Overall rating: 4/5
Launching a whole new car into what is essentially a whole new segment is never an easy feat, and in 2009 the launch of the 5 Series Gran Turismo proved that even BMW isn't infallible. Now there is an updated GT that appears to have improved the formula somewhat.
In the Metal:
The Gran Turismo has always had a sort of Marmite sense of style about it. There are some that see it for how it is meant (or hoped) to be seen - as a large, practical car that's more luxurious than the more conventional saloon. Others see it as an unnecessary niche model that aimed to bridge a gap that wasn't really there. Regardless of both parties' opinions, one thing they should be able to agree on is that the new 5 Series Gran Turismo is a far better looking car than its first iteration. Changes to the front-end styling see the GT gain a slightly sportier appearance thanks to a redesigned air intake in the bumper, while all versions now benefit from having Xenon headlights fitted as standard. Overall proportions remain the same but the designers have stretched the rear tailgate to give the roofline a more flowing shape, thus reducing the abrupt end the previous car had. The happy by-product of this is a boot capacity increase of 60 litres, which sees it grow to 500 litres in total. The rear also features redesigned lights, which is highlighted by two LED light strips.
Inside sees fewer changes, most of which are small aesthetic ones. The display for the iDrive system is now bordered with chrome strips while there is now the option to order the iDrive controller with a touch sensitive surface that allows the user to write with their finger (a destination in the satnav for example).
Regardless of what you think about the looks of the Gran Turismo, driving is what it is really all about. The airy feel inside the cabin can easily make you think that the drive will be soft, but that is where you will be very much mistaken. Yes the GT may have levels of luxury that rival the 7 Series, but on the move it feels far more agile than its shape might suggest.
These days it seems unusual to be driving a car with a large petrol engine, but for those that can (afford to) see past the hefty road tax and fuel costs, the 535i is a beautiful engine that offers diesel-like levels of torque and more than respectable acceleration. Over a variety of road surfaces the BMW remained well composed while BMW's engineers have done some excellent work in reducing road noise in the cabin. On tighter roads the steering is sharp and despite never alluding to being a sports car, the Gran Turismo proves to be more than capable when introduced to more spirited driving.
BMW has made the straight-six petrol engine as economical as possible thanks to its EfficientDynamics program, which includes a Driving Experience Control that allows the driver to select the vehicle's different characteristics according to the type of driving. ECO PRO mode reduces throttle sensitivity and with the automatic gearbox upshifts more quickly in order to keep engine revs to a minimum, thus reducing fuel consumption. The system can also reduce the amount of power sent to systems such as the air conditioning.
In an urban environment the Gran Turismo is surprisingly manoeuvrable despite its size, although rear-ward visibility, particularly when parking, requires heavy reliance on the car's parking sensors. The higher (than the 5 Series saloon and Touring) seat heights do make getting in and out nice and easy while the option to now specify the automated boot lid with a sensor that can open or close by simply moving your foot underneath the rear bumper makes those big shopping trips that little bit easier. In addition to this, for added versatility, the tailgate can also be opened either as a full hatchback or as a separate boot lid below the rear window.
What you get for your Money:
If luxury is what you desire then the Gran Turismo does offers that in spades. It may appear a fair degree more expensive than the 5 Series saloon but the two couldn't be more different in terms of driving experience - particularly from a passenger perspective. Rear occupants can travel in total comfort, while there is still a more than adequate amount of carrying capacity in a car that overall is barely longer than the 5 Series saloon.
BMW has introduced two new trim lines to the range - Modern and Luxury. Both add LED fog lamps, 19-inch light alloy wheels, B-pillar trim and door mirror bases in gloss black, illuminated door handles with chrome trim and aluminium door sill strips.
In addition to that the Modern Line adds a matt chrome finish to the kidney grille slats, rear trim strip and tailpipes. Inside, dark pearl trim strips contrast nicely with the optional leather upholstery.
The Luxury Line as you would expect exudes a high level of exclusivity thanks to the chrome finish around the window recesses, while 'Fineline' anthracite wood creates an interior ambience one would expect from BMW's upper models.
Even with the beneficial changes made, the 5 Series Gran Turismo will no doubt continue to divide opinion. But what BMW has done is created a car that is now not only softer on the eye but also seems to be more normal, which may just be what is needed to entice more potential buyers in to take a closer look at it. Either way, if you want to really understand the Gran Turismo the only thing to do is go drive it.