BMW has stretched the wheelbase of the 3 Series to offer more rear-seat space. Has this diluted the fun of the sports sedan or have they perfected it even more?
Gran Limousine – that’s what BMW has christened the long-wheelbase version of the 3 Series sedan in India. Now, with only 43mm of extra knee room over the regular version, calling it Gran Limousine seems like a bit of a stretch. The question is, should you really care about it or is it just a marketing gimmick to woo luxury car buyers into thinking that they’re getting more space for relatively less money?
We get to spend some time with the upcoming long-wheelbase derivative of the 3 Series, and here’s what we think of it.
The Long Tail
On the surface, you can’t tell if the 3 Series Gran Limousine is any different from the standard model. Sure, the wheelbase is longer by 110mm and so are the rear doors, but it’s really hard to differentiate it from the regular version. The rose gold paint finish on the car on test here looks fantastic though. And, of course, you also get an ‘L’ badge – 320 Ld in the car you see here – at the back to show common folks that it’s a longer vehicle.
Inside, the changes are more noticeable. First and foremost, it comes with a nice walnut brown and black upholstery, which not only looks very classy but also gives the cabin a more opulent and airier feel. Almost all of the features and equipment are borrowed from the regular 3 Series, meaning you get the same 10.25-inch iDrive touchscreen infotainment system and 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster offered in the regular version. However, compared to the standard 3 Series, the long-wheelbase version gets more features. For instance, it now packs wireless Android Auto – Apple CarPlay was already available – a Harman Kardon sound system, a panoramic sunroof and a powered tailgate.
BMW’s iDrive system is one of the best, if not the best in the business, and it’s quite intuitive. The touchscreen works flawlessly, too. However, for some reason, I couldn’t get Android Auto running through my phone. I tried it with another Android device, but it just won’t connect. Apple CarPlay connected in a single go.
Like the regular 3, all the controls are focussed towards the driver. The seating position is quite sporty, as you can set the driver’s seat really low. The front seats offer good side sport and they come with adjustable thigh-support as well (not offered with the regular 320d). Long story short, the Gran Limousine feels exactly the same from the driver’s seat, which is a good thing.
As soon as you hop into the rear seat, you quickly realise the extra space that’s on offer. 43mm may not sound like much, but the Gran Limousine is considerably more spacious at the back. Thanks to its long doors, getting in and out of the cabin is easier too. According to BMW, the rear seats get extra padding, which is quite evident – the seats are plusher and have better thigh support. Because of the increased legroom, you don’t sit upright like in the regular version. Here, it’s more comfortable and you can stretch your legs a bit more. The headroom is slightly better, too. Plus, the rear bench has more premium elements – the cup-holders are of better quality and the front seats are nicely scooped out at the back, with soft-touch plastics, and they also get storage compartments. Overall, I was mighty impressed with the extra space on offer. I, honestly, wasn’t expecting it to be this good.
BMW will offer the same 2.0-litre turbo petrol and diesel engines with the Gran Limousine. The diesel version, or the 320 Ld, is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit, which develops 188bhp and 400Nm of torque. The petrol version is going to be available in 330i spec, featuring a 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit, which churns out 254bhp and 400Nm. Both are paired to an 8-speed automatic gearbox, which sends the drive to the rear wheels. On this occasion, we had the diesel version.
The diesel unit is all too familiar, and it behaves in exactly the same manner as you’d expect it to. It’s buttery smooth, delivers power in a linear fashion, and, most importantly, at no point does it feel slow or underpowered. There’s oodles of torque, and it revs quite freely. There’s some lag during part-throttle inputs, but put it in Sport mode, and the throttle response is markedly sharper. After 4,000rpm, it does feel gruff, but overall, it's a punchy powertrain in all sorts of driving conditions.
More than the engine, it’s the gearbox that impresses you. This 8-speeder from ZF is a masterpiece. It’s almost telepathic – it seems as if it can read your mind. You always find yourself in the right gear at the right time, especially in the Sport mode. With lightning-quick responses, the paddle-shifters only elevate the whole driving sensation. Having said that, if you enjoy driving more, the 330i is the one to go for, for everything is even better and more engaging with the petrol engine. Not to add, it’ll be much quicker!
The great thing about the long-wheelbase version of the 3 Series is that it wasn’t an afterthought. In fact, it was developed alongside the regular seventh-gen 3 Series. Originally, it was only meant for China, but given the success and popularity of long-wheelbase cars there, it was only sensible to bring the Gran Limousine to India. It’s also worth reminding that India is the first right-hand-drive market where the long-wheelbase 3 Series will be launched.
The Gran Limousine maintains the 50:50 weight distribution of the regular 3 Series, and the chassis has the same stiffness. As a result, it’s as much a sports sedan as the standard car and feels as engaging from behind the whee,l regardless of its extended wheelbase. The steering, even though it feels a little dead at the centre, is sharp and direct. The front-end darts with immediacy and the stability through corners is stupendous. Remember this is no 330i M Sport with fat tyres or big wheels, it’s the regular 320 Ld, and yet it’s so driver focussed.
As is the case with the regular 3 Series, the joy of driving doesn’t come at the cost of comfort. The ride quality is brilliant – in fact, it feels a bit better than the standard car. At really low speeds, you can feel the jolts as you go over big speed humps. On the whole, the ride is pliant, and in all honesty, there’s nothing to complain about.
Long Story Short
BMW hasn’t revealed the prices of the 3 Series Gran Limousine as yet, but we’ve been told that it’ll be priced between Rs 51 lakh and Rs 55 lakh (ex-showroom), and it’ll be offered in three variants – two petrol and a diesel. Now that makes it nearly 4 to 5 lakh rupees dearer than the standard version. However, at the same time, it also makes it more affordable than the 5 Series by nearly as much. Plus, it packs more features than the regular 3 Series.
From what I can tell, the Gran Limousine hits the sweet spot between the 3 and the 5. Despite having a longer wheelbase, it hasn’t lost the agility and playful nature of the 3 Series – it’s still a sports sedan at heart. On the other hand, the space at the back is nearly comparable to the 5 Series, meaning it can do luxury car duties equally well.
Now, my only concern is that why would anyone buy a 3 or 5 Series?
- BMW 3 Series Gran Limousine 320 Ld
Engine: 1,995cc / Inline 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / Rear-Wheel Drive
Power: 188bhp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1,750 - 2,500rpm
X-factor: As sporty to drive as a 3 Series with nearly as much rear space as a 5 Series. What's not to like?
• Still a sports sedan
• More space