• The Ultimate GT? The #BMW-640d Gran Coupé is put to the test to see if it can be the perfect Grand Tourer. Mark Williams takes a #BMW-640d-Gran-Coupé for a spin to see if it might turn out to be his ultimate Grand Tourer Words & photography: Mark Williams

    Most new cars on sale in the UK today can be categorised by a list of parameters. A set of attributes which ultimately define their type and usage. Hot hatchbacks for example, exceptions such as the M135i and Golf R32 aside, are resolutely front-wheel drive, normally three doors in configuration but occasionally five, replete with split fold rear seats and a good useable boot. There’s likely to be some body kit tacked on to the outside of the ‘cooking’ version and inside, tarted up interior trim with seats ‘blessed’ with side bolsters reminding us of 1980s shoulder pads. Underneath, we find modified (and lowered) suspension and maybe a bespoke differential or other unique appendage dedicated to the art of going faster. Fail to equip your offering thus and it will sell in tiny numbers (although perversely, go too far and the sales performance will be even worse. When was the last time you saw a Renault Megane R27?).

    Sports saloons? Easy. Four-doors, five-seats, a big boot (but not necessarily a saloon), loads of toys, a surfeit of power and oodles of torque. And a two tonne kerb weight. Fancy the same but don’t have children? Buy a performance coupé in the shape of the new M4 and join the ranks of those queuing up to buy something which is not quite as practical, but which looks good and tickles your trousers. Oh I know all this sounds quite cynical, but even with the relentless niche creation-’n’-fill of recent years, all the resultant products fall into these and other bandings.

    And then Mercedes went and made the CLS. What is it? A coupé? A saloon? Well it seats four and has a boot. But it can’t seat five as that would be too practical and they wanted to market it as a four-door coupé. I don’t want to get into the subjective discussion over the styling other than to say the rakish profile resulting from slicing the traditional saloon roofline is clearly one of the segment’s attributes and a key reason why there are thousands of them about. So naturally enough, Audi got in on the act and more recently, BMW has also joined the fray with this, the 6 Series Gran Coupé.

    But first, let’s address how to categorise the Gran Coupé and its peers. They’re not saloons, nor coupés. They’re not even four-door coupés. To my mind, these are the modern interpretation of the Grand Tourer. But how do you pigeonhole a Grand Tourer? What defines a GT these days? Do they even still exist, at least when viewed through rose-tinted spectacles which remind us of what a GT used to be (front-engined, rear-drive, generally quite exotic but temperamental two-seaters)?

    You need something which covers distance with ease and minimal strain. You need comfort, a hushed cabin, a smooth ride at speed and a generally quite tranquil demeanour. I owned a Ferrari 550 Maranello many years ago, which was the perfect companion for the first two or three hours of a long drive, but thereafter became somewhat tiring, especially in traffic. And you need luxury through space, not only for luggage but oddments space too, plus space for passengers. If you’re covering distance, there’s nothing to say that you can only do it in the company of one companion. But here’s the killer fact: you need range. There’s nothing worse than stopping to brim the tank on something like the aforementioned Ferrari, only to have to stop to do the same again barely three hours later.

    So what we have here, I believe, is the best Grand Tourer on sale today. Space enough for four passengers, ample power (313hp) plus a long-legged range afforded by near 40mpg economy. And a big boot. To my eyes at least, it looks simultaneously elegant yet imposing (even in white… trust me the colour grows on you after a while) and goes down the road with a relaxed gait. A real gentleman’s express, a cut-price Aston Rapide if you will. So the plan was to take one for a drive, long enough to get a feel for the car and thoroughly understand it.

    It’s late on a Friday afternoon when I finally pull up at Cooper Reading’s showroom, and after a few pleasantries I’m shown ‘my’ Alpine white 640d Gran Coupé and I reckon that as a piece of automotive sculpture this thing cuts quite a dash. It actually appears to grow shorter in height the closer you are to it and, in M Sport guise as tested, manages to land on just the right side of visual aggression. Once installed, the interior immediately puts one at ease, the sweeping lines of the dashboard combined with the contrast stitching lending the environment an upper-class air which isn’t affected by the 3.0-litre straight-six diesel rumbling into life up front.

    But crumbs, it’s wide. Heading out of Reading and back out into the countryside in the general direction of Oxford, it feels like it’s filling the lane, and there’s the occasional thump-thump-thump of offside tyres pummelling the cats eyes. It soon becomes clear though that I’m over-compensating and once I start to relax, the affect is less pronounced. Other early impressions focus on the ride quality, which exhibits similar levels of fidget to the X6 (but which I increasingly failed to notice the longer I drove the car) and the noise, which is very pleasant. There’s a delicious half moan, half rumble under power from around 1500rpm out to 3000rpm on the rev counter and you seldom need to go any higher than this, peak torque of 465lb ft being available from 1500rpm to 2500rpm. Something else which doesn’t go unnoticed is the way the seat belt gently tightens its grip across your shoulders as you move off from rest, which is a new experience for me (although personally, I’d also appreciate a small mechanical arm or similar device presenting the belt to me, as it’s quite a stretch to reach). Oh and another early impression – the superb (standard) stereo system, with excellent bass reproduction and more power than anybody could reasonably need.

    Next morning, the boot swallows all the luggage my wife and her friend evidently require for their weekend cruise break (40th birthday present, when did chocolates stop being acceptable?), and once we’re loaded up, we hit the A40 towards Oxford and are soon whistling south down the A34, Southampton drawing near. The Gran Coupé is a relaxing drive at a cruise-controlled 80mph and after a comfort break at some services (during which the Gran Coupé draws several admiring glances) my passengers are dropped at the cruise terminal and I retrace my steps home.

    Cruising back up the A34, left arm resting on the shift lever for the eight-speed auto, right hand lightly gripping the smooth leather-trimmed M Sport wheel (I’m still not sure about the new design, seems a bit minimalist to me) the Gran Coupé’s charms start to work their magic. It’s very quiet in here, even with the 275 section 20-inch rears, and the high waist, low roof architecture combined with low-slung seats and substantial dashboard design lend the interior a snug and cosy ambience. I’d wondered (and worried) whether it would be like driving a pillar box, but the visibility was generally excellent (forward as well as aft) and after several days driving the Gran Coupé the view through my F30 Three’s windscreen didn’t seem any more ‘open’ upon reacquaintance.

    Baulked by traffic around Newbury, I flick-flick to sixth and squeeze the throttle. There’s a hardening of engine note and a slight squat as I’m pushed down the road, I flick to seventh, another to eighth and our 80mph cruise is regained. We’re soon around Oxford and back out into the Cotswolds, whereupon I simply keep going in the general direction of Gloucester and South Wales beyond.

    Now you may think this is madness. After all, I’d already crossed the M4 motorway, why not just hang a left and make for the Severn Bridge? Because it’s more fun to take the Heads Of The Valley road, which is basically the A40 later morphing into the A465 and is a stretch of dual-carriageway interspersed with roundabouts every few miles. In other words, 60mph SPECS zone aside, it’s jolly good fun.

    So, with a roundabout fast approaching at the end of a particular stretch of dual-carriageway, I thumb the drive control switch into Sport, and click the gear lever to the left on approach, giving me control over the gears and engine braking. I then start to squeeze the left pedal and click twice down to sixth. Hearing the faint V8-esque rumble from up front and with the brakes nicely loaded up, I squeeze a little more. Fine for road work, the big discs bite back and wash off speed with disdain. I then click down to fourth and as the roundabout opens up in the windscreen, I shift down into third before entering the fray.

    Moseying round in third, I signal for the exit, then give the throttle a good prod as the A40 once again opens up to reveal a gentle descent into the middle distance. The Gran Coupé feels like it could do this all day, as I grab fourth, then fifth, the speedo inexorably advancing northwards, that rumble from up front once again in evidence, and the annoying Audi A4 which was filling my mirrors is now noticeably falling back. I slide the lever back into ‘D’ as the speedo settles at 80mph and then realise I’m surrounded by nothing. The accompanying traffic has been cast aside and I’ve effortlessly sprinted ahead into open space.

    Arriving in Swansea, there are appreciative comments and plaudits from family and friends who admire the design and the interior. It’s a flying visit though and I’m soon heading off again, straight down the M4 this time then up the M5 before completing the loop and heading on to the A40 via Birdlip and back home. Darkness is coming and the interior is soon bathed in a soft ambient light, set off brilliantly by the dashboard switching to a similar relaxing hue. The A40 under darkness can unpredictable, with vehicles suddenly appearing out of hidden dips. I’m relaxed behind the Gran Coupé’s wheel however and am content to glide along in serenity.

    All told, I covered 740 miles in the Gran Coupé at an average of 39.2mpg. There was no back ache and despite the time spent behind the wheel, there was no tiredness either. The only faults I could identify, other than the already mentioned seat belt arrangement, are the awful reflections in the windscreen due to the leather-covered dash and the strange panel gaps visible around the point where the front bumper panel meets the bonnet (a common affliction with many BMWs these days). Design items not identifiable as faults as such include the updated sat-nav, which seems reluctant to show true topographical 3D as easily as it once did (although maybe I was just doing it wrong) and the aluminium interior trim, which looks too cheap given the price.

    Considering the general quality of the experience however, that’s a bit like an art collector moaning at not having anywhere to hang their latest Picasso. If you’re lucky enough to have one of these, then please look after it because at some point over the next year or so, once depreciation has done its thing, I’ll be knocking on your door looking for a used buy.

    THANKS TO: Cooper Reading #BMW Tel: 0118 914 5934 Website: www.cooperreadingbmw.co.uk

    TECH DATA #BMW-640d-M-Sport-Gran-Coupé-F06 / #BMW-640d-F06 / #BMW-F06
    ENGINE: Six-cylinder, twin-turbo diesel BMW #N57 / #N57D30T1
    CAPACITY: 2993cc
    MAX POWER: 313hp @ 4400rpm
    MAX TORQUE: 465lb ft @ 1500-2500rpm
    TOP SPEED: 155mph (limited)
    0-62MPH: 5.4 seconds
    ECONOMY: 51.4 (claimed), 39.2mpg (on test)
    EMISSIONS: 149g/km
    PRICE (OTR): £69,995

    It looks elegant yet imposing and goes down the road with a relaxed gait.