An expert at finding niches in an increasingly specialized luxury market, BMW has now introduced a GT version of the 3 Series. We rush to (freezing) Spain to get our hands on one!
One of the defining factors of the luxury car market is this: higher the budget, the more discerning the customer – which is to say that these customers have increasingly taxing demands for exactly what they want in their car of choice. So, while the buyer of a regular sedan or hatchback might be willing to compromise on a few factors in the larger interest of buying the car that best fits their budget, luxury buyers are generally very specific on what they demand from a car and choose accordingly.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the BMW 3-series, while being a sales success in our market, is often criticized for its lack of rear legroom – which, in a segment largely dominated with chauffeur-driven vehicles, can be a crippling snag. While customers often choose luxury marques for their badge and superior engineering, the fact is that quite a few of these customers also get turned off by the lack of space. Now, in the recent past, BMW has indeed found a solution to this particular conundrum – in the 5-series at least. And it was known as the 5-series Gran Turismo, or GT for short. The GT, in this case, featured an extended version of the standard 5 Series, and in turn offered the rear seat passengers increased room, as well as adjustable rear seats. Now, when I reviewed the 5 GT a few years back, I distinctly remember it as having one of the best rear seats in the business. It was spacious, plush, and, with the adjustable rear seats, a really lovely space to spend time in while the chauffeur took care of the driving duties.
So, to cater to those consumers who demand more space from a compact luxury sedan, the logical solution for BMW was to introduce a similar version of the 3 – to give its customers what they demanded without having to design a completely new platform. The 5 GT did fairly well in the Indian market considering it was a niche vehicle. Having been introduced as a limited edition of only 100 units, the GT ended up selling way more – so it was natural that following the global reveal of the 3 GT, it would also be introduced into the Indian market to fill a niche that could be carved out between the current 3 and 5 Series sedans.
BMW took us to Spain to try out the 3 GT before it hit our shores. Now, arriving in Spain in early January can be a rather different experience to the image of Spain that most of us have in our minds. So, instead of sun, beaches and gorgeous Spanish women trotting about in summer dresses, we were treated to cold, wet weather and sub-zero temperatures. Nevertheless, we had a job to do! So, the following day, we set about the task of driving the fleet of 3 Series GT cars at our disposal. All left-hand drive, and, interestingly, a couple of them equipped with manual gearboxes as well – an option that BMW does not provide in India, unless you’re buying one of their ‘M’ cars. So, with the car chosen, it was out of Madrid city centre and on to the A1 highway towards our first location – the El Atazar dam, the world’s first dome type dam, constructed in 1972.
But, back to the car. As far as the styling goes, the 3 GT, in my opinion, is a much better integrated design than the 5 GT ever was. The raised boot has been integrated quite well, and doesn’t look like an afterthought. Plus, the boot is now a notchback, so it offers a lot more space. Sure, it may not have the sweet proportions of the regular sedan, but it is a fairly pleasing car to look at – especially in darker colours, and, of course, when equipped with bigger wheels. There are obvious benefits to the increase in size though – the length goes up by 200mm, while it is taller by 81mm. As a result, the GT offers 70mm of extra legroom at the rear, while the seating position is higher by 59mm.
The car that I chose for the first driving stint was the one that is obviously going to be the volume seller in the Indian market – the 320d – with the only twist in the tale being that this particular variant of the car was fitted with a manual gearbox and was obviously one of the lower trim models of the car – as was evident by the obvious lack of equipment, such as cruise control. Even the audio system sounded tinny and flat. What this did, though, was amplify the effect of the diesel engine – which tended to sound coarser and less refined than the standard version sold in India. Now, this could be for one of two reasons – the first being that, since it wasn’t an auto, gearshifts were being performed at a much higher rpm – as I naturally tend to rev engines higher than what the ECU of an automatic car would – and, secondly, the flat sounding audio system couldn’t do much to mask the sound of the engine. However, I’ll have to reserve judgment on this aspect of the car until I actually drive an Indian spec model.
The second observation was that the 3 GT didn’t feel quite as nice to drive as the regular sedan. Perhaps due to the increased weight and raised height, the car now feels less keen to turn-in as the standard sedan, and it also understeers more. Ride, though, remains fairly compliant on the mixed Spanish roads – but we’ll have to experience in Indian conditions to actually pass final judgment.
On a side note, it was interesting to see some of the on-ground ramifications of the financial crisis – and, in particular, how the infrastructure of the country seems to be suffering. We often saw cracked and pockmarked roads, even on major highways, which would typically be unacceptable in Western Europe. However, it still remains a delightful country with gorgeous vistas, clear blue skies and, of course, clean air!
Post our lunch stop at a delightful 200-year old barn in a small village, I swapped cars to try my hands on the top-model of the range – the 335i. Now, while we know that the 3 GT will mostly be sold in India in diesel form, the engine-and-gearbox combination in the 335i simply had to be experienced to be believed. With this sonorous 3 litre inline-six, to be honest, the difference between the diesel and petrol variants was massive. Not only was the 335i a higher trim variant, so it offered much better interior trim and equipment levels, including an absolutely stellar Harman Kardon stereo system, it also had the famed 8-speed automatic gearbox and bigger wheels. After the diesel, the 300bhp petrol engine felt positively explosive – both in its acceleration and in its throttle response. In fact, so linear and lag-free is the engines response that it doesn’t actually feel like a turbocharged engine, but more like a large capacity normally aspirated one.
However, the reason d’etre of the 3 GT lies in cossetting its rear passengers, and it does that job remarkably well – offering them more legroom than even a 5 Series sedan, while also providing far more head-and-shoulder room courtesy of the raised roofline. What also helps the passengers cause is the raised seating position, which provides better visibility and makes access easier – while the standard fit panoramic sunroof enhances the cabin’s sense of space. The rest of the interiors, as well as the equipment list, remain largely the same as the regular sedan – with the exception of the power boot lid, which is standard on the GT.
So, basically, the 3 GT presents a unique proposition to the customer – vast room for rear-seat passengers at the cost of some driving dynamics. And at a price of 42.75 lakhs, ex-showroom, it makes a lot of sense to the average consumer whose core requirements from a car are space and comfort. And while it might not be the next best seller for BMW, courtesy of the price, the 3 GT offers a very attractive option to the chauffeured customer.
- BMW 320d GT
ENGINE: 1,995 CC / 4 CYLINDERS / TURBOCHARGED
TRANSMISSION: 8-SPEED AUTOMATIC /REAR-WHEEL DRIVE
POWER: 184 BHP @ 4000 RPM
TORQUE: 380 NM @ 1750-2750 RPM
PRICE: 42.75 LAKHS (EX-SHOWROOM)