In Europe the phrase ‘grand touring’, later shortened to GT, was coined in the 1930s to describe cars owned by wealthy people for fast point to point travel while cosseting their passengers in luxury. They generally also had good luggage space, but that wasn’t essential as the really wealthy could send vast amounts of their materiel ahead by truck or cheaper car.
Though the all-new BMW 3 GT is loosely based on the 3 Series sedan, it is much larger inside and has legroom not far short of that in the far more expensive BMW 7 Series saloon, and with good headroom as well. The new GT also has a huge boot under that stretched hatchback tail so those of us who can’t send our luggage out in advance are able to cart it along with us. With a price list that starts at just $69,500 and stretches to a still reasonably $76,500, the new BMW 3 GT is far more affordable than the BMW 7 Series.
DESIGN / STYLING
Though the 3 Gran Tourismo is taller than others in the BMW sedan and wagon range to give it more interior space, its styling makes it look lower and sleeker than it really is. The latest rendition of the BMW kidney grille, with style lines expanding from the headlights to reach the grille, gives the 3 GT a wide look. The shape of the hatchback tail works exceptionally well to our eyes.
Obviously, BMW has learnt the lesson from the 5 GT it launched early in 2010. Whilst it’s also spacious and practical, with even more room than the 3 GT, the 5 GT’s styling leaves something to be desired and it hasn’t sold in the numbers anticipated. We certainly don’t expect that to be the case with the 3 GT if comments by all who saw it are anything to go by.
Boot space is 520 litres with the seats in use, and up to 1600 litres with the 40/20/40 seatbacks folded down. That rear seat arrangement therefore offers numerous ways of juggling passengers and luggage. We managed to get a large painting into the boot, yet still had room for four adults.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The 3 Series GT is powered by a choice between three four-cylinder 2.0-litre engines. The BMW 320i petrol fitted to our test car last week had 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque. The 320d turbo-diesel also gives you 135kW, but torque is much higher at 380Nm. The 328i petrol produces up to 180kW and 350Nm thanks to its higher state of tune. A responsive eight-speed automatic transmission is used behind each engine.
BMW is one of the leaders in the safety field and the 3 Series Gran Turismo has ESC, crash preparation systems, six airbags, a rearview camera, run-flat tyres, automatic wipers and automatic lights amongst many other safety items.
Even the best turbocharged engines don’t provide the virtually instantaneous response of a naturally-aspirated engine. While we consider the BMW turbo-petrol unit to be amongst the leaders in the field, we do admit to hankering after the beautiful BMW straight sixes of old. Nevertheless, the 135 kilowatt version of the engine pulls strongly at all speeds, provides excellent acceleration for safe overtaking and is likely to give all the performance to satisfy most BMW drivers.
This German car is a sheer delight to drive, with excellent chassis balance thanks to its ideal weight distribution. It has sharp steering and, as always in any BMW, the feeling that the car is aware of your every wish. BMW and its suppliers are still working on improving run-flat tyres and there’s still some tyre noise on coarse-chip road surfaces on the 3 GT we tested. On the positive side the ride quality from run-flats has certainly improved recently. We are on record as saying we believe run-flat tyres are the safest and most logical means of providing ongoing mobility after a puncture.
The driving position in the BMW 3 GT is higher than normal in a hatch and while not giving as commanding a view over the traffic in front than an SUV still pleased our shorter road tester, particularly when squeezing it into tight parking spots. A real bonus of the higher seats in the 3 GT is that they make for easier ingress and egress than do regular sedans and hatches.
BMW 3 GT is a midsize machine with the interior room of a car a couple of sizes up thus bringing it into financial reach of those who have long hankered after a brilliant driving machine, but who couldn't afford the large, expensive BMW 7 Series.
BMW 3 Series GT
Price: from $69,500
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: New model
Service interval: determined by onboard computer
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, ESP etc
Crash rating: 5 stars (estimate)
Engines: 2-litre petrol turbo, 135kW/270Nm; 2-litre turbodiesel, 135kW/380Nm; 2-litre turbo petrol, 180kW/350Nm.
Transmission: 8-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 4.9-6.5L/100km, 129-151g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.82m (L), 1.82m (W), 1.50m (H)
Weight: from 1560kg