First drive of the BMW 3 GT
It's a sedan! It's an estate! No, it's the Gran Turismo. Girish Karkera gets hands-on...
BMW launched the new 3 Series sedan last year with much fanfare (recall Sachin Tendulkar at the event?). The car was immediately well-received for its sustained driving ability. But over time, a sizeable chunk of owners have voiced continued concerns about more real-world issues like back seat comfort and a tiny boot. This has meant the 3 hasn't been able to penetrate that segment of customers who want the agility of a BMW 3 series but with added practicality.
The engineers have tackled this with the creation of 3 GT, a three-way crossover between a sedan, hatch and estate. It is not a first though. The 5 GT exists and its design has not been well-received by critics and customers but with the 3 GT it has managed to do one good thing - make it look less odd ball.
The car is longer, wider and taller than the sedan. The most noticeable change is the way the rear roof slopes into the boot, like a hatch. Unlike the 5 GT's complicated electric twin hatch, this is one single unit which has helped curb weight and cost. It also makes the 500 litre-plus boot's access easier.
Under the hood, there are options of three petrol and two diesel engines. In India, we are likely to get the 320d and 335i - both, top of the line, considering the GT will charge a premium over the sedan.
On the road, the car is typically BMW in character, with a firm ride and taut steering. The 335i we drove, is an eager and powerful unit mated to an efficient and quick 8-speed transmission. It is a quick beast, and in straightline acceleration you may not notice that you are driving a bigger 3. Rear passengers would notice, though, considering the amount of legroom there. But despite the marginal increase in width, the rear seat is still best for two.
Ride is firm. We drove the car in Spain where the roads are better than our own and the 3 GT suspension soaked most odd creases and tiny potholes with ease. But the ride is still on the firmer side, which will be an irritant over long stretches of bad Indian roads.
The upside of this is that the 3 GT can be thrust into corners and curvy roads with a lot of confidence. It isn't as squat as the sedan as centre of gravity has moved up so it gives a hint of body roll but the grip offered is more than sufficient to keep the car in line.
BMW is launching the car in India at the upcoming Delhi Auto Expo, but their plan is to start CKD operations in Chennai immediately in March. In the classic sedan version, the 3 Series is a joy to drive. In GT guise, it still boasts of better dynamics than many sedans.
Yes, the design is still a bit odd ball and despite being more practical will be a challenge for the sales guys, especially for a conventional luxury car buying audience like ours. Hopefully, BMW will be able to keep pricing in check and as close to the sedan version to give the 3 GT a fair chance at creating a new desirable niche in India.