Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport 2014 review
The new Mercedes A-Class is nothing like the old model. Gone is the quirky mini MPV styling and its place we've got something that looks like a proper premium small hatchback.
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Carsguide will next week head to South Australia to drive BMW's new 3 Series Touring. OK, the wagon is a marginal seller in this part of the world, but it’s been 13 months since the sedan lobbed and that’s quite a wait for a family friendly car that promises to be a good thing.
Carsguide has just driven BMW's new 3 Series Gran Turismo, a car that redefines marginal. And mongrelised. Not a sedan, not a wagon, not a hatch, not a coupe, not an SUV - though it has elements of all - the so-called GT is coming our way in late June.
Seldom has this question been so much in the eye of the beholder. You might consider that you're getting three cars for the price of one. Equally you could see it as too much money for not enough of anything.
BMW is yet to finalise GT prices beyond saying it will come at premium on the wagon, which in turn is priced above the sedan. That means a price range of $70,000 to $76,000.
Aside from Audi's A5 Sportback (a reinvention of the elongated lift back style which was also popular on the last Mazda6) there are no direct rivals, which says something in itself.
While the GT ought, at that premium, to provide more, it provides only difference. Four cylinder engines and trim choices mirror the rest of the 3 Series range. The Sport line package - a monochrome interior partially enlivened by silver accents - is most popular. An M-Sport kit comes in late in the year with big wheels and sports suspension.
Likewise the 320i with its fast but frugal turbo petrol engine. Yet that was not available to drive in Palermo. The X3 SUV, which has the GT's elevated driving position and storage uncompromised by a whimsical shape, starts at $59,200.
The 320i and the diesel 320d open the local batting with the fully tuned 328i lobbing later.
Our 3 Series sedans, with the exception of the hybrid, are made in South Africa. The interior quality of these has not impressed. The GT comes from Germany. Would that the proportion were inverse.
As per the 3 Series sedan it’s a tech tour de force with class leading turbo engines and eight speed automatic transmission. The 320i is a case in point, smaller in size than the six cylinder engines for which BMW is famous, but as rapid and more efficient - so much so you wouldn't bother with diesel.
Riding on a longer wheelbase version of the wagon platform, the GT requires the same optional enhancements to make it ride decently. It strikes a discordant note that the "sheer driving pleasure" brand no longer comes with an acceptable default setting.
We’ve suggested Walter da Silva, the designer of the A5 Coupe was backed over by an outgoing 3 Series Coupe. Certainly its rear end made an impression on him.
In designing its belated riposte to the A5 Sportback BMW can't be accused of knocking off anyone else’s work. They've considered the Audi's appeal and taken the polar opposite approach. It isn't as overwhelmingly ungainly as the 5 Series GT, but that's only because it's a bit smaller.
The Gran Turismo is slightly longer and taller than the 3 Series wagon. The front and rear passengers sit higher than those in the sedan but the swooping coupe roof compresses head room. Yet the backseaters can stretch their leg. So again, no real advantage, just a point (and not a very good one) of difference.
The tailgate is another of the new wave that responds to a sensor in the proximity key fob. You open it by waving a foot under back end. Great if you're hands are full of shopping or a mountain bike. It's cleverly laid out too with extra under floor storage and space to stow the cargo covers.
If only there was more space. Constricted as it is by the funky or fugly shape (take your pick) most self-respecting wagons or SUVs match its load capacity. You can drop the rear seats, but that's so of any hatchback and doing so means you also drop three passengers. Again, the point is elusive.
Are we making too much of this? I don’t think so. The GT demands to be judged on its design. Just as BMW has diluted the driverly virtues that distinguished the 3 Series, the GT suggests they've forgotten what one should look like.
The shudder felt on seeing the malformed X6 quasi-SUV now seems premonitory. Far from being a elaborate practical joke that eluded only the Americans who build them and largely buy them, its malign influence has spread. Presumably the 3 Series GT is also aimed at them.
Why then build it in right hand drive? Because more models means more sales? Good luck - the Yanks are ignoring the 5 Series GT in the same proportion as Australians. Releasing a new niche variant every five minutes works for Audi because although its entry models aren't much to drive, they look pretty good. At any rate they don’t look like this. The GT falls short on form and function.
The five safety stars earned by the sedan extend to this, although it’s customary to test crash cars by the front end not the back as seems to have occurred here. Indeed, such unfortunate serendipity might explain its shape.
Standard is a reversing camera, optional is the full surround camera and head up display. As ever with BMW there is no spare wheel, only run flat tyres, because driving conditions in Australia apparently mirror those of Germany.
Of the available test cars only the diesel 320d is of interest to us. The same engine and transmission runs the 520d, to which we've awarded two stars from five.
The 3 Series GT is by no means as poor as the marginally bigger, far heavier and more expensive model, but then it couldn't possibly be. On rutted Sicilian roads, all too like those at home, the GT was no more comfortable than any 3 Series without the expensive addition of M Sports suspension. Eight centimetres might not sound much, but that extra height over the sedan is felt when cornering.
Still, it does get closer to behaving as a buyer has very right to expect from a car with this badge. Sending all the drive forces to the rear wheels leaves the front free to steer and this simple formula, of which BMW remains one of the few remaining practitioners, works in the form of fluency on back roads and a tight turning circle in town.
The eight speed auto isn't easily caught out. It's almost always in the right gear, plucking the optimum from a great, grunty engine that is exceptionally refined and at its best doing highway cruising speed If you associate diesels with coarse agricultural devices, think again. You really ought to drive the 320d next to a 320i.
But in another model line perhaps, because if you associate 3 Series with great driving and graceful design, this is not the 3 Series for you.
BMW 320D GT
Price: From $70,000
Warranty: 3 years/100,00km
Capped servicing: No
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel; 135kW/380Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto; RWD
Dimensions: 4.8m (L); 1.48m (h); 1.8m (w)
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