Paul Horrell 18 May 2012

Exclusive: the BMW 3-Series GT

Undeterred by the reaction to the 5-Series GT, BMW is planning a 3… Paul Horrell reports

BMW 5 Series GT

You might think that after everyone laughed (rightly) at the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo (pictured above), the company would be wary of using the Gran Turismo badge again. But no, nothing if not persistent, our friends in Bavaria will launch a 3-Series Gran Turismo in the middle of next year.

The critical thing to bear in mind is this. The new 3 GT will learn from the mistakes of the 5 GT. I've spoken to people inside the company who've seen it. One of them candidly admitted that because of the 5-Series Gran Turismo's sorry looks, he hadn't been expecting much of the 3 GT. But when he saw an early model, was very pleasantly surprised.

The troubles of the 5-Series Gran Turismo are clear enough. It aims to provide extra rear-seat comfort, plus versatility for bulky cargo. It wants to be a saloon at times (so it has an enclosed boot and a small lid) and it wants to be a hatch at other times (so the boot partition folds away, and there's an alternative tailgate). It's complex, heavy, costly and bewildering. Most of all it's ugly.

So in the re-think for the 3-series GT, the result is a car that's not much higher than a regular 3 saloon or Touring. But the body is wedged upward at the back, and the roof-line slopes down. The hatchback ends in a horizontal lip, to make the thing look light and sleek.

In the end you have a car that'll have a silhouette not so different from an Audi A5 Sportback. Which of course, is much like the mainstream hatches like the Vauxhall Insignia. Yes, it's taken all these years for BMW to do what the mass market is doing. But then the 3-Series range is pretty mass-market these days.

The real trick will be to avoid confusing the buyers. The 3-Series Gran Turismo has to find a clear position somewhere in the spectrum between the 3 saloon, the 3 Touring, and the X1 and X3. It will do it by giving more back seat space than the 3 Touring but less boot room. And though it'll be slightly taller than the 3 Touring, it won't have the crossover styling of the X models.

As for engine, it's the usual 3-series stuff: four-cylinder turbos for everything up to the 328i Gran Turismo, and then a six-cylinder turbo 335i Gran Turismo. For diesel, the usual super-economical and rapid family, from 320d to 335d. If you're reading this in a country where the steering wheel is on the left, there will also be an xDrive 4WD option. But not here in Britain.

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