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Car reviews - BMW - 3 Series - 320i Gran Turismo

Our Opinion

We like
Great to drive, carries the best parts of 3 Series range into GT form, proportions seem to suit smaller form, generous-for-a-BMW standard kit
Room for improvement
Ride just a little choppy on run-flat tyres, rearward visibility takes a hit, expensive options

Gallery

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BMW logo21 Oct 2013

By DANIEL GARDNER

Price and equipment

BMW’s 3 Series range kicks off from a flat $60,000 for the base 320i powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

We’re testing the cheapest of the petrol-engined Gran Turismo line-up, the $69,500 320i Gran Turismo Sport Line.

That’s a big price difference over the sedan equivalent, and a $5500 premium over the Touring, as the wagon is known.

That’s odd, because with the boomerang-guarded GT, you get something that is halfway between a sedan and a wagon.

What works for the GT, though, is its proportions, which look less slab-sided and much better proportioned thanks to its more compact form.

It also follows the rich list of specification introduced with the 3 Series sedan – the first time in our mind at least that the 3 Series has felt more like a luxury car than a stripped-out version of one.

The engine connects to an eight-speed automatic transmission that includes a pair of paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, the engine includes an idle-stop mode that switches it off. The drivetrain includes change-on-the-fly eco and sports modes.

The cruise control jumps on the brakes on downhill runs, the front and rear parking sensors team up with a reversing camera, the tailgate opens with the swing of a foot under the bumper and closes with the push of a button, the headlights know when it is dark and the wipers sense when it is raining.

Inside there’s dual climate control air-conditioning, a Bluetooth phone system that pairs with a satellite navigation-ready 6.5-inch colour screen high on the dash, the rear-view mirror automatically reduces glare at night, and the good-sounding audio system has a USB slot for a media player.

The rear seats even split-fold 40:20:40, so the 3 Series GT can serve as a comfy four-seater if that’s the way you roll.

The only disappointment – and only if you twig to the fact – is that the seats including the electrically adjusting front ones with a memory function for the driver, are clad in artificial cow, and not real leather.

A quick skim over the options list will have you sucking wind.

The metallic paint on our test car will sting you $1840, while the adaptive M suspension that stiffens up in sports mode is $2200. The huge panoramic sunroof adds $3000, brighter bi-Xenon headlights $2050, differently styled 18-inch alloy wheels $1650, and a few more tricks with the Bluetooth system an extra $500.

You get something for free, though. Buyers can choose between Comfort, Luxury and Sport Line fit-outs that change external and internal trim according to a theme.

Our Sports Line kit includes, among other tweaks, more heavily bolstered front seats, red contrast stitching on the steering wheel and a red line on the smart key that includes remote entry and keyless start, red highlights on the instrument cluster, and welcome lights that can change from pure white to a blue-white tint.

As a finishing touch, the words “BMW Sport” etched on the door sill remind you the car is something special each time you open a door.

Interior

BMW is a driver’s car brand, and don’t you forget it.

Everything on the dashboard, apart from the glovebox, is skewed slightly towards the driver, marking the driver’s seat as the most important in the house.

The newer 3 Series features a rather wide-looking centre console, and the 3 Series GT is no different.

In fact, spend a bit of time behind the wheel of a 3 Series and everything will be familiar – until you look out the rear window.

The swept-back look of the 3 Series GT results in a thick look to the rear pillars that swoop in around the tailgate.

The view from the rear-vision mirror is like looking through a letterbox, and a taller driver will only be able to see back a few car-lengths.

However, the side mirrors are nicely sized and help with rolling maneuvers, while the reversing camera and smart parking sensors that throw up a visual warning on the colour screen on the dash help.

Carrying capacity in the GT ranges from 520 litres of low, wide load space that jumps to 1600L as the rear seats split-fold down.

That compares with 495L of more practically shaped luggage space in the 320i Touring conventional wagon with the rear seats up, and 1500L with them down.

In that respect, the 3 Series GT with its high-lift tailgate is a bit of a Tardis.

Otherwise, things are classic 3 Series. Rather than waffle on about it here, you can read what we thought of the BMW 320i sedan when we tested it in May 2012.

Engine and transmission

The 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot under the 320i GT’s bonnet is a gem.

Strong, willing and tactile, its as good running the kids to school as it is tackling a twisty section of tarmac with gusto.

On paper, the engine produces 135kW of power fairly high up on the rev counter, but plenty of down-low torque – 270Nm of the stuff from a wide band of revs thanks in part to a clever turbocharger that adds more boost at low revs, and sensible amounts of boost as engine speed rises.

That means with a few revs on board, the 320i GT has no hesitation in dishing up a quick burst of speed to overtake slow-moving traffic.

From a standing start, there’s almost no sign of turbo-lag, where the engine has to wait for the turbo to spool up before providing enough step-off acceleration.

The eight-speed automatic transmission is intelligent enough to know which gear is needed in what situation, slurring between changes.

It’s really a five-speed gearbox with three overdrives.

In spirited driving along a twisty road, it is better to force the gearbox into manual mode and make use of the paddle shifters.

Most of the work appears to be suited to third gear.

The gearbox’s EcoPRO mode, which counts the number of kilometres clawed back through fuel-saving measures, is cruel.

It dulls the throttle and snatches a higher gear at the first opportunity, and will only respond with a jump if you all but push the accelerator pedal through the firewall. Sports mode, by comparison, shortens up the throttle and holds gears longer.

Normal mode is, well, normal.

Ride and handling

We’re judging this car based on a $2200 optional suspension system that stiffens up at the punch of a centre console-mounted button, so our assessment of the 3 Series GT’s ride is flawed.

At low speeds, the suspension is fine, soaking up lumps and bumps with impunity. As speeds rise, though, the stiff-walled run-flat tyres tend to slap over sharp imperfections, sending a jarring thump into the cabin.

It’s the only fault you can level at it.

Like the rest of the 3 Series line-up, the GT adds electrically assisted power steering.

It is light at low speeds, but weights up nicely as the pace rises, providing adequate feel to the driver.

Of all the electrically assisted steering systems out there, it is one of the best.

Safety and servicing

The 3 Series GT gets BMW’s full suite of safety systems, including six airbags and a top five-star crash rating based on the performance of the 3 Series sedan.

It also uses a Mercedes-Benz-like system that reassures the front-seat passengers by giving a gentle tug on the seatbelt after you plug in, just to remind you the 3 Series GT has always got your back.

It is reassuringly annoying.

BMW now offers capped price servicing on the 3 Series range excluding the M-badged models, starting from $389 for a basic service up to $699 for a more comprehensive one.

The 3 Series GT is covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty that includes roadside assistance should things go pear-shaped, including a wrecked tyre – the GT, just like the rest of the 3 Series range, doesn’t carry a spare.

Verdict

The 3 Series GT is one of the better-looking niche body shapes in the current BMW line-up.

It costs a little more, but apart from the hemmed-in look through the rear-vision mirror, it’s a rare instance where the fastback look actually adds something to what is already a pretty competent luxury car.

It costs a little more, but hey, it’s better than having an X6 in the driveway.

Rivals

Audi A5 2.0T Sportback (From $75,700 before on-roads)Much more punch from turbocharged 2.0-litre four-pot.

Short rear doors that make access difficult and cramped rear-seat space blight what is a beautifully presented interior up front.

Promise of all-paw grip and seven-speed dual-clutch auto let down by unspectacular dynamics.

Citroen DS5 (From $48,990 before on-roads)A fashion statement on wheels if ever there was one.

Compellingly different on the outside, the inside of the big Citroen is a spectacular combination of Gothic architecture and 1930s-era science fiction.

Lacks poke under the bonnet, powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed auto sending drive to the front wheels.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: BMW 320i Gran Turismo Sport Line
ENGINE: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
LAYOUT: Front engined, rear drive
POWER: 135kW@5000rpm
TORQUE: 270Nm@1250-4500rpm
TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 7.9secs
TOP SPEED: N/a
FUEL: 6.2L/100km
EMISSIONS: 147g/km CO2
WEIGHT: 1560kg
SUSPENSION: Macpherson (f)/coil springs (r)
STEERING: Electronic assist rack and pinion
BRAKES: Vented disc (f)/vented disc (r)
PRICE: From $69,500 before on-roads

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