AT THIS time of year we’re all full of warm thoughts as we dive into the season of goodwill. We are, aren’t we?
One essential part of the festive package is of course the work of Charlie Dickens, which can bring a cheery Victorian glow of ruddy-faced weans gathering round chestnut roasters on snow-covered streets.
But this year I’m thinking more of the other side of the farthing, reflected in A Christmas Carol by the fiscal tightfistedness of Ebenezer Scrooge. In fact, what’s more appropriate for Christmas 2012 is Dickens’ novel Hard Times, for times are indeed difficult for many of us on the big double-dipper of recession.
Unemployment, prices and business failures are on the up, while dropping fast are job security, investment and economic growth.
So you might think this is a strange time for BMW to come up with a bigger, more luxurious and hugely expensive addition to their range.
I struggled as I got behind the wheel of the £85,000 640d M Sport Gran Coupé. Nothing to do with the amount of legroom – BMW’s first four-door coupé grand tourer is verging on cavernous inside – but more trying to think of who, in these hard times, has that sort of money to spend on what is effectively just a big four-door saloon.
Certainly, the BMW name is desirable and many people would be very happy to let the neighbours see it parked in their drive, but a small kick in the pants off £100,000 is a lot to fork out on a badge.
In fairness, the test car came packed with a vast array of toys and technology, along with a breathtaking £16,465 of options. This is where the manufacturers really cash in and I can imagine the salesman laying it on thick, persuading the buyer that if they’re going to spend a lot on the car of their dreams they may as well hand over even more to make it an even more memorable one.
Whether that justifies £1,000 to have the instrument panel trimmed in leather; £1,665 for adaptive LED headlights or £980 for the admittedly useful heads-up display is debatable.
The £530 surround-view camera which lets you see if anything’s coming to your right or left as you nose out of a junction sounds like a good investment but works well only if you’re at a 90-degree junction. I used it at a slightly angled junction and it was of no use at all. In fact, I was so busy looking at the screen, I almost missed a car bearing down on me from the right.
BMW are masters at the art of charging for options. Just a few years ago, their new cars came without a radio. According to the company, that was to let customers choose the system of their choice.
Thankfully they’ve moved on from that, but only just. Four wheels come as standard, but if you want 20in light alloy ones with run-flat tyres, like the ones on the test car, that’ll be £1,105 thank you. You get a normal steering wheel at no extra cost, but a heated one will set you back £195.
Maybe I’m overstating the case and perhaps I’m mixing with the wrong crowd but when the options list is more than many people spend on a complete car, aren’t things going just a bit too far?
Having said all that, the 640 Gran Coupé is a very fine motor car, aimed at competing with the likes of Mercedes’ CLS or Porsche’s Panamera and has lower CO2 emissions and better economy than either of them. It’s based on the successful two-door 6 Series but has been stretched in the wheelbase by almost four and a half inches to make room for the rear doors.
It does look good, attracting admiring glances on the road; and there’s no holding back the three-litre in-line six-cylinder diesel engine, which produces wallops of power accompanied by a lovely growl when pushed.
The eight-speed auto gearbox is silky smooth, but if you feel like working it yourself, the steering column paddles are a delight. It’s a big heavy car – 16ft 5in long and weighing 1.85 tons – but it’s remarkably agile.
The standard Drive Performance Control system is also excellent, with four settings: Eco for efficiency, Comfort, Comfort+ and Sport, which tightens up the responses and sets up the car for a sparkling drive.
Unfortunately, with the low-profile run-flat tyres, the suspension in that setting is rock hard, with spine-jarring clunks on anything other than silky smooth surfaces.
Call me soft, but in my time with the car I had the setting almost permanently on Comfort+, which was much more pleasant.
In a full year, BMW expects to sell around 700 Gran Coupés and I’ll safely bet that many of them will come packed to the hilt with goodies. Clearly there are some people around for whom times are far from hard. «