If you make a list of carmakers who can create niche segments out of thin air, BMW would be somewhere near the top. It hasn’t hit jackpot each time, but that has never stopped the Munich boys from experimenting. In fact, as one legendary automotive expert, whose last name is Clarkson, says, what makes German carmakers stand out is their penchant for always trying something new.
The Gran Turismo concept is the result of one such experiment. The 5 series was the unlucky first one to be operated on, and immediately, the bulbous design drew flak from both, experts and customers. It looked odd, had a complicated, twin-hatchback mechanism and was expensive. To its credit, the 5 GT did have lots of space.
But despite the criticism, BMW did not let go of the idea, and early last year, announced the impending arrival of the 3 series Gran Turismo. While the 5 GT didn’t live up to expectations around the world, in India, it didn’t do too badly. We got around 100 units for a crore each and BMW sold most of it in good time. Buoyed by Indian buyers’ welcoming attitude to the design, BMW is now readying the 3 GT. And it is going a step further – the cars will be assembled at its Chennai plant, and made in larger numbers.
The car looks, and is, much bigger than a 3 series sedan. It uses the chassis of the 3 series long wheelbase sold in China, which makes it longer and marginally wider. The coupe-like rear doesn’t look too bad, but is not as handsome as a sedan. The car is taller too and seat height has been raised – almost to the level of an X1. Wheelbase is nearly 200mm longer. So, rear legroom is more than in a 5 series! The boot is huge too, at 520 litres. Again, that’s the same as in the bigger 5.
Apart from the coupe roof at the rear, subtle design changes differentiate the GT from a normal 3. The headlights and grille are wider, thanks to the overall increase in dimensions. The bonnet has smoother contours to go with the car’s suggested character – more a comfortable long-distance cruiser than the edgier sedan.
In a first for BMW, the 3 GT gets an active rear spoiler that’s nicely hidden at speeds below 110kph. It is a functional unit, which reduces lift on the rear axle by almost 60 per cent, once engaged. It comes into action beyond 110kph and stays there until speed drops below 70kph. To improve aerodynamics, the 3 GT gets another first – the Air Breather – just behind the front wheel arch, which works in conjunction with the Air Curtains on the bonnet to facilitate airflow around the wheel and reduce drag. Not surprisingly, the car boasts of a drag coefficient of 0.28.
The GT is meant for long distance cruising, so the suspension is softly sprung compared to a sedan. We drove the car in Madrid, where it glided over their version of bad roads, although ride is still stiff compared to, say, a C-Class. The increased length has meant you will encounter a bit of roll on the front wheel when you try to drive it hard, as you should a 3 series. The electro-mechanical steering, which demands power only when needed, is still a joy to use and only limited by the car’s extra-long body and slightly higher centre of gravity.
Featured here is the top-of-the-line 335i, which has a 3.0-litre straight six featuring BMW’s twin-Power turbo technology. Power is available on tap and in whatever amount the driver demands. This is mated to an eight-speed automatic with optional paddle shifts, and together they make quick work of all the miles you can throw at the GT.
Thanks to the slightly softer suspension, long-distance driving is reasonably comfortable, and if you decide to be driven, you even get to stretch your legs without having to leave the back seat.
By now, you realise that useable space in the 3 GT isn’t hard to find. The rear seats are best for two, although it won’t be too cramped for three. And there’s room for everyone’s luggage.
The one thing this BMW hasn’t carried over from the 5 GT is the expensive twin-hatch mechanism. The 3 GT gets a single hatch – just like in the Octavia – which gives you plenty of loading capacity in case you want to carry some serious luggage. Of course, there is no need to store a spare wheel here – thinks BMW – because the car comes with run-flats, so BMW has used the space at the bottom to conveniently store the two-piece parcel trays in case you have to remove them to make full use of the 520-litre boot.
Internationally, the 3 GT is available in three petrol and two diesel engine options. So apart from the 335i, there are the four-cylinder, 2.0-litre 320i and 328i options. We are more likely to get the latter, with 241bhp, 350Nm at a later date.
In diesel, the 3 GT gets a 2.0-litre unit in two power specs – 318d (140bhp/320Nm) and 320d (181bhp/380Nm). Again, the latter has been confirmed for India at the just concluded Auto Expo. All engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard; India gets the 8-speed automatic as standard.
Prices, on-road, will be almost 20-25 per cent over the respective sedan version, which means they’ll start at around Rs 50 lakh (on-road) for the 320d, and go as high as `60 lakh for the top-spec 335i when it comes here. That’s 5 series territory, which sounds bizarre.
The 3 series Touring (estate version) isn’t sold in India, but is hugely popular in Europe. The sedan is a universal success, and the GT will now do a new take on providing touring practicality while trying to match the sedan’s sportier stance with a coupe-style design. It's being pegged at someone who wants a 3 series but also wants something more practical, not just when it comes to driving but also when being driven around.
There is little doubt the GT is a more practical number than the sedan – the only downside is that it doesn’t offer
the adrenaline rush that you get while piloting a sedan through fast corners. If that’s a compromise you’re willing to make, the 3 GT is what you need.
2,979cc, in-line six, petrol, 301bhp, 400Nm, 0-100kph in 5.4s (claimed), top speed 250kph (limited); overall kpl: 13.2 (claimed), Rs 60 lakh (estimated, on-road Mumbai)
A hugely practical 3 series variant – performance is at par, but not necessarily the dynamics. Costs 5 series money.