You can never go wrong choosing chocolate here in gelato centro, but then you try the pistachio – ah, pistachio! – and your taste buds tingle a reminder that multiple flavours can render one product irresistible.
BMW knows as much. And if the 3-Series sedan is chocolate, and the coupe strawberry, convertible pistachio, the new Gran Turismo might just be its fig gelato. Not for every taste, never going to be the favourite, but those in the know sing its praises.
The new flavour is considerably roomier in the rear seat and cargo area than other 3-Series models. To achieve this, it is taller, longer and heavier than even the latest new model, the Touring wagon, let alone coupe or sedan.
BMW believes both older and younger buyers will see the sense within its rather ungainly lines.
It’s easier to step into or get out of, appealing – BMW noted in its presentation – to those of an age now struggling to enter or exit lower-slung autos. The seat bottoms are 59 mm higher than in 3-Series sedans.
Active sports enthusiasts, a younger crowd of potential customers, will be attracted by the possibilities afforded by 1,600 litres of cargo area with the rear seats folded. Basic capacity is 520 litres, 25 more than in the Touring. Even corporate types describe it as a niche product once the microphone is turned off. Its cousin, the 5-Series Gran Turismo, is described that way as well. Niche: that’s corporate-speak for not many sold.
But the 3-Series GT may sell better than anticipated because it’s so functional while retaining trademark BMW liveliness – although the liveliness is reduced as a consequence of the higher centre of gravity and increased weight.
The Gran Turismo’s charm is beyond the driver’s seat. I rode in the rear, behind my 6-foot-3 co-driver, and discovered not just a little more leg room, but a lot, 70 mm over the sedan or wagon (Touring). Disclosure: your 5-foot-8 reporter has stubby legs. Still, the long-legged co-driver also was impressed. (Headroom is increased marginally, by a single mm.) Adding to the comfort, the rear seat is tilt-adjustable. This is best accomplished at a standstill because the release is over your outboard shoulder. You need to twist further than your seatbelt permits.
The liftback – BMW calls it a tailgate, but that’s what pickup trucks have, isn’t it? – opens easily, optionally hands-free with a kick under the bumper. It’s then an easy reach to release the rear seat backs to maximize cargo space. There would be even more space if the rear seat folded flat. It’s a 1,600-litre cave anyway, made more useful with ample hooks and tie-downs. A large portion of the floor hinges upward and stays up with a hydraulic strut to permit access to useful subterranean storage trays where a spare tire would reside if BMW hadn’t committed itself to run-flat technology.
Canadian pricing is yet to be announced. The 328i xDrive Touring has just come on sale at $47,850; the Gran Turismo can be expected to command more. The complexity of its construction has it being manufactured alongside 5-Series models in Dingolfing, Germany. When it arrives in late summer, the GT will be offered in both 328i and 335i levels of power, solely with xDrive all-wheel-drive and an automatic eight-speed transmission.
The cars we sampled were rear-drive 335i M Sport Line models with suspensions lowered by 10 mm and variable shock absorbers. They hurtled around Sicily with assuring cornering abilities, albeit with more lean than is typical of M Sport models, suggesting the base GT, taller and lacking a sport setting, will lean more.
Power matters in a BMW. Even grey-haired drivers with aching knees and lower backs for whom the high-mounted seats were designed, demand their BMWs feel powerful.
The 335i relieves this itch with 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. And the ripping exhaust noise of the inline-six-cylinder engine, in this case especially when consigning Fiat Puntos into the rear-view mirrors, is in character.
Canadian cars will lose a little of this edge because the xDrive all-wheel-drive powertrain components adds some 60 kg to the detriment of power-to-weight ratio.
The Gran Turismo is a different flavour of BMW. Outfitted for the Canadian market, its taste will not be as strong as those driven here. But it will still be fig.
2014 BMW 3-Series Gran Turismo xDrive
Type: Four-door liftback
Base price: Not available
Engines: 2.0-litre, direct-injection, turbocharged four-cylinder in 328i; 3.0-litre, direct-injection, turbocharged six cylinder in 335i
Horsepower/torque: 241 hp/255 lb-ft for four; 300 hp/300 lb-ft for six
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shifting mode. Not yet determined if six-speed manual will be available in Canada
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available; premium required
Alternatives: BMW 3-Series Touring; Land Rover Evocque, Acura ZDX, Lexus RX
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