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