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First Drive: 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo By Henny Hemmes

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Henny at speed in 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

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SICILY, Italy. March 17, 2013. Two weeks ago, at the Geneva auto show, BMW unveiled the third variant of the 3 Series. The F35 3 Series Gran Turismo, is a new “space wonder” which will be sold worldwide, but BMW is aiming this new model directly at the American and Chinese markets, where no love has been lost for station wagons.

With the introduction of this brand new BMW model in the premium mid-size segment which offers more space than a Touring, generates new opportunities for the Bavarian brand. The Gran Turismo is based on the 3 Series LWB that is built in China for the Chinese market and has a wheel base of 115 inches, 4.3inches longer than that of the other two siblings.

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The GT’s length of 189.9 inches and height of 59.4 inches exceeds that of the Touring by respectively 7.9 and 3.2 inches. The passengers in the back especially benefit from the extra inches with 2.6 in. more leg room and 3.2 in. more head room than in the estate model. Indeed the new model does offers a lot of room, in fact in a personal test, my colleague Jens Meiners and I sat in the back to see-and-feel if tall people will have a knee problem…and there was no knee problem.

Since the body of the GT sits about an inch higher on its wheels, all occupants of the GT are seated 2.3in higher. Add to this the fact that the load area has the same volume as that of the 5 Series Sedan, which is 0.9 cu-ft. more than in the Touring, and you will agree that the 3 GT is very practical.

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The back rests of the 40-20-40 split back seats can be adjusted in 15 stages over 19 degrees up to a vertical position,
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offering a maximum of 1.23 cu-ft extra load capacity. By folding the rear seats down, the compartment can be ‘extended’ to 56.50 cu-ft. The tailgate can remotely be opened and closed and is available with the hands-free Smart opener, that allows the boot lid to be opened with a movement of the foot under the rear bumper.

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The new variant is a clever extension of the 3 Series model line and aimed at customers that are looking for flexibility in the segment where BMW now is the first manufacturer offering such a spacious model. The Germans expect the GT to be bought by new customers from other brands, but there will also be owners up-scaling from of the 3 Sedan and Touring, as well as those, that want to downsize a bit from the 5 Series Sedan. Especially in the business lease, where nowadays companies are not admitting the ‘5’ anymore, the 3 GT offers an excellent alternative.

Of course, the question arises whether this model should have been called 4 Series, purely by its size. When asked, Dr. Herbert Diess, BMW AG’s Board member for development, said that this had been a point of discussion in the Board, but decided against.

New to BMW is the retractable rear spoiler, which flips up automatically above 68 mph to reduce lift on the rear axle. If the speed slows to below 43 mph, the spoiler automatically retracts nearly invisible in the large hatch. But it can also be manually retracted by pushing a button in the driver’s door.

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The Air Curtains, that we have seen earlier on BMW models, are now combined with Air Breathers for an optimal air flow around the front tires. The Air Breathers air ducts are placed rearwards of the front wheel arches in the side of the body. They are a new styling element that will return in future BMW models.

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The 3 GT will be offered with a choice of three petrol engines and two diesels. The 320i and 328i four-cylinder engines and the six-cylinder 335i, all with TwinPower Turbo twin-scroll turbo charging, direct injection and Valvetronic, with power ranging from 143 hp to 306 hp. The two diesel models are the 318d and 320d. The six-speed manual transmission is standard, while the 8-speed automatic transmission will be available for all engine variants. BMW will also offer the familiar lines: Sport, Luxury and Modern Line, while the M Sport Package is available for all models.

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During the first media drives, staged on the island of Sicily, I drove the 3 Series 335i GT. The GT easily takes 5 people and quite a bit of luggage while providing all occupants good comfort.
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The high comfort level of the 3 GT surprised me a bit. The agility of the sedan and touring is somewhat compromised by a more comfortable set up. We already are familiar with the driving modes Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ and Eco mode. Even in Sport+ the GT does not feel as firm as the other models, but we realize the weight of the GT and the higher center of gravity undoubtedly are of influence here as well.

When I discussed this with the engineers, the answer was that the 3 Series GT was developed for people who travel longer distances, offering them more comfort. Well maybe our test drive on the winding roads of the island may not have been the ideal test course either, so I will take the 3 GT for test drives soon in a ‘flatter’ area, either at home in flat-flat The Netherlands, or in Michigan and report back to you.

The 3 GT steering is somewhat vague on the straight end, and also has some resistance, but when entering a corner you can precisely steer the big car through. There is a little tendency to under-steer, but that was easily corrected.

The 6-cylinder in the 335i is also a familiar power plant, which shows its capabilities with ease and grace. The 306 hp strong 335i accelerates really fast out of tight corners, and not to forget from a stand still to 62 mph in only 5.4 seconds, provided the engine is combined with the 8-speed automatic transmission, which, by the way. is available for all models. With the standard six-speed manual, it takes 0.3 seconds extra. Nevertheless, the fuel consumption of around 30 mph (EU cycle) is absolutely not bad at all, thanks to the EfficientDynamic measures that BMW applies to its models.

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The interior offers a well-known environment with good seating, ergonomics, and good visibility around the car, even with the fat C-pillar. I especially like the full-color HUD, head up display and the other systems such as Lane keeping assist.

The 3 Series GT will celebrate its North American debut at the New York International Auto Show, which opens its doors for the media March 27. It will arrive on markets world wide in mid June and is expected to reach the North American market early September. Here we will get the 328i and 335i and possibly later the 320i. All versions will be available with four-wheel drive.

Engine 	6-cyl TwinPower turbo technology, TwinScroll, direct injection
Power		306 hp at 5800 rpm
Torque        	295 lb-ft at 1200-5000 rpm
Transmission	8-speed automatic
Kerb weight	3803 lbs
L/w/h		189.9/71.96/59.37 inches
Wheel base	150.8 in.
Price 		t.b.a.