3 SERIESGT

We judge the mar­ginal BMW GT on its de­sign . . . and wince

Herald Sun - Motoring - - News - PAUL POT­TINGER CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR paul.pot­tinger@cars­guide.com.au

BMW’s Gran Turismo re­de­fines mar­ginal. Nei­ther sedan, wagon, hatch, coupe nor SUV, it has el­e­ments of all

THIS Mon­day in South Aus­tralia, Cars­guide drives BMW’s new 3 Se­ries Tour­ing.

OK, the wagon is a mar­ginal seller in this part of the world, but it’s been 13 months since the sedan lobbed and that’s quite a wait for a fam­i­lyfriendly car that prom­ises to be a good thing. Last Mon­day in Si­cily,

Cars­guide droveBMW’s new 3 Se­ries Gran Turismo, a car that re­de­fines mar­ginal. And mon­grelised. The so-called GT — not a sedan, not a wagon, not a hatch, not a coupe, not an SUV, though it has el­e­ments of all— is coming our way in

late June.

VALUE

Sel­dom has this ques­tion been so much in the eye of the be­holder. You might con­sider you’re get­ting three cars for the price of one. Equally you could see it as too much money for not enough of any­thing.

BMWis yet to fi­nalise GT prices be­yond say­ing it will come at a pre­mium on the wagon, which in turn is priced above the sedan. That means a price range of $70,000-$76,000.

Apart from Audi’s A5 Sport­back (a rein­ven­tion of the elon­gated lift­back style pop­u­lar on the last Mazda6) there are no di­rect ri­vals, which says some­thing in it­self.

At that pre­mium, the GT ought to pro­vide more yet it pro­vides only dif­fer­ence. Four­cylin­der en­gines and trim choices mir­ror the rest of the 3 Se­ries range. The Sport line package— a mono­chrome in­te­rior with sil­ver ac­cents— is most pop­u­lar.

An M-Sport kit comes in late in the year with big wheels and sports sus­pen­sion.

Sim­i­larly for the 320i with its fast but fru­gal turbo petrol en­gine. Yet that was not avail­able to drive in Palermo.

The X3 SUV, which has the GT’s el­e­vated driv­ing po­si­tion and stor­age un­com­pro­mised by a whim­si­cal shape, starts at $59,200.

The 320i and the diesel 320d open the lo­cal bat­ting with the fully tuned 328i lob­bing later.

Our 3 Se­ries sedans, with the ex­cep­tion of the hy­brid, are made in South Africa. The in­te­rior qual­ity of th­ese has not im­pressed. The GT comes from Ger­many. If only the pro­por­tion were in­verse.

TECH­NOL­OGY

As per the 3 Se­ries sedan it’s a techno tour de force with classlead­ing turbo en­gines and eight­speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. The 320i is a case in point, smaller than the six-cylin­der en­gines for whichBMWis fa­mous, but as rapid and more ef­fi­cient— so much so you wouldn’t bother with diesel.

Rid­ing on a longer wheel­base ver­sion of the wagon plat­form, the GT re­quires the same op­tional en­hance­ments to make it ride de­cently. It strikes a dis­cor­dant note that the ‘‘ sheer driv­ing plea­sure’’ brand no longer comes with an ac­cept­able de­fault set­ting.

DE­SIGN

We’ve sug­gested Wal­ter de Silva, the de­signer of the A5 Coupe, was backed over by an out­go­ing 3 Se­ries Coupe. Cer­tainly its rear end made an im­pres­sion on him.

In de­sign­ing its be­lated ri­poste to the A5 Sport­back, BMW­can’t be ac­cused of knock­ing off any­one else’s work. They’ve con­sid­ered the Audi’s ap­peal and taken the po­lar op­po­site ap­proach. It isn’t as over­whelm­ingly un­gainly as the 5 Se­ries GT but that’s only be­cause it’s a bit smaller.

The Gran Turismo is slightly longer and taller than the 3 Se­ries wagon. Pas­sen­gers sit higher than those in the sedan

but the swoop­ing coupe roof com­presses head room. Yet those in the rear can stretch their legs. So again, no real ad­van­tage, just a point (and not a very good one) of dif­fer­ence.

The tail­gate is an­other of the new wave that re­sponds to a sen­sor in the prox­im­ity key fob. You open it by wav­ing a foot un­der the back end. Great if your hands are full of shop­ping or a moun­tain bike. It’s clev­erly laid out, too, with ex­tra un­der­floor stor­age and space to stow the cargo cov­ers.

If only there was more space. Con­stricted as it is by the funky or fugly shape (take your pick), its load ca­pac­ity matches that of most self-re­spect­ing wag­ons or SUVs. You can drop the rear seats but that’s so of any hatch­back and do­ing so means you also drop three pas­sen­gers. Again, the point is elu­sive.

Are we mak­ing too much of this? I don’t think so. The GT de­mands to be judged on its de­sign. Just asBMWhas di­luted the driverly virtues that distin­guished the 3 Se­ries, the GT sug­gests it has for­got­ten what one should look like.

The shud­der felt on see­ing the mal­formed X6 quasi-SUV now seems pre­mon­i­tory. Far from be­ing an elab­o­rate prac­ti­cal joke that eluded only the Amer­i­cans who build them and largely buy them, its ma­lign in­flu­ence has spread. Pre­sum­ably the 3 Se­ries GT is also aimed at them.

Why then build it in right­hand drive? Be­cause more models means more sales? Good luck— the Yanks are ig­nor­ing the 5 Se­ries GT in the same pro­por­tion as Aus­tralians. Re­leas­ing a new niche vari­ant ev­ery five min­utes works for Audi be­cause although its en­try models aren’t much to drive, they look pretty good. At any rate they don’t look like this.

The GT falls short on form and func­tion.

SAFETY

The five safety stars earned by the sedan ex­tend to this (although it looks as if the crash test­ing was done at the back, not the front— such un­for­tu­nate serendip­ity might ex­plain its shape).

Stan­dard is a re­vers­ing cam­era, op­tional is the full sur­round cam­era and head-up dis­play. As ever with­BMW there is no spare wheel, only run-flat tyres, be­cause driv­ing con­di­tions in Aus­tralia ap­par­ently mir­ror those of Ger­many.

DRIV­ING

Of the avail­able test cars only the diesel 320d is of in­ter­est to us. The same en­gine and trans­mis­sion runs the 520d, to which we’ve awarded two stars from five.

The 3 Se­ries GT is by no means as poor as the marginally big­ger, far heav­ier and more ex­pen­sive model. It couldn’t pos­si­bly be. On rut­ted Si­cil­ian roads, all too like those at home, the GT was no more com­fort­able than any 3 Se­ries with­out the ex­pen­sive ad­di­tion ofMS­ports sus­pen­sion. Eight cen­time­tres might not sound much, but that ex­tra height over the sedan is felt when cor­ner­ing.

Still, it does get closer to be­hav­ing as a buyer has ev­ery right to ex­pect from a car with this badge. Send­ing all the drive forces to the rear wheels leaves the front free to steer and this sim­ple for­mula, of whichBMW re­mains one of the few re­main­ing prac­ti­tion­ers, works in the form of flu­ency on back roads and a tight turn­ing cir­cle in town.

The eight-speed auto isn’t eas­ily caught out. It’s al­most al­ways in the right gear, pluck­ing the op­ti­mum from a great, grunty en­gine that is ex­cep­tion­ally re­fined and at its best do­ing high­way cruis­ing speed. If you as­so­ciate diesels with coarse agri­cul­tural de­vices, think again. You really ought to drive the 320d next to a 320i.

But in an­other model line per­haps, be­cause if you as­so­ciate 3 Se­ries with great driv­ing and grace­ful de­sign, this is not the 3 Se­ries for you.

VER­DICT

Buy the 3 Se­ries wagon or X3 SUV. Or an Audi A5 Sport­back.

Rump’s take: The GT’s lift­back is clever but the slop­ing coupe roofline lim­its head­room

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