Never one to shy away from filling every single possible niche, BMW is offering a glut of options for people shopping its benchmark 3 Series line of compact luxury cars. The 3 Series sedan and five-door Touring are easy to rationalize, but the Gran Turismo is more challenging, especially in the sheet metal. The swooping roofline and short deck are recognizable from the larger 5 GT and X6, and there’s a subtle spoiler that extends up at highway speeds to help stability. Thankfully the rest of the back end is less controversial, sharing the same themes found in other 3 Series models. From the A pillar forward, there’s no real difference, using the same headlights, front grille, air intake, hood and – controversially – the ‘air blade’ on the lower front fenders. The M Sport package adds more aggressive detailing and extra badges too. Wheels are either 18 or 19 inches standard, depending on which theme you choose, and there are dozens of further options for customization.
On the inside, the Gran Turismo is much less divisive, sharing virtually everything with its Bimmer siblings. Nice plastics, metals and leathers are spread throughout, and ergonomically pretty sound. The standard widescreen display perched on top of the dashboard is controlled almost exclusively by the iDrive controller on the centre console. Also appreciated are the knobs and buttons used for controlling the HVAC system, and the wide row of preset buttons that can save not only radio stations, but also favourite phone numbers and route destinations. The steering wheel is big and chunky – especially in M Sport guise – and is one of my favourites around. The downfall here remains the shifter for the automatic transmission, which needs its side-button squeezed to recognize the driver’s input. Forget while rushing during a quick three-point turn, and the car bongs politely and refuses to move, always at the worst time…
Like the 5 GT, the smaller 3 Series GT is meant to appeal to customers across Asia where King-size stretch-out room is the greatest luxury going. Riding on the same stretched platform as the China-only long-wheelbase 3 Series sedan, you can tell almost immediately that the GT is one spacious way to travel. The rear seats have 7 cm (2.8 in) more room than either sedan or wagon, and headroom is also increased because of the higher roofline. The rear seats can also recline, and feature 40/20/40 split backs, meaning the cargo area is pretty customizable. There’s 520 L of space with the seats in place – more on paper than even the Touring – and expands to 1,600 L if needed. Access to the trunk is made easier by a foot-swipe sensor under the rear bumper that’ll trigger the hatch motors automatically.
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The GT shares the same turbocharged inline gas engines found in most other Bimmers: the 2.0-litre four-cylinder in 328i models gets 245 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while six-cylinder 335i models have 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. All GT models use an eight-speed automatic transmission and xDrive all-wheel drive. Since the GT weighs slightly more than either the sedan or wagon – 1,775 for 328i or 1,820 kg for 335i – it’s slightly slower on paper, but that difference isn’t noticeable on the road. Given the performance potential, BMW’s official NRC fuel economy ratings are pretty reasonable: 9.4 L/100 km in the city and 6.1 on the highway for the 328i, and 10.4 city/6.7 highway for the 335i.
What is noticeable is the extra five cm of ride height, which aims to make the GT easier to enter, but can affect it during quick transitions. M Sport models are only 2.5 cm higher, and with the usual changes to spring and damper rates, means an enjoyable driving machine overall. Obviously, depending on which package you’ve chosen, the ride can be either comfortable and controlled, or feel-every-bump stiff. But even the firmest available is still a long way from the full-on M Division machines.
Like most other Bimmers, the 3 Series GT uses run-flat tires, arguably in order to save weight by not carrying a spare tire. So, the area under the GT’s cargo floor features a couple separated compartments, and room to stow the two-piece removable cargo shelf. Surprisingly, another pneumatic strut supports the raised floor portion to make rooting around in there much simpler. Neat.
And here’s the real crux… the 3 Series GT doesn’t have much in the way of rivals here in Canada. The Volvo V60 is the closest in size and price, and Audi A4 Allroad and BMW with its 3 Series Touring are virtually the only ones who’ve retained some form of station wagon even if Audi’s is a few centimetres higher than before. And there’s the entire spectrum of compact luxury SUVs that would fit the hauling bill easily enough. But BMW has another option coming relatively soon: the 4 Series Gran Coupe, which uses the same stretched wheelbase, powertrains and interiors, and has a fifth door. But chances are its much sleeker shape will be significantly more expensive than any 3 GT.
Even though there are other models that deliver the driving fun, prestige and performance of the 3 Series Gran Turismo, the real reason you’d consider one is the sheer amount of space inside. If you’re a wagon-hating parent of potential NBA draftees who doesn’t want a big SUV, then BMW has the car for you. But with a starting price of $48,990 for the 328i and $56,990 for the 335i, you’ll definitely be paying for the privilege.
+ Real space for tall drivers
+ More cargo area than Touring
+ BMW’s typical driving fun
– Big price bump over regular 3’s
– Nicer looking 4 Series GC sharing showroom
– Cheesy fender vents
Exterior Styling: 2.5
Fuel Economy: 3.5