The time has come for BMW to overhaul its most unusual model in the 3- and 4 Series ranges, the Gran Turismo (GT), in order to bring it into line with the facelift of the 'regular' 3 Series cars last year. And like its Saloon and Touring siblings, visually very little has changed with the 3 GT so, provided you can live with its exterior looks, you need loads of luggage space and you prefer comfort over speed, then the 2017MY GT is an absolutely fine car that sits alone in a class of one.
In the metal
When BMW updated the 3 Series Saloon and Touring models in the middle of last year, it hardly made any significant visual changes to the two cars whatsoever. So it should come as no surprise to you when we say the 'new' GT is also extremely hard to distinguish compared to its predecessor. Key updates include all-LED illumination at the front of the car on all models, with only Adaptive LED Headlights offered as an option; mildly restyled air intakes in the nose; an L-shaped LED signature in the taillights; slightly bigger diameter exhausts; a revised lower rear apron; two new body colours for all 3 GTs (Arctic Grey and Jatoba, and the addition of Estoril Blue on M Sport variants); and three fresh alloy wheel designs. It's all minor stuff, so in essence, you need to have always liked the GT's slightly awkward fastback bodywork to approve of the new one; otherwise you'll just stick with a Three Saloon.
We don't mind the exterior, though, as it's not quite as bloated as its 5 Series GT brother, nor the X6 SUV. The 3 GT just about carries its look off. And the individualistic outside is complemented by a lovely cabin, which again has been tweaked rather than heftily remoulded. Look for chrome trim around the air vents, some new wood trim and a flashier Navigation Professional satnav screen and attendant software. It's still massive inside in terms of legroom. It still has a colossal boot that's bigger than that found on the 3 Series Touring. It still has slightly stingy rear headroom thanks to the sloping roof and high-mounted back seats, but overall it's a cabin of typically high BMW quality.
The 3 GT will also be the European pioneer of the BMW Connected 'personalised digital mobility companion'. This is part of the car's infotainment package and it essentially turns the GT into a 'smart' gadget rather like your phone. We were shown a slick video of a semi-utopian near future, in which a bloke who lived in an aluminium-and-glass future house up a canyon near LA had a BMW Connected-equipped i8 Roadster that practically ran his life for him. Before he'd gone anywhere near the car, it chatted to him about the morning weather. It reminded him that he had a reservation for dinner at 8pm. It told him the traffic was looking clear on his usual run into the city. And then when he got in the car, it even warned him of a rock fall in his path and also swiftly re-routed him in the suburbs of LA when it got wind of congestion ahead. In short, it was like a male version of Scarlett Johansson's disembodied OS character Samantha from the film Her.
The reality is that such seamless, near-AI functionality won't be possible for a few years yet, at least until vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communications have seriously taken off. So instead, we get a considerably more limited version of BMW Connected. It's still useful, though, in that it automatically uploads pre-selected satnav routes off your smartphone or Apple Watch when you get in the car and it can also do the traffic monitoring thing as well. For instance, say you get in your car to go to work in the morning and you fire up the satnav, only for it to tell you that every conceivable route to your office is in the throes of gridlock hell; thus, you're going to be 30 minutes late for that vital meeting with your boss, no matter what you do. BMW Connected can avoid that, because it will ping an alert message to your personal smart device of choice, telling you that traffic is bad and you need to leave earlier to avoid any professional tardiness; and it tells you this ten minutes before the ideal departure time to maintain your punctuality. This system might not work 100 per cent smoothly once it goes live, but it's potentially very, very clever and useful.
Otherwise, for the entire 3 Series GT range, we've got the latest, 500cc-per-cylinder modular engines that are cleaner than their antecedents by up to 14 per cent. This is more obvious on the three-model petrol side of the range, as the 184hp 320i, the 252hp 330i (this is now a four-cylinder lump... sob!) and the 326hp 340i are all brand-new motors. Over on the diesel front, any of the four-cylinder units are part of this category, but the 150hp 318d and the 190hp 320d were introduced in 2015, and the solitary new diesel is badged 325d - it's a twin-turbo four with 224hp and 450Nm. Both the powerful six-cylinder diesels, the 330d (258hp/560Nm) and the 335d (313hp/620Nm) continue, and for the rest of the running gear, most GTs now come with the eight-speed Steptronic auto as standard and there's the option to have xDrive four-wheel drive on almost all models; yet only the 335d comes with it from the off.
The only model on hand for us to drive at the international launch event was the 340i in rear-wheel drive format, which in Ireland will be sold in M Sport trim only. And there's an easy conclusion to draw from our time behind the wheel, which is this: the 3 GT is extremely comfortable, hugely refined, incredibly quick... and not that engaging to drive on an enjoyable road.
While the frugal and cheaper-to-tax diesel GTs are going to make almost infinitely more sense here in Ireland than the 340i, you can have no complaints about the way 326hp and 450Nm deal with the BMW's bulky body. The pace of the 340i is tremendous. It steps off the line in a brutally efficient manner, even with drive going to the rear axle alone (pick xDrive and the 0-100km/h time drops another tenth), but it's the roll-on pick-up that is the most stunning. This 3.0-litre engine just pulls and pulls and pulls... and then pulls some more, despite the fact you've long since surpassed 160km/h and you're thundering headlong for the GT's electronic speed limiter (on the German Autobahn only, you understand). So searing performance is one thing this BMW does not lack. The 340i also sounds meaty, snarling round to its redline, while the Steptronic gearbox is a transmission deserving of all the superlatives going.
Where the 340i GT aces it dynamically is in the ride and refinement stakes. Our test car didn't have any fancy adaptive damping kit, but on its fixed-rate springs and shocks it smoothed out every variety of road into one flat, unctuous surface - or at least, that's what it felt like from behind the wheel. Its long 2,920mm wheelbase helps here, giving the car real stability, fluidity and that beautiful, languid movement post-bump that speaks of perfectly judged damping. Add in the fact that you can barely hear the tyres rolling on the tarmac beneath you, nor the elements buffeting the passenger cabin, nor the exertions of the straight-six engine at low to medium revs, and it's clear to see the 340i is designed to go long distances with the minimum of effort and stress.
The flipside of this is that it's not the greatest BMW to drive when the roads start folding in on themselves. The steering's nice and sharp, the brakes are great and there's still traction aplenty (it's not like the 340i spends most of its time trying to oversteer everywhere), but the body roll is way too loose and floppy, the GT wallowing on its springs during spirited cornering, while understeer arrives very early in the tightest bends. You can sort of negate the nose washing wide with a hefty dose of throttle, but ultimately the back-road driving manners of the 3 GT mean it feels a touch disjointed and uncomfortable if you start pushing it hard.
What you get for your money
It's physically bigger than the 3 Series Saloon and even the Touring models, so if you want lots of space and the ultimate cargo capacity in the Three, this is your first choice. Prices start from about the same level as they did for the pre-facelifted 3 GT, which is nice of BMW, and while we would hardly say the 3 GT is a bargain, none of its competitors make anything like it for comparison, which means the Beemer remains in a class of its own. Equipment levels are reasonably generous and it won't cost the Earth to run either, especially if you opt for a super-clean diesel variant.
Little visual change and a dynamic emphasis that is centred on civilised manners ahead of a scintillating chassis mean that the new BMW 3 Series GT is not one of the company's legendary 'Ultimate Driving Machines'. But its strengths lie in its incredible civility and comfort, its massive interior and its overwhelming abundance of straight-line urge - especially in 340i guise. It remains something of an oddity, the 3 GT, but it's an oddity that's finished to a very high standard and it's an oddity without any true peers. All of which should ensure that BMW will continue to add more sales to the very healthy numbers of 140,000+ GTs shifted around the world in its three-year lifespan so far.