2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo first drive
BMW hatches a new kind of 3 Series
Palermo, Sicily - BMW gambled big-time on its class-crossing 5 Series Gran Turismo: All the power and prestige of a 7 Series with the lower price of the 5 Series. Despite all the car's positive and innovative features like the twin-trunk cargo space, limo-like rear seat space and available all-wheel drive, it isn’t a big seller in North America. However, frank conversations with company officials claim it wasn’t built for us, it was built for China and its look-at-me, chauffeur-driven buyers. And in China, the 5 GT does very well.
Once BMW revealed its intent to give the smaller 3 Series the same attention, there were plenty worried that the result would be more Quasimodo styling and cold-molasses interest.
Thankfully, that's not the case. The GT is 20 cm longer, wider and 8.1 cm taller than the newly released 3 Series Touring and sedan. And its wheelbase is around 11 cm longer than its more traditional siblings. In fact, the GT shares the same extended platform found under the stretched 3 Series limousine made exclusively for China. The benefits include seven more centimetres of rear-seat room than in the Touring, which makes it a more comfortable and versatile package.
BMW claims 7 Series levels of headroom both front and rear and even for those well over six feet tall, the cabin is comfortable no matter which seat you're in. The rear seatbacks are also adjustable for rake, but the manual control sits above your outside shoulder, which is awkward to use with a seatbelt on.
More thoughtful touches
The hatch is simple and does away with the heavy and contrived system on the larger 5 GT. The pneumatic struts reduce effort, making the lid a lot easier to open than the 5 GT’s enormous fifth door. BMW also borrowed Ford's foot-operated system from the Escape and C-Max, which allows hands-free trunk opening.
The cargo area is larger than both the sedan and the Touring. With 520 L, that’s 25 more than the wagon, and the GT’s figure easily expands to 1,600 L with the 40/20/40-split rear seats folded. Of special note are the rear seats that tumble forward with one pull of a trunk-mounted handle. It’s a simple mechanical action with no motors or electric actuators to burn out over time.
Since the car doesn't have a spare tire, the area under the cargo floor features a couple separated compartments and room to stow the two-piece removable cargo shelf. Surprisingly, another pneumatic strut supports the raised portion to make rooting around in there much simpler.
Similar but not exact replica
Design-wise, the 3 GT is easily recognizable as a 3 Series variant from the front, and at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking not much was changed in the process. However, the Gran Turismo has its own unique touches such as functional fender-mounted vents that allow the larger vehicle to be more aerodynamically efficient. BMW’s first electrically adjustable rear spoiler does the same job, deploying at 110 km/h to keep things more stable at speed; drop back below 70 km/h and it’ll automatically retract.
The cabin is instantly recognizable as a BMW with a driver-oriented cockpit, nice materials and expensive trim. The front seats are endlessly adjustable, as is the steering wheel with its secondary controls for the audio, cruise control and menu systems.
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