2020 BMW 430i Gran Coupe (USA)

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During the 1980s, sales of what we now think of a premium family cars, such as the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 really took off, as greater levels of affluence and the availability of relatively cheap credit meant that buyers found they could afford something that offered more sportiness, luxury and prestige than the regular cars like the Ford Sierra and VW Passat that they had been buying until that point. Initially the established players in this market segment, notably the German trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, grew their range by offering a wide variety of different engines with some relatively insipid and pretty spartan models at the base of their range, and plenty of opportunity to get more power and equipment by spending what often amounted to quite a lot more over and above a not inconsiderable entry price. Few people bought the poverty spec cars, and over time people’s taste (and budget) extended ever higher up the range demanding more standard equipment and more power. It did not take long before they all started to fill out their offerings with an ever greater choice of version with additional body styles, with the four door saloon being joined by estate, coupe and convertible models. Sales grew still further, of course. Although the German trio who really started to dominate the sector by the end of the twentieth century did follow broadly similar approaches, there were some differences. Mercedes, for instance did not offer a convertible version of their C Class until a couple of years after the advent of the W205 generation in 2016, and when Audi introduced the A5 and S5 Sportback versions of their well-received A5 Coupe in 2009, despite rumours that both BMW and Mercedes were planning something similar neither did actually follow suit. At least not for a while. Eventually, BMW realised that they were missing a trick, and so as the F30 family of 3 Series car started to fill out, at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show, we did see what was conceptually the same as the A5 Sportback with a car the called the 4 Series Gran Coupe. Like Audi, they positioned this as a premium version of a premium car, so it adopted the 4 Series badging to differentiate it further from the 3 Series saloon and to help to justify the higher pricing that this more stylish car would inevitably demand. Sales have been good but not spectacular, even though to most eyes this is a particularly well-resolved design that really looks like it was conceived as a complete car rather than being some form of after-thought. As is well documented elsewhere, I selected the Audi S5 Sportback as my day car for 4 years back in 2012 and the format worked for me so well that I did even put the 4 Gran Coupe on my long-list of potential replacements back in 2016. Of course, I went in a different direction, but I did wonder what I had missed out on. Chance to find out came with the opportunity to rent a 430i Gran Coupe from Hertz’ fleet at Los Angeles airport, as they bought a number of these just before the Covid lockdown, and they are still on fleet nearly two years later, though for how much longer is unsure. When I spotted one parked up in the President’s Circle area of the facility, I grabbed the keys before anyone else took a fancy to it, and headed out for a day to see what I thought.

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Mechanically, the 4 Series Gran Coupe is exactly the same as the rest of the 3 and 4 Series range, so that means that the same model number here as a 3 Series means the same engine. At present, 430i means a 2.0 litre, not a 3.0 litre engine and it also means 4 cylinders. Add in the turbocharger and the total output is a healthy 248 bhp. Sadly, it really won’t impress you with the noise that emerge as you start the car, this being very obviously a modern, efficient but slightly soulless turbo 4, but once you get underway the engine redeems itself really quite a lot by how it performs. This is a smooth and refined engine and the hefty blob of torque that it offers means that there is strong acceleration at all times. All 4 Gran Coupe models in the US have aa 8 speed automatic transmission and it is both particularly well matched to the engine and very smooth in operation. There are paddles but it would take a very skilled operator to do a better job than the gearbox will do itself. At cruising speed, noise levels are very low, and the only increase a bit if you put your foot down hard. I don’t think you’d be disappointed if you chose a 430i, even knowing that there is a rather more powerful 440i available. There is no particular penalty at the pump, either. I covered 150 miles in my day with the 430i Gran Coupe and it needed 5 gallons to fill it up, which computes to bang on 30.0 mpg US, or 35. 84 mpg Imperial, a good result for a car of this type. There is a Stop/Start system.

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It is the driving characteristics of the 3 and 4 Series cars which cause the press, especially the British press to go into hyperbole, and I have always struggled to see why they find them quite so outstanding compared to rival products. Certainly it is not the steering feel. It is light and lacks much in the way of feel especially about the straight-ahead position, though matters do improve as you put on more lock, but I would still say that a Jaguar XE and an Alfa Giulia trump the BMW by some margin in steering terms. Where the BMW claws back some lost ground is in roadholding and handling. You can’t get the full benefit of this on public roads very often, though the swooping bends of the canyon roads north of Los Angeles are about as good as test as you can find without resorting to a track, and here the 430i Gran Coupe did impress. And that is not just because of the contrast from the Lexus RX350 I had been driving the day before, but because it genuinely did make the car fun to drive. US market BMWs tend not be afflicted with run flat tyres, and indeed this one was not, so you get a much better ride quality than I’ve experienced with UK and European market cars. This came on the standard 225/65 R18s and they seemed to be a good choice giving the car both grip and comfort in equal measure. Selecting one of the other drive modes, Sport and Sport + does firm things up noticeably, and is probably too high a price tag in exchange for a bit more feel from the steering that you also get from selecting either of these over the Comfort mode. The brakes on the Gran Coupe were well up to the job, even after a spirited drive down the canyons back towards the LA valley. There is still a conventional pull-up handbrake fitted, between the seats. I had no particular difficulties with visibility, either. The rear-view camera is pretty much essential, as the slope of the rear window means you can’t really judge where the back of the car is. There is a Blind Sport Warning system which was useful especially on freeways.

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The interior of this 430i Gran Coupe was very similar to that of the M4 that I tested a few prior days to sampling this car. the overall quality so good but not what I would call outstanding, failing to reach the very high standards set by Audi and Volvo in terms both of design and materials selected. There are plenty of reasonably soft touch plastics, but the overall impression on more careful scrutiny is that this is just about as good as BMW thinks they can get away with and no better. The test car featured a mix of dark grey inlays and some chrome highlighters but was still a relatively sombre place to be. As is usual with BMW, you get a very chunky steering wheel which is a bit too fat for most people’s taste. It is leather wrapped.  There is a simple instrument cluster with two large dials for the speedometer and rev counter and two smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature, all of them neatly marked and easy to read, which is more than ca be said for the odometer which is positioned right at the bottom of the cluster, again, as is generally the case in BMW models, and which proved completely impossible to see from my driving position. There are a couple of conventional column stalks, BMW having abandoned the one-touch items of the previous generation car, and the steering wheel boss has repeaters for the audio system as well as the cruise control, much as you would expect. Lights operate from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel and there is an auto function for these as there is for the wipers. The entre of the dash contains the current issue 8.8” colour touch infotainment screen which displays radio and navigation data as well as being the interface for configuring man of the car’s settings. You still get the iDrive control wheel and some useful buttons in the centre console which makes this one of the easier such systems to use. The navigation system was easy to use, though the rather small screen is a bit of a limitation. You still get a CD slot, but if you want Apple Car Play that is an extra costly subscription and Android Auto is simply not available at all. Below the infotainment screen and the associated radio pre-sets and volume and tuning knobs are the buttons for the dual zone climate control.

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The front part of the passenger cabin is very much as you experience in a 3 series saloon, though the different roofline does mean that there is not quite so much headroom, and the sunroof on the test car, standard on all US market 4 Gran Coupe cars, probably took away a little more again. That said, as you can sit low, there was still ample clearance for me, and the car still felt decently spacious. The seats were trimmed with a synthetic leather upholstery which was a passable substitute for the real thing. There is 10-way electric seat adjustment, including lumbar support and, as with many BMWs there are extensible seat bolsters for those who long in the thigh bone (that’s not me!), so couple that with the telescoping steering column which has a wide range of adjustment and it would take someone of unusual proportions to be anything other than happy with the driving position. The seats in the test car had a heating element to them and there is a two position memory to store the desired position one you’ve found it.

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As you might imagine, space in the rear is not quite as generous as in a 3 series saloon, but more roomy than a 4 series coupe or convertible. Thanks to the low and sloping roofline you may need to duck slightly when getting in and out and once installed, the headroom proved to be only just about sufficient for me, with my head brushing the rooflining, a problem I did not experience in the A5 Sportback, the BMW’s nearest rival. There is plenty of legroom for two people here, even with the front seats set well back, but the combination of a high central tunnel and a console unit which extends a long way back means that this is not really a car where three adults would be particularly comfortable. There is a drop-down central armrest with cupholders in the upper surface and there are small pockets on the doors as well as nets in the back of the front seats for bits and pieces.

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The tailgate is large, but thankfully, it has electrical assistance to help you when opening and closing it. As is often the case with a hatchback version of a saloon, you don’t really get any more carrying capacity with the rear seats erect, but you do gain greater versatility should the occasion call for it . The boot in the 430i Gran Coupe is long and the overall capacity is a good size, but then that is true of the regular 3 series saloon, too. There is a well under the floor for a few odds and ends. You can create more room by dropping the asymmetrically split rear seats and the resulting floor area is flat. The sloping hatch styling limits the height available towards the bac of the car but in the centre there is plenty available if you really want to load up. Inside the passenger compartment, there is a good-sized glovebox, and although there are plenty of other places for bits and pieces, none of them are very big. There are slim pockets on the doors, a rather small central armrest cubby and a stowage recess in front of the gearlever as well as a couple of cup holders in the centre console. Other cars do offer that bit more in this respect, though I think it would prove sufficient for me.

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The US range is far more restricted than that in Europe, with just two versions of the 4 Series Gran Coupe available, the 430i and 440i, with what’s underneath the bonnet the main distinction. The 430i’s turbocharged four-cylinder (248 bhp, 258 lb/ft of torque) offers a compelling blend of performance and fuel economy. The 440i has a more powerful and nearly as efficient turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six (320 bhp, 330 lb/ft). Both models are available with rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (called xDrive in BMW-speak). An eight-speed automatic is the only transmission available. Standard features for the 430i include LED headlights, a sunroof, a power liftgate, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable front seats, and simulated leather upholstery. You also get lane departure warning, a blind-spot monitor, and a forward collision warning system with automatic low-speed emergency braking. An 8.8-inch central display screen with navigation, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a nine-speaker sound system handle the infotainment duties. You’ll have to pay extra for an Apple CarPlay subscription, but the first year is included. You’ll primarily upgrade to the 440i for the six-cylinder engine. But you also get power lumbar adjustment for the front seats, hands-free liftgate operation, and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. Many optional packages are common to both trim levels. These include the Convenience and Executive packages. First, though, you’ll have to decide if you want your Gran Coupe in the Luxury or Sport Line treatment, both of which dress up the exterior with different trim details. Note that the Sport Line includes sport seats, which can be switched for the Luxury’s less aggressively bolstered thrones at no cost. You can also increase the Gran Coupe’s sporting capability with the M Sport package that adds summer performance tyres, a sport suspension (or an adaptive suspension for an added fee), more aggressive-looking front and rear styling, and the contents of the Convenience package. The Track Handling package includes non-run-flat performance tyres, upgraded brakes, an adaptive suspension and variable-ratio sport steering.

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Anyone who has read my reviews over the years can hardly have failed to pick up the fact that I am not as besotted with BMWs as many, often finding the cars that I have tested, many of which are from near the bottom of their respective ranges, to be perfectly competent but not self-evidently head and shoulders better than all their rivals. There have been exceptions, of course: all the M models have really impressed me, and the car I really liked a few years was a 650i Gran Coupe which I also thought to be one of the best-looking BMWs of recent times. This 430i Gran Coupe just about makes that list of BMWs that I really liked, too. I certainly think it looks good, and it drove well. Yes, a 6 cylinder engine and more feel to the steering would be nice, but in the regulation-heavy era we now live in, those are things we rarely get to bypass anymore.  Those attributes aside, this is a car that you would enjoy driving, and which genuinely felt a bit special, and it is spacious enough for 4 people and their luggage so it is practical, too. In an era where BMWs (and rivals) have become pretty common-place on our roads, that’s quite an achievement.

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