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Car reviews - BMW - 5 Series - GT sedan/hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Individual, versatile, refined, comfortable, luxurious, powerful, practical, commanding, attractive
Room for improvement
Expensive, expensive options, not quite 5 Series sedan in its agility or alacrity

17 Feb 2010

WHAT precisely is this strange new beast?

Isn’t it implied that virtually every modern BMW is a ‘Gran Turismo’ in the ‘grand touring’ (GT) traditional sense anyway?

OK, a 116i probably wasn’t and a Z3 1.9 certainly failed to fit the bill. Both were far too snail-paced for starters.

So calling what appears to be a 7 Series hatchback ‘5 Series Gran Turismo’ is no help at all – misleading even, since Maserati uses the moniker on its latest range of coupes and convertibles. Confusing.

Anyway, there is nothing even remotely Italian about this Bavarian from Dingolfing. Maybe the German translation, ‘Gross Herum Fahren’, was already taken. Or maybe the inevitable acronym – GHF – sounds too much like a dance party illegal drug.

Whatever, it’s obvious that BMW wants us to investigate for ourselves exactly what this car – from now on referred to here as the 5-GT – is all about.

Happily, first impressions are encouraging, because in the flesh the large proportions and curvy roofline help transform what looks dumpy on paper into a car with real road presence.

Even that bluff nose has a purposeful appearance, but it is the elegant tail treatment that grew on us the most. Here more than anywhere else the 5-GT’s stylistic connection with the new-generation 5 Series (due in June) is clearest.

This is a hefty piece of road going real estate, so the sheer height of the thing immediately banished any thoughts of the 5-GT being simply another luxury hatch in the vein of the rather low-riding Rover SD1 or Saab 900. But we don’t buy BMW’s line of it being a brand-new segment buster either. Surely Renault got there first with the (admittedly disastrously received and now discontinued) Vel Satis?

But that’s irrelevant as Australians never saw the French car anyway, but the BMW’s bulk augers well for its plan to lure in luxury SUV buyers who no longer want or need something as conspicuous and wasteful as a massive 4x4.

That’s because the 5-GT seats its occupants higher off the ground than a regular sedan (despite having similar ground clearance), yet doesn’t quite hit the dizzy heights of an X5.

Not too big and not too small … hmm … if only the ‘M5’ badge was available. What about ‘BMW Goldilocks’?

So in we go, via big fat hefty doors (they’re frameless too, like good old Subarus used to be), to be met by an interior of a 7 Series’ calibre.

Having just driven the next-generation Five a few days earlier, as well as the current BMW sedan flagship, hand-on-heart we can tell you that differentiating the 5-GT’s cabin architecture from its siblings is tough.

From the superb driving position to the now-excellent ergonomics afforded by the completely reimagined iDrive controller, it really is Business Class travel up front.

And that’s great news if you don’t want to spend the $198,800 price of entry for a 730d.

Not only does the 5-GT share a similarly elegant horizontally designed dashboard featuring much the same general layout, but virtually all of big brother’s latest-gen whizz-bang high-tech toys are also available (if you can afford them – they don’t exactly come cheap), like radar cruise control, self-parking, smart headlight beams, Surround View cameras (totally necessary since rear vision is severely restricted) and up-to-the-minute BMW ConnectedDrive functionality – whatever that means.

That’s because canny BMW decided to base all of its 5 Series and higher derivatives on the same platform (or backbone) – so the 5-GT and Seven are closely related, to the tune of 70 per cent plus.

But wait, there’s more to the inside story.

Unlike the upcoming Five, the 5-GT shares the same 3.07 metre wheelbase as the Seven. It’s almost as wide too, so the BMW’s occupants can luxuriate in acres of space whether they’re riding shotgun up front or ensconced in the lush surrounds of the rear quarters. No dimension is even remotely tight unless you’re Precious.

The rear-seat environment rocks for four reasons: 1. The seats themselves slide and recline. 2. BMW offers the whole kitchen sink of salubriousness if pockets are deep enough, for true First Class travel. 3. That long-time BMW bad-ride bugbear has been sidelined by absorption and tranquillity. And 4. The intriguing liftback door that miraculously turns into a regular boot lid has a sealed partition so you need not have to see, hear, smell or taste the nasty outside world if you don’t want to. Wunderbar!

Electrically operated, the latter opens and shuts with grace, to reveal a carpeted load area that – with all rear seats flat – rivals an X5 for cargo volume. You won’t be able to moonlight as a DHL courier but there is certainly more versatility than in any other BMW luxury sedan – Rolls included.

Sadly, though, if you’re expecting the ultimate driving machine from this car, then the experience isn’t quite BMW sedan peachy, since not even Germany’s engineers can flex the laws of physics sufficiently to turn a two-tonne box with a large hole in its posterior into the dynamic equal of a 535i or 750i.

Suppler suspension – on lovely 20-inch alloys no less, as fitted to the 535i GT (as an option) and 550i GT (as standard fare) test cars we sampled from inner city Melbourne to the pretty Mornington Peninsula – means that ride takes precedence over athleticism, so the 5-GT tends to lean a little bit more through corners, turning increasingly wide if pushed hard into a tight turn, and move about a bit if you are trying to connect a series of snaking curves.

It’s not at all bad though, just slightly unexpected in a BMW, even when driven in the Dynamic Driving Control’s ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport+’ mode, as we had for most of the time.

Indeed, if you’re not expecting a 5 Series sedan level of dynamic aptitude than you may even come away mightily impressed with the agility of the 5-GT. The steering feels responsive, the handling assured, and the roadholding planted.

And we’re H-U-G-E fans of the new-gen twin-scroll turbo 3.0-litre in-line six, which – paired up to the incredibly smooth and intuitive eight-speed automatic gearbox – provides the 535i GT with speedy and sparkling performance.

Yet we’re even fonder of the 550i GT’s 4.4-litre turbo V8, because it has a sensational set of lungs to help deliver bountiful levels of acceleration and accompanied by an absolutely beautiful exhaust soundtrack to boot.

Neither petrol unit lets the 5-GT down, fulfilling their brief as the main motivators in what really is a fine grand tourer after all. We struggle to think of a more refined and comfortable cross-country device than this BMW.

The as-yet untried 530d GT diesel certainly has a good deal to live up to. From our drunk-on-V8 power perspective, though, we’d happily sacrifice a bit of economy for the velvety burble of the bent BMW eight.

Eight, in fact, was the number that slowly but surely surfaced in our mind the more time we spent in the 5-GT.

If you’re sick of large SUVs but don’t want the restrictiveness of a sedan, then wouldn’t you be interested in an alternative known as the 8 Series Gran Turismo?

We think the impressive Gran Turismo deserves a less generic badge to reflect its strong presence.

Imagine a BMW 830d GT, BMW 835i GT or 850i GT. Now, that would leave nobody in doubt as to what this car is all about.

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