A BMW 3 Series with a liftback attempts to make a case for side-stepping a wagon or SUV.
It's best to start simple with the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo.
Compared with a standard 3 Series sedan and Touring, this raised liftback version is a fair bit longer (by 200mm), quite a bit taller (up 79mm) and marginally wider (plus 18mm). The BMW 3 Series GT also has a 520 litre boot, which is a full 40L more capacious than the sedan’s and is even 25L larger than the Touring’s.
The flagship 328i GT grade tested here is 165kg heavier than the 328i sedan. At $76,500, it is also $10,600 more expensive, as well as being $6600 pricier than the 328i Touring.
That pricing impost buys, as the expanded dimensions indicate, much improved rear-seat legroom, which goes a long way to justifying the ‘Gran Turismo’ tag.
Yet the fastback roofline of the 3 Series GT also delivers poor headroom for rear passengers. BMW claims slightly more headroom in the GT compared with the sedan/wagon, but it obviously isn’t measuring from where a passenger’s head falls onto the headrest. The cranium of this 175cm-tall tester hits the headlining before it hits the headrest, while a 181cm-tall colleague (below) found the rear particularly uncomfortable.
Despite the extra width of the 3 Series GT body compared with its siblings, BMW also claims 25mm less rear seat shoulder room; it still isn’t a three-across grand tourer, then.
Unlike the 5 Series GT, the 3 Series GT also lacks a slide and tilt function for the rear seat backrest. Instead the seat is fixed, as with the sedan and Touring. There is a handy 40:20:40 split-fold backrest, however, again following the other bodystyles in the lineup.
In addition to the bigger boot there’s also the practicality of a liftback, meaning larger items such as this tester’s newly acquired road bike, can be loaded in far more easily compared with a compact sedan boot opening.
The 3 Series GT also borrows its frameless door design and heightened driving position from the 5 Series GT. Along with a windscreen that stretches further up into the roof, and larger windows, the driver has fine visibility all round.
The cabin is otherwise standard 3 Series fare. Although the design is neat, with decent soft-touch plastics and a nice-sized steering wheel, there are ergonomic issues.
For example the top of the wheel obscures the odometer display in most driving positions; there’s no ‘sync’ button for the dual-zone climate control, forcing drivers to manually twist two temperature knobs each time a change of the weather is required; and the cupholder lid detaches itself, so when drinks need to be placed the lid has nowhere to be stored except inside the small glovebox because the centre console bin is too small to fit it.
On the upside BMW's iDrive has risen to be the premium benchmark for user interaction, and the 3 Series GT gets new graphics for the 10.2-inch colour screen. The Bluetooth connectivity system is easy to use and the quality of the reversing camera is excellent.
In terms of the overall cabin execution and space utilisation, though, the BMW 3 Series GT is inconsistent. That feeling continues on the road.
The high-riding 3 Series GT lacks the crisp dynamics and fine ride comfort of its lower sedan and Touring brethren. Our test 328i GT was optioned with ($1692) adaptive M suspension and ($308) variable sport steering, the former of which is a must-have option in the regular 3 Series, enhancing comfort levels while endowing it with control lacking with the standard suspension.
The 328i GT comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, though, where the 328i sedan and Touring get 18s as standard. Whether it’s the bigger wheels or raised ride height that makes it feel different to the sedan we’re not sure, but dynamically the 3 Series GT feels to a 3 Series a bit like what a Subaru Outback does to a Liberty – it is a rollier, less agile version.
In Comfort mode there’s a touch too much float in normal conditions. Ordinarily the 328i GT rides well, until it encounters sharp-edged pot holes, a quick succession of rippled surfacing, large vertical bumps – like, speed humps – or a combination of all three, at which point it bangs, thumps and bobs its nose respectively. Switch to Sport and the suspension starts picking up irregularities in the road that you never thought were there, and although body control improves substantially, the thudding of the tyres is still prominent.
Move from the confines of suburbia to a bumpy country road and, in Sport, the crashing gets worse, occasionally eliciting the stability control light to flash when it detects the suspension is unable to deal with consecutive bumps. It’s actually better to tolerate the extra roll and float in Comfort mode, which at least irons out some of the bigger hits.
On smooth roads the 3 Series GT does show some of that classic rear-wheel-drive BMW sparkle. In particular it doesn’t feel as sharp and agile at the front end, but the stability control calibration in Sport+ is terrific, subtly braking a wheel mid-corner to help the nose point while allowing the driver to stay on the throttle.
The optional variable sport steering, which offers a quick to just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock, is far superior to the standard steering experienced in a 320i sedan last month.
Even better than delivering faster steering, however, is the much-improved on centre steering feel compared with the regular fixed-ratio system; it feels neither too vacant on centre nor too immediate. In Sport, however, which is a default setting for its sharper throttle and tighter suspension, also brings awfully heavy steering weight.
Although improved, the steering still doesn’t offer the fluency and feedback of the class-benchmark Mercedes-Benz C-Class set-up.
The highlight of the 328i package is its 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine. Producing 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque, BMW claims a 6.1 second 0-100km/h and 6.5L/100km combined.
Although the engine doesn’t feel quite as brisk in the 1595kg 328i GT as it does in the lighter sedan, it still spins fast and sounds good. The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is a tremendously talented partner, quickly adapting to a harder driving style then quickly reverting back to a soothing economy-focus.
We saw 9.7L/100km in conditions ranging from a peak hour crawl to brisk country driving, and using urban arterials and freeways to get to the good roads.
While the concept of a roomier, more versatile 3 Series is sound, in this case the execution is flawed.
The basics common to the ‘328i’ badge such as a superb engine and transmission, and very good smooth-road dynamics, are still enjoyed in abundance here. A variant that spruiks the ‘Gran Turismo’ name and ask a $10K premium, however, should at the very least ride more smoothly and offer a smarter interior.