Friday 22 September 2017

It's a great idea on paper – but I am really torn by this BMW

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

We all have good ideas – on paper. How many times have I jotted down something, a brilliant idea, only for it to crumble in the dustbin when confronted by its first bout with practical reality?

BMW went much further than that with the 3-series GT (Gran Turismo).

On paper, it is a great idea.

How did it get on with reality?

The idea was to take a BMW 3-series and mould it until you have enough rear-seat room for three high-jump Olympians.

Then you make a boot to take all their gear, think of a fancy name for it and there you are.

There's your longer (+200mm), taller (+81mm) new incarnation on increased wheelbase (+110mm). You call it the GT and you charge a modest enough €1,750 or so more than your 3-series Touring (estate).

This is made for a family with growing children who need far more rear-seat space than an ordinary 3-series and don't want a 5-series (starting price is virtually the same by the way). No question about its usefulness (it is based on the long-wheel base 3-series sold in China but not here).

From where I sat at the wheel, it was 3-series all the way; dash, instruments etc. Familiar, familial, surroundings.

However, from where I stood looking at it, the GT was a different car altogether.

I suppose, even on paper, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

On the ground, I struggled to see much to endear me in this beyond the middle pillar. Love the front half; don't love the rear half. It is not nearly as ugly as the 5-series GT in profile (don't know how that survived the paper stage) but every time I looked at the back and side of this I thought of some retro-design from the 1980s or 1990s. The rear-side corner windows are the main culprits. I kept thinking Opel Vectra or something from the bad old days.

And that great sweeping rear windscreen needs a wiper; I don't care what the engineers say. It might work on paper; its shape and the car's air flow do not clear 100pc of the rain.

The reason there isn't one is that the carmaker decided this needed a spoiler sitting on the top of the boot for down-force to keep the rear wheels even more firmly planted. It rises when you hit a certain speed and retracts when you slow but, crucially, leaves no room for a wiper.

So, like my ideas languishing in the dustbin, I am really torn by this.

I loved the driving, comfort, room and practicality of this. Really did. People sat into the back and wowed at the space (70mm extra legroom).

There is space for three adults back there.

All seats front and back are higher than in the saloon or Touring (+59mm) and headroom is better, so we sat tall and really felt we were in a much larger car.

The 2-litre diesel engine (I beg you BMW to stop this nonsense of calling it a 318d – it isn't logical) was plenty peppy and decent on the fuel consumption. All extremely accommodating, I must say.

Just one more thing, however. You know how one detail, no matter how small, would really put you off? You'll never guess what that was for me in the GT.

It was the lever to adjust the height of the steering wheel. Here was the cheapest, tackiest piece of plastic I have come across in a car for many a day. Yes it's out of sight; it doesn't matter.

Yet you would be surprised how often I nudged the wheel a little up and down – and each time I wondered how the manufacturer could have let this into a Beemer.

This is not what I have come to expect from BMW.

And for all that, I felt a family could grow up happily with this great old, half-loveable motor. Notwithstanding its looks and that steering-wheel adjuster, it is an entirely practical package that works really well on an everyday basis – maybe not as well as it did on paper though.

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