2014 BMW 335i Gran Turismo
Not everyone needing five-door versatility wants it in the form of an SUV. But the obvious European alternative, a wagon, doesn’t play well in the U.S. and China. Instead of forcing wagons down people’s throats, BMW took a laundry list of buyers’ rational requirements and rolled them into a new body style, the so-called Gran Turismo. BMW started with the 5 Series, but for 2014, the 3 Series Gran Turismo joins the lineup.
Extra rear-seat room? Check — at least as much as the bigger 5 Series sedan, because the new 3 Series Gran Turismo rides on the extended (by 4.3 inches) wheelbase of the Chinese-market 3 Series sedan. Extra trunk space and seat-fold versatility? Check — more than the 3 Series wagon. Availability of XDrive? Check — so it’s good for cold-climate states, if not for true off-highway use. Higher seating position? Check — same altitude as an X1 crossover, a fact that will endear the car to seniors, though of course they won’t be ousting mountain-biking, surfing 30-something couples from the ad campaigns.
But rational requirements don’t sell premium cars. BMW needed to keep the Gran Turismo looking good. To that end, the tail slopes away at a hard enough angle to banish the utilitarian aesthetic of a boxy station wagon. BMW’s first active tail spoiler means a rear end shaped at the stylists’ rather than the aerodynamicists’ orders. And because it doesn’t have the remarkably useless split tailgate of the 5 Series Gran Turismo, it’s visually and physically lighter around the tail.
Finally, as a BMW, it has to drive properly. But here’s the kicker: It lacks the agile and subtle handling of the sedan, at least in standard form. With the base steering and 17-inch wheels, the lengthened wheelbase makes the effective steering ratio less direct. You have to wind on more lock to get a result. Also, part of the gain in seating position has been achieved by using higher-profile tires for each wheel size versus the sedan, so the tires feel like they’re squishing onto their sidewalls in a tight turn. There’s also the little matter of the 300 extra pounds of mass the GT carries compared with the sedan. There’s no hiding place from that sort of chubbiness.
Additionally, the extra seating height — some two inches versus the sedan — makes the car feel like it’s rolling more. And this was with the optional adaptive dampers in Sport mode. There was something amiss with the damper settings, anyway. In Comfort mode, the car seemed to float at the back end. Mind you, this was on a test route of excruciatingly undulating surfaces. Our only other issue with the ride is the way it occasionally slaps as it traverses sharp ridges.
Next day, we tried one with the Variable Sport Steering. This is still a passive rack, not BMW’s Active Steering, but it gets more direct off-center. With 19-inch rims, lower-profile tires, and adaptive dampers, this is a car more like a true BMW. Steering is quick but naturally weighted, making the car easy to place in open curves or tight ones. It’ll understeer or oversteer, in both cases usually mildly, and which one you get depends on the approach you take to a corner. In many markets, this setup is standard with the six-cylinder engines, so we’d hope this is the case when it comes to the U.S. later in 2013. It doesn’t much hurt ride comfort.
Although it reacts more slowly than we’d like, at least it is precise. Kudos to the chassis engineers, who installed an extra bolstering link around the rear chassis compared with other 3 Series. The bodywork has been greatly stiffened in key areas, especially around the hatchback opening and the suspension pickups.
If the extra mass affects the performance, it takes a test track to make it clear. If the lovely turbo-six needs to be worked a little harder, hang on to lower gear for longer, and rev a little higher to get the desired result, well, that wouldn’t be such a great shame, would it? As usual, it lives in loving partnership with the eight-speed auto transmission, which changes promptly and smoothly either on its own or via the paddle shifters.
The dashboard is standard 3 Series. If you’re accustomed to the sedan, it feels strange to be sitting a little higher relative to the wheel and instruments, but we got used to it after a while. Given that customers asked for the high position, who are we to grumble when BMW gave it to them? By the same token, we have no right to get too antsy about the dulled handling, because buyers wanted comfort. When not going flat-out through the curves, we like the GT’s extra pliancy.
It’s an alluring package for a family, even if it’s going to be a few thousand dollars more than a sedan or X3. BMW likes to call it a new idea in the premium segment. Well, nobody ever called the Chevy Malibu Maxx premium, but strangely enough, on the 3GT launch event, we drove past a scrapped Rover 3500 SD1. Referring to that sort of inspiration wouldn’t be BMW’s smartest marketing strategy.
|2014 BMW 335i Gran Turismo|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door, hatchback|
|Engine||3.0L/302-hp/295-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve I-6 turbo|
|0-62mph||5.4 sec (mfr)|
|Curb weight||3650 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||189.9 x 72.0 x 59.4 in|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||N/A|
|On sale in U.S.||Summer 2013|
By Paul Horrell