Niche design is the current recipe for success in the car market. Next up on the chopping board of brand subdivision is BMW's larger-sized sedan line-up, consisting of the 5-Series, 5-Series GT and 7-Series. Into that rich mix has now been thrown the well-seasoned 6-Series Gran Coupé, a saloon car of pleasing proportions and lavish accommodations.
The arrival of the Gran Coupé will no doubt cause some agonised decision-making in the company car pool. Although BMW is at pains to pitch this car at the level of intercontinental grand tourer - a job it performs extremely well - the natural milieu for such a large, elegant saloon is on the fast lane of Europe's motorways, successful executive at the wheel, jacket slung over the well-upholstered rear seats and company HQ dialled into the satnav.
Behind the wheel, all is peaceful. The Gran Coupé offers a very contemporary driving experience, with BMW's very latest technology suite providing everything from real-time traffic information, a crisp and unobtrusive head-up display, through to a dynamic instrument panel that changes configuration and colour depending on the selected driving mode. Granted, at the flick of a switch the car's character can be changed from soft cruiser to near-bruiser, but raw aggression is not the name of the game here (it's best left to the company's 'M' car division).
Instead, the Gran Coupé is all about discretion and elegance. The market for smart four doors has accelerated rapidly in recent years, and the definition of 'coupé' - traditionally describing a sporting two-door model - has bulged and shifted until it means nothing more than a car that's simply lower and sleeker than its more conventional siblings.
The Gran Coupé is closely related to the 6-Series Coupé and Convertible
, big, bold and tech-heavy roadsters for those who have no wish to give up their creature comforts. The appellation of 'Gran' simply means a slight stretch in length and height and the addition of two more doors, a configuration previewed by the 2010 Beijing Motor Show Concept Gran Coupé. The production car is remarkably faithful to the concept, and to our eyes is one of the most successful of all BMW's current crop of models - it's sized just right to set off its classic arrangement of shapes, from bonnet, cabin through to the boot, with detail design that is bold and unfussy.
Both two- and four- door models share the same set of engines, a 6-cylinder petrol and diesel, with a larger five-litre V8 petrol on the way for those who have to have the flagship. Based on our extensive experience of the 640d, we'd advise them to reconsider, because here is a car that performs exceptionally at every level, from steaming down the autoroute to sedately trundling along a village-to-village sightseeing route. The driving experience is as one has come to expect from BMW, precise and accurately connected to the road, albeit with a suitable degree of refined disconnection to preserve the cabin's aura of calm aloofness from the world.
In fact, crunch the numbers and the Gran Coupé simply creams the opposition - it's faster, more frugal, with a lower C02 output and, in almost every case, cheaper too. It all depends on whether you consider the Gran Coupé to be a fitting alternative to, say, a Porsche Panamera
or even an Aston Martin Rapide
If you're still unsure about this car's standout potential, BMW are more than happy to tailor it to your exacting specifications using the BMW Individual
service. A dedicated design department operating within the Munich mothership, BMW Individual vastly expands the available colours of trim, upholstery and bodywork, with additional upgrades to interior fittings and audio systems. The company showed us round a matt brown Gran Coupé, a richly finished surface that set off the new car's well-defined proportions and gave the complex interplay of lines and curves a whole new dimension.
It's going a bit far to say this is a luxury drive for a down-turned economy, but let the head rule the heart for one minute, discount the allure of other badges, and the Gran Coupé makes a lot of sense.