Drives: its comming...
Join Date: Apr 2007
First press reviews from Autocar - http://www.autocar.co.uk/car-review/...t-drive-review
What is it?
A BMW 3-series with added space especially in the rear seats and the boot.
Unless you're familiar with riding on the back bench of some of BMW's biggest machines, you'll be quite unused to legroom on this scale, and if three occupy it, they'll make the surprise discovery that the arrangement will be tolerable for more than half an hour. This is the new 3-series for families, and families that need more room than a 3-series Touring or even a 5-series saloon can offer.
Though not as much as the rather odd-looking 5-series GT provides, this 3 GT being its new, smaller brother. The 5 GT offers cavernous room, but within an envelope that's probably BMW's unhappiest aesthetically. By comparison the 3 GT is more harmoniously sculpted, even if its rear end looks over-heavy in the bumper area and the rearmost pillar seems anaemic.
So it's not the most handsome BMW, but if you consider it as a rakishly sporty, five-door MPV-coupé, its appeal becomes easier to understand. Especially when you learn that the car was born out of a delve into 3-series customers' desires, these including more room not so surprising if you've served time in the back of the saloon and the raised seating of SUVs. Which is why this car is unusual for being a taller sports hatch of a kind that, in the premium segment, has no direct equivalent.
Calling it a GT might seem odd, but these letters have been liberally applied or misapplied for decades. And there's no question that visually, this smaller BMW GT is a more harmonious and dynamic-looking device than the 5 GT.
It's also hugely practical. The boot is larger than a Touring's, at 520 litres, and very large indeed when the rear seats are felled to reveal 1600 litres of stowage. A shame that the backrests merely drop onto their cushions rather than tumbling with the seat base to form a bulkhead and a flat floor, but there's no question that you can get a lot in there. Each portion of the split backrest descends with the tug of a handle, although you must hump it back upright yourself.
Versatility is further improved by a backrest that locks into 15 different positions across 19 degrees, potentially allowing it to swallow that pesky chest of drawers without dropping the seats. The boot provides an under-floor well, load-securing rails, hooks and lashing eyes, while the rigid two-piece rear parcel shelf stows below the deck floor a rare convenience. All GTs have electric tailgates just as well, because it's a hefty structure and waggling a foot under the rear bumper sends it rising skywards. Equally obscure, though, is a release button buried near the driver's door that few will spot.
The reason for all this extra space is quite simple: the GT is a much bigger car. You also sit at much the same height as an X1 driver. Of course, that also means that this GT 3-series has a higher centre of gravity, besides being heftier than a Touring. So what does that do to the dynamics of this ultimate driving machine?
What is it like?
According to GT project leader Martin Delitz, much effort has been expended maintaining the 3's agility, although comfort has also been a priority for this more family-oriented machine. And fitted with the £750 electronic M Sport dampers (a must-buy for any keen 3-series driver), the GT provides an almost loping pliancy, although ridges and bigger bumps occasionally provoke an unseemly thumping not present in the saloon. Some crests provoke a curious vertical bounce too, particularly from the rear.
Firm it up from comfort to sport and little of that overall suppleness is lost, roll is usefully checked and the 2.0-litre diesel drivetrain roused from its occasionally near-indolent low-rev, high-geared economising strategy. The steering, which feels overlight in comfort, muscles up to provide a sometimes-slightly springy resistance, but a better-than-average impression of the topography beneath. And on these settings the GT hides its higher-set mass well through corners to exploit a 50:50 weight distribution that provides bursts of light entertainment that are limited more by the engine than any significant dynamic shortfalls.
And there's no question that these days, BMW's 2.0 diesel motor is greying with age. It's too prominent at idle, too prominent when revved and well, just too prominent generally. It's fairly smooth and its torque curve well spread, but for a car called GT it isn't especially powerful. Performance is brisk enough for the urban battle and it's a relaxed cruiser, especially with those eight ratios, but this engine does its work without huge panache.
The transmission is more impressive, never hunting despite its multiple gears, these selected with subtly enthusiastic verve in sport mode. You can occasionally do a better job yourself across undulating twists, the paddle-shifts well placed for speedy tweaking, but this is a 'box that chooses well. In fuel-saving eco-pro mode it pursues a low-rev, high-geared economy-eking strategy that might yield the odd laboured grumble from up front, but promises very decent fuel consumption.
If you're a regular 3-series driver, the rest of the GT's package will be familiar. The dashboard is the same as you'll find in the rest of the range, and so is the general ambience, if not the trim's design detail. As with the saloon and the Touring you can choose from SE, Sport, Modern and M Sport trims, although the first and last of these are expected to predominate.
Should I buy one?
The GT body style costs £1300 more than the Touring and £2600 more than the saloon, so you need to be certain that you want the extra space and versatility. The M Sport package is well worth having because it significantly improves the GT's look too, and you should also choose those adaptive dampers.
So it's not a cheap 3-series, nor the most handsome, and the sometimes-troubled ride and noisier engine must be factored-in. But as a set of versatile family wheels of lightly sporting flavour, this 3 is the best yet.