Good: spacious interior, economical engine, generous spec
Not so good: pricing places it too near to the larger 5 Series
In business, if you want to dominate, you need to make sure you have all of your bases covered, so to speak. With its new 3 Series Gran Turismo BMW is looking to do just that, but the question remains - is it confusing the customer? As it stands, if you’re looking for a mid-size, practical family car with a blue and white roundel on the bonnet the choices include a 3 Series saloon, Touring estate, an X3 SUV and now the Gran Turismo. The latter is essentially the intersection of all the others, much like the centre of some kind of BMW Venn diagram.
One of the first things you notice about the GT when you approach it is the high roofline. It’s not that far off most crossovers', and when you open the frameless doors you notice the slightly higher than expected seat height. Once inside there’s a sense of familiarity that comes with almost all of BMW’s current range of interiors. This is partly down to similarities in design but also to BMW’s canny knack of making a new car feel instantly familiar.
The GT’s party piece is interior spaciousness, helped further by the lightly-coloured leather interior and optional panoramic sunroof of the Luxury specification model. Generous headroom inside might not be high up on everyone’s priority list, but it is a welcome thing to have.
If you’re expecting the Gran Turismo to drive any differently to a regular 3 Series then you will be slightly disappointed. That’s not to say that it is a disappointing car to drive - it isn’t. Even on its 18-inch wheels, it copes well with poorer roads. During my time with it I ended up in the deepest parts of Connemara and even on what could almost be described as boreens, the GT performed very well. The steering is well weighted and gives a good enough degree of feedback to keep self-proclaimed ‘real drivers’ content. Further proof that BMW did want to make the GT perform well is the fact that it has the first speed-dependent pop-up rear spoiler to feature on a production BMW car - in order to improve high-speed stability.
Pairing the 318d’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine with the latest automatic gearbox creates a combination that must surely be the envy of many manufacturers. At slower speeds around town the gearchanges are almost imperceptible, while motorway journeys demonstrate how well-geared it is. With 320Nm on offer, speed records aren’t going to be smashed, but for the majority of real-world scenarios the 318d delivers more than adequate levels of performance and despite having an airy cabin the levels of noise suppression are in keeping with what one would expect from a premium-brand car.
Where the GT seems to excel the most though is in its capacity to fit an enormous amount of things into it. Calling the boot generous would be an understatement and its complemented by the large aperture of the automated hatchback boot-lid. Adding to that, the split-folding rear seats mean that it has a larger carrying capacity than that of the 3 Series Touring and is helped by a slightly taller floor level.
Understandably, the Gran Turismo may seem odd when initially viewed, but spending any amount of time driving it soon shows its strong points and it could quickly divert people away from the default saloon choice.