WHAT direction do you head when you want don't want a coupe, SUV or wagon…but something in between.
BMW believes it has the answer. A spin-off from the BMW 3 Series range has just landed in showrooms which evokes grand tourer themes.
The BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is part of a growing premium market creating niches within niches.
Essentially an elongated hatch, the GT styling comes at a premium. The 320i GT costs $6900 more than the wagon and an extra $10,900 over the sedan in similar engine configurations.
It is available with three engine variants and three no cost trims: Modern, Luxury or Sport.
There's a feeling of space once you park your rear end inside.
The GT has 200mm of additional overall length, with a 110mm longer wheelbase and an 81mm taller roof line versus the 3 Series Touring.
Also perched higher, the driver and front passenger have an improved view of the world. Frameless doors assist in delivering an airy ambience with outstanding head, leg and knee room front and back.
Rear space is stupendous and you could easily cater for three adults across the back seat as long as they aren't too tall - although the centre passenger draws the short straw with the transmission tunnel.
That tapered roofline also restricts rearward vision but parking sensors front and rear keep the bumpers from harm's way.
Inside the GT lives up to the modern-day BMW blueprint, and we are a fan of the simplicity and legibility of operations. The instrument cluster is a fine example of utility sophistication.
The central iDrive system can take more training, as you scroll your way through various menus for things like the sat nav, trip computer and stereo controls via a central dial.
On the road
Meaty and strong, the 2.0-litre turbo diesel is a robust little performer.
There is some minor turbo lag if you catch it napping low in the rev range, although once spinning you can punch the accelerator and the 320d will successfully overtake on the highway or dart into a traffic opening.
Its 0-100kmh time of 7.9 seconds is not supercar territory but it's no slouch either, and those wanting extra straight line prowess can fork out an additional $4700 to get the 328i which is about 1.5 seconds faster over the sprint.
Dynamic is the catchcry of BMW, and this GT lives up to its heritage with balance, poise and steering feel.
There are various drive modes, including two sport varieties (one is more relaxed with the eagerness of traction and stability control), comfort and Eco Pro which dulls acceleration response for improved efficiency.
Sport was our favourite and inspired us to stretch the GT's legs on some testing bends where the direct steering made easy work of challenging bends.
GTs also have an active rear spoiler which rises at 110kmh, and lowers when the speed drops below 70. It helps reduced lift and delivers a lower co-efficient of drag, which is rated at 0.29Cd - which makes it one slippery customer.
What do you get?
Individualisation is all the rage in the premium segment, and BMW has an array of options and three "lines" (at no extra cost) to float whatever boat takes your fancy.
The basic GT has a leather sports steering wheel and trim, various drive modes such as economy and sport, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, 16.5cm colour screen, electric seat adjustment, alloys and dual zone air con.
Our test car was in Sport trim, which added athletic bits like double spoke alloys, gloss black trims inside and out with red accent lines inside and various other stitching details.
Once again you can throw in even more extras, and we had metallic paint ($1840), brushed aluminium trim ($400), Adaptive M suspension ($2200), sunroof ($3000) and Bi-Xenon headlights ($2050).
We achieved fuel consumption of just above five litres for every 100km. That's frugal stuff.
Ongoing costs would need to be factored into budgets, with servicing and insurance at the higher end of the scale.
This is where the GT shines over a sedan or coupe. There is excellent boot space, aided by 40:20:40 split fold seats and a two-part rear shelf (which can be hidden in the cargo floor).
That takes capacity from 520 litres to 1600 litres when the rear seats are folded.
Like the X6 SUV when it first arrived, we're taking some convincing in the styling department.
In profile it can look beige, and it doesn't have the coupe sex appeal or the regality of a sedan.
Given the size and ability of the 3 Series GT, we'd have difficulty finding the extra coin to step up into a 5 Series which costs nearly $20,000 more.
While the styling won't appeal to everyone, it's hard to argue with the practicality. This has the dynamics of a coupe but the flexibility of a wagon.
Can it lure buyers away from an already attractive-looking wagon? We'll let Australia's well-heeled decide.
What matters most
The good stuff: Still dynamic to drive, frameless doors and airy cabin feel, hatch flexibility.
What we'd like to see: Better vision out rear window, more prominent styling.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Roadside assist runs for three years. All BMWs have "Condition Based Service", but usually it's every 25,000km or annually.
Model: BMW 320d Gran Turismo.
Details: Five-door rear-wheel drive luxury compact grand tourer.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 135kW @ 5000rpm and peak torque of 380Nm @ 1750-2750rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Consumption: 4.9 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.9 seconds; top speed 226kmh.
Bottom line: $71,800 plus on-roads.
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