Compared with the odious, ugly X6 or the awkward, ponderous 5 Series GT, the new 3 Series Gran Turismo is relatively inoffensive.
But it is another baffling BMW, a car that makes you wonder if Munich is beginning to lose focus on the qualities which made the brand great.
This hefty hatchback is based on the same long-wheelbase 3 Series platform as the ‘L’ sedan, built specifically for the Chinese market.
The extra distance between front and rear axles delivers a big gain in rear-seat legroom and accounts for more than half the 200mm increase in overall vehicle length compared with the 3 Series Touring wagon.
Simple changes to front and rear suspensions increase ground clearance, and the new GT body also has a taller floor-to-roof measurement.
Designed to be roomy and versatile without being a wagon, high-seated and easy to enter without being an SUV, luxuriously roomy without being a big limousine, and with frameless side glass filling its I-really-wanted-to-be-a-coupe daylight opening, the 3 Series GT, unsurprisingly, looks a little confused. BMW claims there’s a niche in the market for something that combines the attributes of other vehicle types.
Maybe there is, but aiming to satisfy the kind of customer who knows exactly what they don’t want has inflicted collateral exterior-design damage.
Although the 3 Series GT’s greater bulk doesn’t bring a great increase in weight, its height and higher centre of gravity affect the way it drives. And not in a good way.
On the winding roads of western Sicily, where the international launch was staged, the BMW felt the opposite of agile. The complete numbness of the electrically assisted steering, with its odd resistance to moving off from centre, is one of the chief reasons it’s unsatisfying.
Both the 3 Series GT’s sampled in Sicily were adaptive suspension equipped (it’s an option in Europe, and Australia may follow suit). Before electronic dampers were commonplace, BMW had a richly deserved reputation for doing suspensions that balanced ride and handling better than anyone.
‘Comfort’ in the adaptive-suspension 3 Series GT is distinctly underdamped on ill-maintained roads. In Sicily, switching to ‘Sport’ actually improved ride comfort. It also brought a pointless increase in weighting of the lifeless steering and made the drivetrain more responsive.
While there are five engines in the launch line-up for Europe, only three are presently planned for mid-year release in Australia, at prices ranging from $70,000 to $76,000. They are the 135kW 320i and 180kW 328i turbo 2.0-litre spark-ignition fours, and the 2.0-litre 135kW 320d turbo-diesel four. Of these, only the 320d was present at the international launch.
Although the engine doesn’t struggle with the 1650kg kerb weight of the 3 Series GT and the eight-speed auto is sweetly responsive, it felt like BMW’s engineers ran out of time to polish refinement. There was more noise than expected when the engine was asked to work hard and at idle the steering wheel vibrated in time to the diesel’s beat.
The best time and place to appreciate the 3 Series GT is on a motorway and from the hugely roomy rear.
With the engine working easily and quietly you can lounge comfortably in the high-set seat and appreciate the high-quality materials and fine workmanship of the car’s attractive interior.
Trouble is, ‘Ultimate Passengering Machine’ isn’t the company slogan. Not yet…
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