be found: a driver's seating position that seems unnaturally pushed forward and up towards the windshield, to the point where my head bumped into the sun visor on more than one occasion. As an individual well under six feet tall, I found this to be an unusual posture, at best, and it made it difficult to get situated comfortably in the car.
My other reservation about the Gran Coupe is more universally BMW, and that's the dilution of the quality and feel of the materials that make up the car's cabin. Everything in the 4 Series looks as though it's right on the edge of being 'premium,' and it touches it much the same way. For an entry-level car in a lofty price bracket, I expect more. At the very least, the iDrive infotainment system is easy to use and quite responsive, and integrates well with the safety systems, gauges, and vehicle controls.
The Alternative Alternative
The 2018 BMW 430i xDrive Gran Coupe is the perfect crossover counterpoint from a company that's still making sizable profits from exactly that market segment. In a perfect world, the Gran Coupe would stomp tall-riding luxury blobs with its better driving experience, easier-to-park character, and winning style, but in our current reality it remains an uncommon alternative for buyers willing to think outside their neighbours' driveways.