Saturday 26 May 2018

GT takes BMW where no 3-series has gone before

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

THIS car came about because BMW asked questions. Some BMW 3-Series owners wanted more room in their saloon or estate for their growing families. But they didn't want to lose the driving spark the compact executive motor afforded them.

The BMW people listened closely. They took the criticisms on the chin. And came up with a GT.

It is short for Grand Turismo, which usually means big touring car or something old-fashioned and snobby.

It means nothing of the sort in this, especially when you sit in and . . . sit.

The GT is a lot more than a bigger 3-series saloon or estate (Touring). It is about significantly increased interior space for a family – particularly at the rear.

Where there was tidy room for the family, you now have more space than in the back of a 5-Series saloon.

They used the much longer 3-Series wheelbase that they sell only in China. As soon as they settled on that, everything else took shape, albeit not into a head-turning design. Consider it a four-door MPV/coupe/SUV with frameless windows and those looks work better.

By using the extra 110mm wheelbase, they made the car 200mm longer – and it's 81mm taller than the estate. The front and rear passenger seats are also 59mm higher, giving excellent headroom and visibility.

But the 70mm of extra legroom at the back (over the saloon and estate) is where this car hits the jackpot. Here is its raison d'etre.

To look at, the front is a bit different from the saloon/Touring. They have carved out a way of reducing wind drag, which adds a quirky design feature in the shape of a reversed '7' to the lower front flank. It's all part of what they call optimised aerodynamics.

Saloon

Inside, the dash and front-of-house is 3-Series saloon as we know it. Change kicks in from the middle pillar back. The amount of legroom and headroom is like something you'd get in a decent limo. There is enough width to take three adults (40:20:40 split/folding rear seat bench), but, believe me, the middle section is for a small, small person.

Either side of it is a big broad comfortable seat. From there you can stretch your legs. And there's a big boot (520 litres or 25 litres more than Touring – 1,600 litres if you drop the rear seats) with several lashing points, multifunction hooks, under-floor storage compartment, and LED strips that illuminate the cargo area. And a large automatic tailgate.

The two 2-litre diesels (318d, 320d) have 6spd manual gearboxes as standard; you can have an 8spd auto option. Stop/Start is also standard.

The 5-Series GT (based on the 7-Series platform) is too tall and ugly, I think. They worked hard to keep this one low. I think they ended up with far more positives than negatives. There are two of the latter.

There is no wiper for the sloping rear window. They couldn't design one in without raising the back or interfering with the spoiler, which emerges from its top-of-bootlid sheath to provide critical downforce/grip from 110kmh (first of its kind in a Beemer).

Their top men assured me the wiper is not needed because of the aerodynamics. I'll wait till I drive it on the Woodfield Bog road before concluding on that. The second negative is more visual. The two rear-corner triangular windows gave excellent visibility. I thought from a rearside angle (only) it gave the car a less-than-impressive look. A bit like an old Toyota Corolla fastback, if I'm truthful.

But it was hard not to be impressed with what they have done. I think it will be of real interest to families who are outgrowing their current 3-Series.

Dilemma

It also represents something of a dilemma.

It will cost, on the road, from €44,170 (318d) and €46,740 (320d).

But you can buy a 318d saloon for €40,050, or a Touring 318d for €42,420. And you can have a 520d saloon for €45,570. So really the prices are quite bunched together. A 5-Series or a 3-Series GT? Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Anyway, it gets here on July 6 (132 reg period). There will be five trim levels; SE, Sport, Modern, Luxury and M Sport. And xDrive will be available on all petrols and the 320d. Standard equipment includes automatic air con, 18ins alloys, rear park distance control (PDC), rain sensor with automatic headlights.

I think it will be a big talking point with current 3-Series owners and those who bought elsewhere.

It's always good to talk.

Irish Independent

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