The first decade of the 21st century has seen three major transformations in the automotive landscape. These shifts have changed the way people buy cars, and the way we review vehicles. Few cars encapsulate all three changes quite like the BMW 640i Gran Coupe, and its significance in the luxury marketplace cannot be understated.
Perhaps the most apparent change is the mere existence of the 6 Series Gran Coupe: It’s a four-door coupe. The legacy of the 2000’s in the automotive world is the dissolution of our notions of existing vehicle classifications. We saw the explosion of the crossover market and the creation of entirely new vehicle classes. One such development has been the inception of the four-door coupe, which adds two extra doors to a formerly sporty profile.
This four door coupe category has become very popular, joined by vehicles like the Mercedes- Benz CLS,Volkswagen CC, and Aston Martin Rapide. Though the Gran Coupe has the requisite four doors, it really does hold to the traditional characteristics of a coupe: long, low profile and cramped rear seat.
So why four doors? Compromise is the answer. The wellpocketed (base MSRP, $76,000) professional may want the coupe for its head-turning style, but two doors means troublesome ingress and egress for rear passengers. The presence of the second set of doors eliminates that issue, creating a four-door luxury coupe that appears more svelte than the regal luxury barge that is the 7 Series. Though the 7 may be the largest BMW sedan, it may be possible that by the end of the decade, a car like the Gran Coupe will be regarded as the brand’s flagship.
The second major development in the last decade is the proliferation of alternative drivetrain technology and its implementation in mass-produced vehicles.While the first major breakthroughs were in cars like the Prius, LEAF, and Volt, the real change came when lessons learned from those cars began making their way into vehicles that do not wear a hybrid or EV (electric vehicle) label.
In the case of the 640i Gran Coupe, a suite of technologies, applied in a holistic approach for improved fuel economy, has been dubbed “Efficient Dynamics.” Most notable in this approach is the application of an auto stop-start function. As the name suggests, this feature shuts off the engine while idling. When you take your foot off the brake or apply any movement to the steering wheel, the engine starts up in anticipation of your impending acceleration. The start-up is lightning-quick; the task is completed in the time required to take your foot off the brake and put it on the accelerator.
So how is it able to keep starting like that without draining the battery? Regenerative braking is how. Energy captured from applying the brakes, or even coasting, is stored in a battery pack. Once the battery is fully charged, the generator is de-coupled from the engine, removing cannibalistic energy loss.
When in the energy-conscious Eco Pro drive mode, we observed fuel economy in the high 20’s, which is in line with the EPA estimates of 20 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. It was when we switched the drive selector from Eco Pro to Sport that we achieved a move realistic 24.5 combined mpg.
But Sport mode is too darn fun not to have it selected at all times. Even though BMW states that its 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six makes 315 horsepower and 330 pound feet of torque, it is widely accepted in automotive ranks that the automaker understates its output numbers. Perhaps that is so the competition is benchmarking a lower output than what BMW is running. All we know is, this car feels like it has closer to 350 horsepower on tap. The 640i makes the 0 to 60 run in just 5.4 seconds, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour, electronically limited to 130 mph.
Power is sent to the rear wheels through a clutch transmission that can be operated via steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. While the paddles are fun, with 7-speeds, the computer actually does a better job of managing power. With the long, wide wheelbase, and low center of gravity, the car handles much better than a nearly two-ton car should. In fact, it’s the most fun this author has had driving a BMW since captaining the current generation M3 several years ago.
The third and final development of the last decade is that we auto reviewers rarely see a truly bad car. They are out there in the new car market, but in far fewer numbers then in the past. Thus, we are no longer looking for bad, just better and “more better” in the cars we review.
There is no such thing as a bad BMW, so the role of the automotive journalist has shifted from telling the reader what cars to avoid to highlighting how vehicles differ, and informing consumers of features of which they might not be aware.
The Gran Coupe is rife with technology, including a multi-color heads-up display, HID headlights that turn with the steering wheel, and the latest version of iDrive, which can now read emails and text messages, as well as perform a host of other tasks. It will take a few days of driving the Gran Coupe to get used to its entire suite of technology, but that is not uncommon for any new car with this much tech going for it.
Perhaps the most interesting development with the 640i Gran Coupe is that with it BMW has entered a vehicle segment that did not exist 10 years ago, one that could very well define the brand in the decade to come.George Kennedy is a freelance auto writer. He can be reached at LedZepKennedy@yahoo.com. Follow him on twitter @GKenns101