“Look at it!”
Thus spake Ludwig Willisch, president of BMW of North America, when asked why the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo wasn’t successful in the marketplace. Indeed, when we drove the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo, we went looking for an explanation. And certainly, someone had some ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy, especially about the lumpy rear end and the a-little-too-high ride height.
So why, then, would BMW double down on that bet and introduce a 3-Series Gran Turismo? Because BMW learned something in that first go ‘round. This is probably simpler than BMW would prefer, but think of the 3-Series Gran Turismo as a BMW 3-Series hatchback and you’re close.
The rear of the 3-Series Gran Turismo does provide the convenience and versatility of a hatchback over a sedan, but the Gran Turismo goes beyond that. Literally. The 3-Series GT has a wheelbase 4.3-inchs longer than the 3-Series Sport Wagon and is 7.9-inches longer overall.
The extra length and added wheelbase hide the height’s increase of 3.2 inches. From the outside, it still looks the same size as a 3-Series, however, because the overall proportions haven’t changed significantly.
The bigger numbers outside, however, can be felt inside. The taller roofline means the seats could be raised by 2.3 inches, and with the legroom of the rear increased by 2.8 inches, the other half of the double date will have a much more comfortable ride than in the 3-Series sedan. In fact, the rear legroom places the GT between the 5-Series and 7-Series in the same measure
With the rear wheels further back, the rear seat is wider at the bottom than the 3-Series sedan—the wheel wells impinge less on the bum pocket—for more comfort as well.
Of course, a large reason for a hatchback is the added utility over a sedan. While the BMW 3-Series Gran Turismo doesn’t have the double-hinged hatch of the 5-Series Gran Turismo, the 3-GT has sufficient access without the added weight of the extra hinges.
Surprisingly, however, despite what in another era would be called a fastback roofline, the 3-Series GT, at 18.3 cubic feet of trunk space (by European standards), it’s actually a full cubic foot more than the 3-Series Sport Wagon.
Power operation for the hatch is standard, closing with the touch of a button, but a kick-under-the-bumper opens the hatch, similar the Ford Escape. Like the Escape it’s optional. BMW calls it the “Smart Opener,” and it’s part of the Comfort Access package.
Although the hatch isn’t double hinged, it does have a two-piece parcel shelf, the rear half rising with the hatch, the other staying in place. Both can be removed, however, and BMW has provided a place for them under the load floor.
Of course, the cargo area has four tie-down points and what BMW calls a multi-function hook on the left side, and an under floor storage space. And no simple incandescent light bulbs for the Gran Turismo. The cargo area is illuminated by LED strips.
Roomier and bigger though it is, the 3-Series Gran Turismo still looks fast—and we hate to use the cliché—even when standing still. The character lines on the side look like cartoon speed lines, the top line streaking back from the top of the front wheel arch and over and concealing the door handles, while the lower zooms from the “air breathers” on the GT’s front fender sides. Those vents are functional, BMW saying they help reduce drag around the front wheels.
The BMW 3-Series Gran Turismo also has BMW’s “air curtains,” comprised of scoops on the front of the car that direct air around the front wheels, making a curtain of air for improved aerodynamics.
BMW spotters will see differences between the 3-Series Gran Turismo and 3-Series sedan, with a distinctive lower apron and larger headlight units. The hood is smoother as well.
Out back is BMW’s first moveable rear spoiler. The GT’s profile is a little too much like an airplane’s wing, says BMW, and the spoiler keeps the car from lifting off.