BMW Gets Much Closer To The GT Look And Feel It Seeks

2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo

The 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is being launched to a pretty cynical automotive press brigade. You know it. We know it. Heck, even BMW knows it. We've just returned from driving it on the rather unforgiving and sometimes nasty roads of Sicily, and even before we got behind the wheel, many of our media colleagues were busying themselves doubting the 3 GT's very raison d'être. So, despite the always excellent Sicilian hospitality, the day's atmosphere was kind of fragile.

While the press in attendance seemed determined to nail every product expert to the wall for having been even tangentially associated with the larger 5 Series Gran Turismo, it seemed that BMW decided ahead of time to not introduce such a sensitive discussion topic. That strategy would do little to smooth things over as everyone started digging for dirt on BMW's so far clumsy Gran Turismo franchise.

As it turns out, we like the 3 GT despite so many packaging and design cards being stacked against it just by association with the 5 GT precedent. Automotive journalists are sometimes wrong en masse and this case of prejudice toward the 3 GT is one of those times.

And besides, much in the way the entire Buick brand still exists because China fell in love with it (entirely to General Motors' dumb-luck surprise), the 5 GT has somewhat thrived due to similar circumstances. The odd-duck 5 Series version – arguably the least appealing design ever to roll out of the halls of BMW – has found its savior almost exclusively in the Land of Confucius. After driving this new 3 GT, we have no reason to doubt it will find far more favor not just in China, but in all of BMW's major markets.

2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo side view2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo front view2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo rear view

At least for the moment, the 3 GT pretty well stands alone in its niche.

First off, the 3 GT is based off the long-wheelbase 3 Series chassis created especially for the Chinese market. We've always liked seeing and riding in these stretched 3 Series and 5 Series sedans when traveling there, as the driving experience in Shanghai and Beijing traffic gets really old after about a half hour. The passenger experience in this 3 GT is thus very swell with its exterior 7.9-inches longer than the 3 Series wagon, and sporting a 4.3-inch longer wheelbase. Height is also increased by 3.2 inches, which immediately allows for fantastic headroom along with a more commanding 2.3-inch higher seat position front and back. Part of the height is also gained by setting the chassis one inch higher than the rest of the 3 Series family.

So, is it really a 3 Series? We had the same logic challenge with the 5 GT dimensionally, since that model is more like a 7 Series in certain aspects. After a while, you sort of let go of the quandary, however, because really it doesn't matter. Can this 3 GT stand on its own? Trying to locate something out there that is similarly sized, we came up with the much less luxurious Dodge Journey (a.k.a. Fiat Fremont in Europe), which is just a couple inches longer to allow its third-row seating. At least for the moment, the 3 GT pretty well stands alone in its niche.

2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo interior2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo front seats2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo rear seats2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo shifter

For the US, everything that applies trim and option-wise to the 3 Series sedan will apply to the 3 GT, which launches in September at a starting price of around $38,500 for the 328i GT and $45,500 for the 335i GT. Exact pricing will be announced closer to the time of deliveries, and buyers can expect xDrive all-wheel drive models then as well. Our tester seen here is a 335i GT M Sport rear-driver dipped in the options list – which includes the $3,200 M Sport package – and it arrives at just under $60,000. That's a wad of cash, but BMW has proven that its customers aren't afraid to option 3 Series models up into 5 Series territory. Sadly, there were no 328i testers available, but our hunch is that the 28i trim will be the better everyday choice, just as we've found with the 3 Series sedan.

Even at a stated weight of 3,850 pounds, the 335i GT's 0-60 is estimated at 5.2 seconds.

As with the rest of BMW's 35i models, the engine here is the much loved N55 Twin Power Turbo 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder chugging forth 302 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, accompanied by 295 pound-feet of torque from 1,200 to 5,000 rpm. Even at a stated weight of 3,850 pounds, the 335i GT's 0-60 mile per hour time is estimated at 5.2 seconds when all the right buttons are pushed (i.e. Drive Dynamics suite in Sport+, as well as that same S+ for the eight-speed Sport automatic seen in the Sport and M Sport lines).

2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo engine

There was just enough water left on the pavement from a rain squall – plus a little sand – and no traffic in rural Sicily on our drive. On a bit of a dare, we temporarily unplugged all the dynamic limiters/helpers, set the chassis, steering, gearshifts and throttle in Sport+, and had at it through a few hairpins to see if this more practically proportioned 3 GT can handle like an M Sport should. For a stretched 3 Series that stands taller and weighs 290 pounds more than the equivalent sedan, the 335i GT M Sport acquitted itself commendably well. Its electromechanical steering is not a favorite, but the throttle play and programming of the eight-speed gearbox are both sweet work. So, we can tick the "nicely controlled oversteer" box for the 335i GT.

For some time now, BMW has gone whole hog on the run-flat tires, which is a shame. With M Sport specification, you can choose between having summer performance run-flats or all-season run-flats, but neither is ideal. Our tester had the optional 19-inch Continental ContiSportContact SSR treads, and while they look nice on the M Sport wheels, 19-inch run-flats on a hauler of this dimension are simply not right. The adaptive suspension helps smooth out the bumps and bruises, but this run-flat obsession remains dissatisfying. Couple that to the robot-assist steering and a chunk of mid-curve fidelity has been lost. The chassis and powertrain, however, are an extremely sweet duo – almost good enough to make us care less about these less strong points.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo

Job one with the 3 GT, however, is passenger and cargo space. Both categories score extremely high, too. We spent a lot of time investigating its flexible cargo hold, and by our yardstick, it's the segment leader for all cars mid-size and smaller. It's all easy to fiddle with, too, with listed volume back there ranging from 18.4 to 56.5 cubic feet – that's more than in the wagon. Cargo hooks, 12-volt outlets and under-floor stowage? Check. And beyond the exemplary rear passenger headroom, the Chinese-spec stretch chassis makes for 2.8 inches more rear legroom versus other 3 Series models, which means there's more than in the back of a 5 Series. For front passengers of cars fitted with the M Sport setup, the M Sport seats with ten-way adjustability are well chosen and maintain that command-view height.

Job one with the 3 GT is passenger and cargo space. Both categories score extremely high, too.

When the 3 GT's design process began three years ago, the car's A-pillar was more upright with the roof higher in front, but, according to exterior styling leader Page Beermann, that didn't look so great. Now, the windscreen has the greater rake to it and the car looks nicer while boasting a coefficient of drag of just 0.28 – good work for something with such a large frontal area. One more design touch they've done here for the first time is something BMW has dubbed Air Breathers. At the front of the forward wheel well on all new 3 Series body styles, you'll find something called an Air Curtain. It helps air flow through the lower side intakes in front and cools the brake discs. Conversely, the Air Breathers are those black detailed blister vents on our test car behind the front wells, and they let the air flow out of the wheel well, preventing excessive swirl, thus improving aerodynamics.

2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo rear 3/4 view2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo front fascia2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo fender2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo rear spoiler

This 3 GT is a much better deal than its 5 Series antecedent, and far nicer looking than what initial photos may have suggested.

Finally, there's the active aerodynamic effect of the automated rear spoiler. It deploys at speeds above 68 mph and retracts at 43 mph. This aero touch prevents the rear end design from pooching up too much like the eye sore tail on the 5 GT. To our eyes, the proportions for the 3 GT in profile and from behind are more than acceptable now. BMW designers admitted that their ambitious poster child on the project was the Lamborghini Espada with its very challenging and beautiful greenhouse. We're a long way from Italian greatness here, but at least the 3 GT brings us much closer to sexy.

With its growing Gran Coupe and Gran Turismo families – not to mention the X6 crossover – BMW is still clearly trying to figure out how to walk the line between outright coupe styling and cargo-hauling practicality. In the end, this 3 GT is a much better deal than its 5 Series antecedent, and in person, it's far nicer looking than what initial photos may have suggested. Besides, we kind of have a long-standing thing for big rear hatch doors, especially when they can be had with rear-wheel drive. It's not perfect and we know some people still reeling from the shock of the 5 GT are going to hurl insults at it anyway, but the 3 GT warrants real consideration from buyers looking for a flexible and premium people hauler with a sure dose of driving competence.