I knew the 2013 BMW 640i Gran Coupe was going to treat me right when I found that one of the seat adjustment buttons activated a massage feature. That the metal speaker grilles were inscribed with Bang & Olufsen told me, as did the acoustic lens rising from the middle of the dashboard, the stereo would make beautiful music. And BMW Apps, buried under a few menus, added the novelty of reading out my Facebook and Twitter feeds while cruising down the highway.
In subsequent days driving this new 6-series, I would find many other amenities that make this car a high-tech powerhouse, an excellent example of well-engineered features from wheels to windshield.
As a four-door version of the 6-series coupe, I was prepared to be dismissive, hewing to the definition of a coupe as only having two doors. BMW's clever use of the word "Gran" in front of "Coupe" gives some cover, but the real justification comes from looking at the thing. Its sleek, long and low body oozes a combination of sports car flair and big German cruiser. The rear doors do nothing to compromise the design, and the rear seats are more than adequate.
I did have faith that the Gran Coupe, with its 640i designation, could do quite well without a V-8, relying instead on BMW's 3-liter inline six-cylinder, assisted by a twin-scroll turbocharger. The coming of peak oil might dictate lower displacement, but BMW manages to crank 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque out of this engine, the turbo, direct injection, and some very clever valve engineering all extracting more power from every ounce of gasoline than ever before.
That faith was rewarded when, with every sport setting in the 640i Gran Coupe that could be activated online, I mashed the gas pedal and got a combination of satisfying push and lightly growling engine sound. Sure the V-8 in the 650i is going to turn in a better zero to 60 mph time, but BMW's stated time of 5.4 seconds for the run is more than adequate.
BMW builds a number of technologies into the car under the rubric of Efficient Dynamics, which includes regenerative braking, a trick borrowed from hybrid cars. There is no electric drive system in the car, but using braking energy to help keep the battery charged means less load on the generator. It also helps the car with its idle-stop feature, which turned off the engine when I was stopped at traffic lights.
Idle stop can be annoying, but I did not find it intrusive in the 640i Gran Coupe. The engine is relatively small, so the car does not shudder much when it starts up. Taking into account that releasing the brake pedal makes the engine start, I learned to anticipate the green light, making for no hesitation when I was ready to go. And I was impressed that even with the engine off, the stereo was still blasting away and the air conditioning blowing frigid air into the cabin.
As in other new BMW models, the 640i Gran Coupe's console hosts a rocker switch that let me switch among different drive modes, all the way from Sport Plus to Eco Pro, with stops at Sport, Comfort, and Comfort Plus along the way. The difference between the Sport and Comfort dichotomy in the car involves either an aggressive or laggard throttle response, along with changes in the rigidity of the suspension. Eco Pro throws in dialed-down air conditioning to reduce fuel usage.
Efficient Dynamics, which also includes the eight-speed automatic transmission, gives the 640i Gran Coupe an EPA fuel economy of 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, impressive numbers for a big German cruiser. In my combination of driving city streets, high-speed freeways, and taking fast curves on mountain roads, the car came in at the lower end of its fuel economy range, with 21.4 mpg.
The adaptive suspension did wonders for the performance, taking the car from comfortable highway luxury box to down-and-dirty street fighter. All of BMW's legendary handling is present in the 640i Gran Coupe despite its 16.5-foot length and over 3,800 pounds of mass. BMW seems to have shaved off some weight, though, as the doors felt very light when I opened them.
And the car felt like a lightweight sports car as I hoisted it through a set of tight turns. The wheel has that neutral response when turning into the corner that BMWs are known for. Excellent grip and the active dampers kept the back end from sliding out, although the Sports Plus setting dials down the traction control so that a little more lateral g-force would result in more rotation. The power, although not as huge as in the V-8, was on tap for the turn exits.
The 640i Gran Coupe's engine felt like it could run all day at 7,000 rpm. The Sport setting for the automatic transmission was willing to keep the revs high, and acted appropriately by downshifting as I jammed the brakes before going into a turn. Going to manual shift mode with the paddle shifters, I was pleased to find that the shifts were quick and responsive. BMW fits this car with one of the best automatic transmissions I have used.
Putting the car into Comfort mode for less enthusiastic driving changes its dynamics considerably. Where the throttle can be a little touchy in Sport mode, it suddenly delivers soft, linear acceleration. The adaptive suspension loosens up, and the car, while not quite floating over the road, keeps cabin jostle to a minimum.