PRODUCT EYE: Heads-up on BMW's 640d Gran Coupé

By Simon Warburton | 18 May 2012

BMWs new 640d was a real head-turner in Strasbourgs ancient streets

BMW's new 640d was a real head-turner in Strasbourg's ancient streets

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BMW tends to do things in style and with just a month or two before this year's Tour de France, they turned on a bit of that glamour with the press drive yesterday (17 May) of its 640d SE Gran Coupé west of Strasbourg in the Vosges mountains.

Scene of some of last year's most gruelling stages of the Tour de France, these mountains are not for the faint-hearted on bike or in car and it was a good chance to see what the Gran Coupé could do on some of France's most twisty and challenging roads.

Reminders the Tour is imminent were everywhere as we had to weave our way around vast squadrons of serious bikers - replete with back-up teams filming every tortuous moment of the vertiginous ascent to the Grand Ballon summit - more than 4,000 gruelling feet high near the German border.

And it wasn't just our six strong fleet of 640ds either that was powering up the mountains - the journey was enlivened by TVRs and Club Alpine Renault vehicles as well as hundreds of touring motorbikes - it was pretty crowded up there.

But what's the 640d actually like to drive? Well, my first impression is you'd hardly know that 'd' suffix applied. This doesn't sound like any diesel I've driven - instead of coughing into life like a bus the 640 delivers a throaty growl before settling into an easy purr.

The 3L powerplant delivers instant and massive acceleration, with little lag on the eight-speed sport automatic transmission, while taut steering - and a pleasingly small wheel to do it - means anything the Vosges mountains can throw at it is easily dealt with.

BMW is claiming nearly 58mpg in extra-urban conditions - although you won't be getting that if you put your foot down to reach 62mph in a fraction more than its advertised five seconds - but you're not really buying this car - replete with a mind-boggling array of optional extras that nudge the 640d SE close to the GBP80,000 ($126,000) mark - for its frugality.

You're buying it for a large vehicle capable of delivering a genuinely exciting ride - being pressed back into the sport seats that hug you as you twist round yet another hair-raising Vosges bend makes you forget the size of this car.

We got a bit lost I have to admit through some of the small villages on the way to the Grand Ballon summit, but it was worth it just to see the look on the locals' faces as I stopped to ask for directions.

This is a genuine head-turner and its dramatic looks - from the shark nose to elegant tail - coupled with the distinctive noise BMW has put into it - caused quite a stir among villagers and cyclists alike.

But by far my favourite of the many optional extras loaded onto the 640d SE was the head-up-display.

I used to live in France and I certainly don't remember the bewildering array of variable speed limits now in place that quickly veer from 70kmh to 90 to 110 to 130 and back down again with dizzying regularity.

And this is where the unobtrusive HUD comes into its own, projecting simple and clear information giving the current speed limit and what you're actually doing. It's not cheap mind at GBP980, but I though it was a fantastic add-on that I'd definitely go for.

Just because they could, BMW had brought along a 640d M Sport Gran Coupé with frozen bronze metallic paintwork. As if that wasn't enough - and it was quite a sight in Strasbourg's ancient, cobbled streets - it came complete with individual full Merino leather - Opal white with Amaro brown to boot.

This is SE Gran Coupe is a car you're going to have to fork out a considerable amount for, but it comes with so much kit as standard - and a huge array of options - that BMW genuinely makes you feel you're getting your bang for your buck. 

The introduction of the Gran Coupé next month will see BMW's first four-door coupé feature a new 450hp V8 among a range of three TwinPower Turbo engines, which also includes six-cylinder petrol and six-cylinder diesel powerplants.

All three engines drive through an eight-speed automatic transmission and come with the suite of EfficientDynamics technologies, including auto start-stop, while what BMW says is "extensive" use of aluminium in the body and chassis reduces weight. 

The one, indispensable extra I'd have though would be the HUD, particularly if I happen to be driving around the Vosges mountains again in the company of thousands of mad-keen cyclists. 

But this 640d almost doesn't need any extra toys - it's good enough on its own to turn heads - and make you feel in complete control.