Driven travelled to Spain last week to meet two new BMW models. They are very different in purpose and market position, but share a lot in concept and sensibility.
The X4 and 4-series Gran Coupe both represent a weird take on the coupe-concept. Weird, but actually well-proven in both cases.
The X4 is of course a smaller sibling to the X6, a cross between SUV and coupe (BMW calls it a Sports Activity Coupe or SAC) which was shocking when it was launched seven years ago but has clocked up sales of over 250,000 -- or nearly 40 per cent of the X5's volume.
So it might be weird, but people really like it.
The 4-series Gran Coupe could be seen as a scaled-down version of the 6-series Gran Coupe: derived from a two-door coupe model and just as sleek, but with the extra practicality of four doors. The Gran Coupe currently accounts for 60 per cent of 6-series models sold globally. So people like this idea as well.
They'll be here soon: the 4-series Gran Coupe is due in New Zealand next month, while the X4 will be launched in August.
The great news for you, our readers, is that you can evaluate these new models simply by staring at the nice pictures in front of you.
Don't get us wrong: the X4 and Gran Coupe are sophisticated vehicles worthy of consideration from a driver's perspective, but the mechanical packages underneath both are very familiar: the X4 is essentially an X3 underneath, while the Gran Coupe is the same as a 4-series two-door.
So consider the hard work on hardware done, dusted and pretty well proven. These two are unashamedly all about styling and packaging. The X4 repurposes the X3 as a fashion-forward fastback: it's exactly the same as the donor car from the windscreen forward, including bonnet, front guards and grille. But all body panels from the A-pillar back are new. The sweeping roof line is 36mm lower and there's 14mm more overhang at the rear.
Inside, the X4's cabin architecture is familiar X3, with a few switchgear tweaks and some trim changes. The seats have been repositioned: they're 20mm lower at the front and 28mm lower at the back, to bring down the centre of gravity (partly) and liberate some extra headroom (mostly) under that curvaceous roof. The boot is just as long as an X3, though, and only 50 litres of volume is lost from the sloping rear.
The 4-series Gran Coupe has exactly the same overall length and wheelbase as its two-door sibling. However, the roof is 112m longer and 20mm higher, to provide adequate space for adult passengers in the rear and a generous amount of cargo space. BMW calls this car a coupe because of its rakish profile and frameless doors, but if you want to be pedantic this is actually a hatchback: the boot is 35 litres bigger than the two-door (exactly the same as the 3-series sedan, in fact) and the rear seat is split 40/20/40, just like the X4.
Fold the whole lot down and the Gran Coupe boasts 1300 litres of load space.
The rear of the four-door Gran Coupe is a split-folding assembly. The seating has been repositioned slightly to suit that "4+1" layout.
A sleek body shape does still have an impact on rear-seat space for both the X4 and Gran Coupe.
Both are tight on foot space under the front seats and the roof line does loom worryingly close to the heads of tall occupants, but you wouldn't call either cramped and there is plenty of leg room.
The X4's rear bench is shaped to suggest two bucket seats, but in fact it's a proper five-seater. The Gran Coupe goes more aggressively down the same design route, with what BMW calls "4+1" seating. Less welcoming to a centre-rear passenger, but there is a three-point seatbelt in place for occasional five-up travel.
A power-operated tailgate is standard on both models.
Powertrain choices for New Zealand will focus on diesel for the X4 and petrol for the Gran Coupe. The entry X4 20d will be powered by a brand-new 2.0-litre turbo diesel with 140kW/400Nm, while the flagship 35d boasts a 3.0-litre turbo diesel with an epic 230kW/630Nm.
The 35d is good for 0-100km/h in just 5.2 seconds, yet achieves 6.0 litres per 100km.
I can tell you precisely nothing about what they're like to drive, because there were no X4 diesels available on the launch programme. But we made up for that with a full chassis workout.
It did rain a lot in Spain and we had to drive up some sinewy mountain passes, so it was perfect weather for the X4 in particular. In terms of hardware there is little difference between this and the X3. But the X4 is sportier to drive because of the way it's been specified. The centre of gravity is slightly lower and the suspension slightly firmer, but BMW has also thrown the book at X4 in terms of driver-assistance technology. Every X4 has variable-ratio steering and Performance Control, which can shift power side-to-side on the rear axle to make the car more agile (both systems are optional on an X3).
BMW has the knack of making tall SUVs handle like sporty hatchbacks and the X4 is no exception.
The steering is precise and the xDrive system moves torque around the chassis in a particularly proactive fashion. Streaming wet roads were no impediment to rapid progress on our launch drive.
The Gran Coupe is exactly the same size as a 4-series coupe and only 50kg heavier, so it's safe to say the driving experience is virtually identical. The engines are the same as well: the entry model for New Zealand is the 428i, with a 180kW 2.0-litre, while the performance flagship (at least for now) is the 435i, with a 225kW 3.0-litre.
There's a premium to be paid for being avant garde, of course.
At $99,500, the X4 20d is $8150 more than the X3 20d -- although it has a newer-generation engine (which will make its way into X3 in due course) and carries a higher level of standard specification.
The $129,900 35d is arguably better value.
It's $17,950 more than the X3 30d, but has more power and higher specification again, including an M Sport package as standard (body kit, 20-inch wheels, special interior trim elements), adaptive dampers, 360-degree parking camera and upgraded stereo system.
The 4-series Gran Coupe is easier to quantify because it follows the specification of the two-door. At $99,800 for the 428i and $127,900 for the 435i M Sport, the premiums are $1400 and $1000 respectively.
Click here for photos.