It is revealing to see how the market has changed since the BMW 6 Series was first launched. But unfortunately, despite being on top of the game, somehow BMW missed seeing the emerging market for a four-door Coupé. Others have gone to the shooting brake versions of their four-door Coupés and so, much after its German competitors launched cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLS, Porsche Panamera and the Audi A7, BMW has decided that the market for a four-door Coupé is getting too big to ignore.

After the 6er two-door Coupé and the convertible, it is finally time to welcome the new four-door 6 Gran Coupé. Slightly larger than the original 6 Series, the changed proportions have enabled BMW designers to improve the exterior appeal of the new Gran Coupé and make up for the delayed entry.

Design

Essentially, the Gran Coupé shares the underpinnings of the 5-Series and its wheelbase is just that bit extended over the two-door 6 Series to enable the addition of the extra two doors. With its long bonnet and the fairly long rear overhang, the Gran Coupé is nearly as long, overall, as the standard 7 Series saloon.

The design changes to the new 6 Gran Coupé are relatively subtle, though very noticeable when compared to the two-door Coupé. The same shark-nosed front, the same long bonnet and kidney grille design. The headlamps and other features are similarly distinctively 6 Series with some minor modifications and upgrades. The Gran Coupé also sports the same clean surfaces along the sides and at the rear. The design at the rear is different, but barely so. The highlight at the rear is the third stop lamp that runs the entire width of the spoiler-like roof panel that meets the rear glass. So, even as you are being warned that you are getting too close to its bum, you can instantly recognise it to be the Gran Coupé and not the two-door 6 Series.

Compared to the extremely driver-oriented 3 Series, the 6 Series Coupé and the convertible were meant to be a bit more oriented towards being a lifestyle statement. One could feel the size and weight of these two cars and though the characteristic BMW agility was there to be experienced, they were still not in the same league as the three. The new Gran Coupé is not very different, though you will still not be complaining thanks to the new level of luxury that BMW's interior designers and engineers have managed to build into the cabin. I wasn't after a recent test drive of the new Gran Coupé just outside the company's headquarters in Munich.

Plush cabin

Knowing that markets such as India, are so much a chauffeur-driven luxury car market, BMW product specialists who were making the presentation at the BMW Welt for us visiting motoring journalists, said that the new 6 Series Gran Coupé can seat three passengers at the rear. Well, there are three seat belts - two 3-point and one lap belt at the rear, and there is enough shoulder room too to just about accommodate three adults. But it would be shame that they all can't experience the luxurious ride of this new four-door in quite the same way as the front passengers can. Eliminate the middleman and the 2+2 layout should be fine.

The central tunnel in the new 6 Series Gran Coupé is so large that being comfortable at the middle in the rear seat for an adult will be as rare as finding an Indian politician who is not corrupt. A kid could still find it to be manageable, though it will be a task to convince him or her to take the seat, since the screen of the entertainment system is fixed to the rear of the front seats.

You have to sit astride with your legs on either side of central tunnel if one was to take the middle seat at the rear. On monsoon ravaged Indian roads that could remind you of the time you spent clinging on to the motorised rodeo in Universal Studios. So, if you want take the Gran Coupé out with your family, it will be adviseable to show the chauffeur the door and take the wheel for a change.

But when you are seated comfortably, the Gran Coupé is a very special place to be in. The rear seats feels like they can seem more intimate and luxurious. There is a lot of legroom, not as much as you'd get in the 7, but certainly more than you'd in the 5 Series. The seats are comfy and rich and the equipment options are plenty.

The driver and the front passenger are likely to feel just as wrapped in luxury. The cabin has been constructed with attention to detail and though there is no mistaking that it is a BMW interior, there is enough in the Gran Coupé to differentiate it from the other cars in the BMW portfolio. Double-stitched leather in new, younger colours, new knobs and controls and the curvy centre console gives it a pleasing atmosphere. The tall-tunnel, shapely centre console manages to stylishly island the driver with its combination of dual-tone leather panels and just that slight angle towards the driver. My test car came with an opulent burnt sienna and creamy white combo. Nappa leather, contrast stitching and many other individualisation options are available.

Even if the passenger in the middle at the rear is likely to be a bit uncomfortable on broken roads here, it will only be despite the efforts being made by the suspension. Thankfully, there is enough in the adjustable settings menu to keep the rear benchers happy. Changeable modes include Comfort and Comfort plus - both of which make the ride softer and more wallowy accompanied by a bit of loss of steering feel.

The more agile settings that also stiffen the suspension are the Sport and Sport Plus - which are perfect for the well-laid highway or drive up a ghat section. Though the steering could do with a bit more feel, it is classic BMW in its precision and agility.

Performance

Powering the new Gran Coupé are a complement of three engines - two petrol and a diesel. The 640d was my choice because it is most likely to be the one in demand, though the 640i with its in-line six engine sounds sweeter. But with prices at the fuel pump hurting even those buying into this segment, and with the exhaust note tuned to make the 640d sound even more thrilling that its stats, the diesel is likely to be equally compelling a buy for those seeking economy and oomph.

I pull out of BMW's press fleet centre just outside Munich and head out of town and into the mountains nearby to find a scenic lake side spot. On the motorway, it becomes obvious that the 640d is definetely no canary.

There is no lag, almost, in the power delivery of this 3-litre, in-line six diesel engine. With a peak power of 313 bhp at 4,400 rpm and peak torque of 630 Nm being delivered in the range of 1,500 to 2,500 rpm, the 640d manages the 0 to 100 kmph sprint in just 5.4 seconds.

The diesel engine offered ready reserves of power even when I was cruising at high speeds on German highways. Mated to a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, the powertrain will be just what will be liked by Indian buyers. No wonder BMW India has chosen to launch this first. The Gran Coupé is also offered with two petrol engines in other markets, including the 640i and the 650i.

The 640i sports a 3-litre, inline six petrol engine that puts out 320 bhp of peak power and a diesel-like peak torque of 450 Nm. The 650i's 4.4-litre V8 peaks the range with a power output of 450 bhp and peak torque of 650 Nm.

Bottomline

A totally driver-oriented cockpit, superbly crafted seats, luxurious interiors, which is also relatively spacious with typical BMW flair in its performance, the new 6 Series Gran Coupé could be the car to choose if you cant afford the 7. Surely, at Rs 86.4 lakh (ex-showroom), the 640d Gran Coupé doesn't come cheap. But if you have the extra cash, skipping the 5 Series and choosing this new four-door 6 is highly recommended. After all, it captures classic BMW elegance in a larger, plusher and sportier package.

muralidhar.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 14, 2012)
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