There’s pretty much nothing wrong with the latest BMW 3 Series. You’d need to go over the thing with a fine-tooth comb to locate anything that even comes close to resembling a flaw, so you could be forgiven for asking yourself why on Earth BMW would choose to mess with the thing and release a 3 Series Gran Turismo. We pondered that very question and found a pretty convincing answer after heading out to Siena, Italy to put the car through its paces.
BMW 3 Series GT: What is it?
The 3 Series GT is, in a nutshell, a larger, slightly more family-friendly version of the 3 Series saloon. It was created, BMW tell us, to cater for the admittedly small minority of people who think there isn’t enough legroom and boot space in the standard car, and for those who can’t quite bring themselves to buy a 3 Series Touring or an X3. Think of it, then, as a BMW 3 Series Plus, or a BMW X0.5 — a car that provides all the benefits of the estate car or a crossover with most of the styling of a saloon.
BMW 3 Series GT: Design
It might not look it at fist glance, but the 3 Series GT is significantly larger than both the saloon and Touring models. It’s 200mm longer, 17mm wider, has seats that are 59mm higher at both the front and the rear, has 22mm more headroom in the front and an impressive 75mm more legroom in the back. The 3 Series GT has a bigger boot, too – 520 litres with the rear seats up and 1,600 litres with them folded flat (and they do fold flat). That’s 25 and 100 litres more than the estate car provides with its seats upright and folded away.
While the coupe-like styling hides the increase in size, you’ll notice how big it is when sat inside – it feels roomier, more spacious. The rear isn’t quite perfect – the reclining rear seats are mounted higher, compromising head room slightly, but you’ll only notice this if you’re extremely tall or have hair that gives Marge Simpson a run for her money.
BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo: engines
At launch, the BMW 3 Series GT will be available with a choice of five engines: 320i, 328i and 335i petrols, and 318d or 320d diesels. 320i xDrive, 325d and M Sport engines will be available from July 2013 onwards. We got the chance to test the BMW 328i petrol and 318d diesel. The former is a powerhouse, kicking out a very respectable 245hp and 350Nm of torque through BMW’s quite fantastic 8-speed automatic transmission. Cruising through town or on the motorway, it feels effortless. Nail it, and it’s sports car quick, hitting 0-62mph in a very enthusiastic 6.1 seconds. It’ll keep pulling until it hits 155mph.
The 318d GT offers a pretty decent combination of affordability, low running costs and and performance. Its 143hp engine delivers a healthy 320Nm of torque, and it’ll do 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds with the manual transmission, hitting 130mph flat out. BMW quotes fuel economy of 62.8mpg the manual car, with CO2 119g/km. The automatic option returns 58.9mpg and 127g/km.
BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo: handling
Both the cars we tested handled well, but the 328i appeared to have the edge, proving difficult to fault almost anywhere. It wafts along motorways with effortless grace, but doesn’t complain when thrown around mountain roads, either. In fact, it positively encourages such behaviour. Our test car was fitted with the optional Adaptive M Sport Suspension (£750) and variable sports steering (£375) and felt every bit the (admittedly slightly oversized) sports car.
The 318d was bloody good fun, too. It’s marginally slower in a straight line and feels slightly more nervous through corners that have less than perfect road surfaces. It’s difficult to detect, but its front end wobbles slightly as the suspension loads up towards the apex of bends, however it’s an easy characteristic to forgive given the fact it holds the road so well. It’s a confidence-inspiring car, make no mistake.
BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo: Pricing
The 3 Series GT is available in four spec levels. With most engines, the entry-level SE car costs £1,300 more than an equivalent 3 Series Touring, which itself costs £1,300 more than the saloon. Sport and Modern versions command an extra £1,000, while those who want Luxury will have to cough up an additional £2,000. The most affordable of the bunch is the 320i SE, which retails for £28,835.
BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo: Outlook
The 3 Series GT is a niche car, but all signs point to it being a damn good one. Many will argue it’s not quite as pretty as the saloon or the Touring body styles, and that it doesn’t handle quite as well on the limit, but we think it’s a compelling addition to the 3 Series lineup. It’s a practical, fun to drive and deserves its place in the range. Watch out for our full review coming soon.