The GT version of the 5 Series launched in South Africa four years ago has been a sales flop, but that isn’t stopping BMW South Africa from trying its luck with the smaller 3 Series Gran Turismo arriving here in June.
It’s basically a 3 Series with a coupé-like backside and extra passenger space and luggage room, to make it the more sensible and family-oriented choice.
With a longer body and wheelbase than the sedan, the 3 GT offers a sizeable 7cm more rear legroom to give it cavernous passenger space to nearly rival a 7 Series. The boot’s a very generous 520 litres in size too, 25 more than even the 3 Series Touring (station wagon), and expands to a cavernous 1600 litres with the rear seats folded down.
The car also has a higher roof and seating position than the sedan, along with extra ground clearance. Despite this slightly extra height and bulk the GT still feels much like a regular 3 Series to drive, with the same 50/50 front/rear weight balance, and doesn’t have the top-heavy feel of an SUV.
The narrow and twisty roads of Sicily, where the Gran Turismo’s international media launch was held on the weekend, provided a good test of the car’s handling abilities. Though the car felt rather broad in the hips on the island’s ultra-tight roads (but anything wider than a Fiat 500 does), the handling felt as firm as the undercooked spaghetti found in the local restaurants, and the car delivers the nimble handling of 3 Series renown.
Firm, but not uncomfortable, and along with its precision handling the GT glides over the tar in a well-mannered fashion. It was only on optional 19” low-profile tyres (17s come standard) that the ride became a little jarring.
To suit its role as a practical family hauler, BMW has thrown a few clever tricks into the Gran Turismo’s luggage area including an underfloor storage compartment, an electrically opening and closing tailgate, and 15-position adjustment for the angle of the rear seat backrests in case you need to boost luggage room.
Optionally, you can order the car with remote releases that fold the rear seats flat in one slick movement. The absence of a spare wheel plays a major role in the spaciousness of the boot, and like all BMWs the 3 GT rides on runflat tyres.
Unique in the 3 Series line up, the Gran Turismo has frameless doors and an adaptive rear spoiler that pops up to increase downforce at higher speeds. The car also gets large air intakes beneath the headlamps, and those little “7” shaped apertures in the front fenders are part of an “air curtain” system that aids aerodynamics
The car will be available in SA in a choice of four models: 320d, 320i, 328i and 335i, and like the 3 Series sedan the GT will be available in four trim lines: Modern, Luxury, Sport and M Sport. Drive is to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic, or optionally an eight-speed auto, and there’s a fuel-saving auto start-stop function.
PICK OF THE BUNCH
With its ability to sprint to 100km/h in 8 seconds, a 230 km/h top speed, along with a claimed 4.9 litres/100km fuel consumption, the celebrated 135kW/380Nm 2-litre turbodiesel is the top choice for 3 GT owners seeking the best mix of performance and economy. The 320d I drove on the island averaged a very creditable 6.7 litres per 100km, including stints stuck in Palermo’s heavy traffic where the crazy drivers could teach our minibus taxi drivers a thing or two.
The other version I drove was the 335i, and that sweet petrol turbo engine delivers its 225kW and 400Nm in a very spirited fashion, as underlined by its claimed 5.7 second 0-100km/h time and governed 250km/h top speed. If you drive it carefully enough you can expect an 8.1 litres/100km consumption.
Prices of the 3 Series GT will be confirmed when the cars get here in June, but expect a roughly 20-30 grand premium over the sedan models. -Star Motoring