It's a 3 that's as long as a 5 with as much room as an X, but is the 330i Gran Turismo BMW enough?
Remember the famous comment attributed to Henry Ford, “you can have any colour you like, as long as it is black”?
My, my, haven’t things changed.
Imagine Ford’s reaction to the scenario where someone walks into a BMW dealer and says they are looking for a 3 Series, but one that has as much room as a 5 Series, and perhaps a bit of extra practicality, but they don’t want a wagon, and aren’t keen on an SUV, and would prefer luxury over sport, but maybe keep some sporty things in there like a spoiler and rimless windows, and oh, does it come in brown?
Welcome to the 2017 BMW 330i GT, the culmination of a century of automotive changing tastes and market requirements.
And sure, while the Model T which Ford was referring to, was available in many styles and colours, including black, for years buyers have had to choose from a pretty basic staple of shapes and sizes that manufacturers have to offer.
But now, with modern scalable platform development a veritable technical art form, we can have pretty much what we want up top, as everything underneath has been well and truly tried and tested.
The 3GT is a poster child for this freedom.
And for a platform that underpinned the ‘ultimate driving machine’ mantra for years, the 3 Series Gran Turismo is a strange beast.
Forward of the windscreen, it is the same as any other 330i variant.
The familiar and generally excellent 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged petrol engine drives the rear wheels through the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s a format that continually earns the 330i the ‘pick of the range’ gold star around the CarAdvice office.
Good power, good response, good economy plus an entertaining nature gives the GT's motive power a resounding tick. BMW claims 6.2L/100km on a combined cycle, and we managed 6.8L/100km over the week with the car.
It's a solid building block, but the GT rests on the F30-3L chassis, a 110mm longer wheelbase that changes two big things over a regular 3er – the rear passenger room and the handling dynamics.
So first to the good news, that space.
Starting with the liftback/fastback/hatchback, there’s a 520-litre boot (up 40 litres on a sedan), which expands to 1600 litres when the 40:20:40 seats are folded. That’s 100 litres more than a 3 Series Touring, and about the same as a BMW X3 SUV.
Those seats can be folded remotely, there is a 12-volt accessory outlet, flip-out luggage hooks, a netted-cubbyhole and support for the sliding storage system dividers (which are an optional accessory).
The parcel shelf is split, with one-half raising with the boot, and the other clipped behind the rear seats. It works well and doesn’t intrude like the folding cover in the BMW X6 or even the clip-in blind of the touring.
You can lift the boot floor up on a neat hydraulic support, for a few extra storage cubbies, but there is no spare tyre of any kind. Like most current BMW models, the 3GT uses run flat tyres.
Move to the rear passenger compartment and the 330i GT is positively cavernous. The 110mm wheelbase extension equates to a 103mm bonus of rear legroom, jumping from 892mm in a 3 Series sedan to 995mm in the GT.
That’s even more than the BMW X5 which works out at 930mm.
Here, the amenities include air vents, storage and cupholders, map nets and another 12-volt outlet, but no USB points. Both outside seats have ISOFIX points and the bench itself is very comfortable.
We will say though, the door bins are pretty small, so no large beverages for those in the back, please.
Furthermore, the Gran Turismo is 79mm taller, which even with the large panoramic sunroof (a standard feature), means a heap of headroom and a light and airy cabin.
The pale, ‘Oyster’ leather and optional ($240) ash-grain wood trim help too, and as well as adding a sense of spaciousness, supports the lovely, luxury feeling of the GT.
The theme continues up front with a stitched dashboard top ($1600 BMW Individual option), heated seats all round (part of the $1730 comfort pack) and the Innovations pack ($3500) which adds adaptive cruise control, automatic parking and a sixteen-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo.
Front and centre is a 10.2-inch LCD screen which now runs the new iDrive version 5.0 software and the Connected Drive telemetry service. It remains one of the best infotainment systems on the market, but while the update has improved some of the interface design, it has already been superseded by the gesture-control version in the new G30 5 Series, which shows just how quickly the software side of a car’s interface needs to adapt.
Listen to the Bluetooth audio quality of the 2017 BMW 330i GT, and subscribe to the CarAdvice podcast here.
Throw in the $1937 Jatoba metallic brown paint, and the very unique and personalised Gran Turismo looks more like a bespoke one-off than a mainstream production hatchback.
The price tag reflects this too; the 330i GT starts at $78,900 before options, which is $9000 more than the 330i saloon. Granted, there is about $4500 worth of extra goodies on the GT (panoramic sunroof, LED foglamps, convenience telephony and electric lumbar support are all options on a 330i sedan, but standard on the GT), but still, that's a decent premium for some legroom.
Our car rings the bell at $88,336 (before on-roads) which makes being different a very specific decision. Sales reflect this, with the GT accounting for just five per cent of 3 Series sales, but like most luxury goods, if you are going to be different, you might as well stand out.
As this is a ‘luxury’ car, rather than a ‘sporty’ car. The ultimate riding machine more than it is the ultimate driving machine.
An important qualifier mainly due to the other big change from the extended wheelbase, the dynamic performance of the GT.
The hardware is there, the M-Adaptive suspension standard on all 3 Series models, and while the ride is good, it’s the ability to change direction, both laterally and longitudinally, where the GT isn’t as competent as its sedan counterpart.
Now, this isn’t a death sentence by any stretch. Range-comparing the 3GT’s handling is like asking which of the Connery Bond films was the worst; it’s still good, just not great.
The extra 119kg bulk, higher centre of gravity and longer gap between the wheels all make the twin-scroll 2.0-litre work just that little bit harder when pushing the GT through the bendy bits.
The steering feels good, the action/reaction response from the wheel very much in line with other BMW experiences, just the movement of the rear of the car to follow suit isn’t quite as agile. Even in the Sports setting, the rear tends to wallow somewhat, delivering a feeling that when driven like this, the GT is out of its comfort zone.
It’s strange too, that this, the least sporty 3 Series variant, is the only one with a retractable rear spoiler and rimless windows. Both elements are more synonymous with technical and sporty cars than cushy luxury ones.
It’s okay though, as the sooner you come to terms and make peace with this, you can enjoy the GT as more of a GT. Drop that Sport-Plus drive mode back to Eco Pro, sit back, relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Indecently, I did this, and ran the car in Eco Pro for my commutes and a few errands during one day, and added 6km to my estimated range (over the standard Comfort setting). The best bit, I didn’t really notice.
In fact, as the week wore on, I started to understand the 2017 BMW 330i Gran Turismo a bit more. This is a high-end city car. Plush and loaded with technology (lane keeping and lane departure warning are included with the standard ‘driving assistant’ package), the GT is a premium conveyance with a familiar feeling.
The styling and positioning of a long-wheelbase hatchback appeal to certain buyers, the same way a sporty wagon appeals to others.
Sometimes it’s a cultural thing. Sometimes it’s a design thing.
Whatever the case and however small, the 3 Series Gran Turismo has its market. It’s not for me, but I see why its there.
I get the 3GT. It’s the bookish sibling, smart, refined, with its own certain style. Sure it won't be the captain of the sports team, or even invited to all the parties, but the family DNA is there to make sure it has what it needs to succeed in its own little corner.
If a mid-size, long wheelbase, high roof, luxury-oriented liftback with a spoiler is your type of BMW, then maybe have another look at the GT. Plus, to Mr Ford's comment, it even comes in black.
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Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the 2017 BMW 330i GT below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.