In its quest to build as many different vehicles as possible from one common starting point, BMW has launched yet another volley: the 3 Series Gran Turismo. The 3 GT follows the pattern of the 5 Series Gran Turismo that came before it, splitting the difference between a sedan, crossover, and wagon. The 3 Series GT fills the tiny niche for buyers who want a high-riding 3 Series with a smidge more cargo room.
In every dimension, the 3 Series GT is larger than the sedan and Sports Wagon versions. Its wheelbase of 115.0 inches is 4.4 inches greater than that of either current body style. At 189.9 inches long, 58.6 inches tall, and 72.0 inches wide, the GT also is wider, longer, and taller than even the 3 Series Sports Wagon. There are three main benefits to this growth spurt: the seats are 2.3 inches higher, affording driver and passengers a more crossover-like vantage point; cargo room behind the rear seat is one cubic foot greater than in a 3 Series Sports Wagon; and rear legroom grows by 2.8 inches, putting the 3 GT midway between the BMW 5 and 7 Series in terms of backseat space.
Aside from an awkward stance brought on by the higher body and liftgate tail, the Gran Turismo's sheetmetal mostly resembles any other 3 Series. The windows are frameless, however, and the beltline makes an upward kink aft of the C-pillar. The roof curves smoothly down, leading to the tailgate's large rear window and stubby deck. While all modern BMWs have "Air Curtains" that direct air away from the front wheels for reduced drag, the Gran Turismo also adds "Air Breathers" that perform the same trick on the rear wheels arches.
Also new is an active roof spoiler that rises when the vehicle hits 68 mph to reduce rear-end lift by 35 percent. That puts the car's aerodynamic performance on par with that of a 3 Series sedan and keeps handling stable at highway speeds.
Familiar Powertrain Choices
The two engine options for the Gran Turismo model match those of the 3 Series sedan, with 328i and 335i configurations. (The Sports Wagon, notably, is only available in 328i guise.) The 328i uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, and the 335i has a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft.
Given the powertrain commonalities, the Gran Turismo also shares fuel-saving tricks with other 3 Series models, including auto stop-start, electromechanical power steering, and a Brake Energy Regeneration system can disconnect accessories like the alternator and air conditioner to save fuel.
More Space, More Colors
The biggest difference inside is that the 3 Series Gran Turismo offers 18.4 cubic feet of cargo room in its hatch, versus 12.0 in the sedan and 17.4 in the Sports Wagon. Four tie-down points, a small hook, an underfloor storage compartment, and a two-level parcel shelf make for even more practicality. Owners can also expand storage capacity by adjusting the upright angle of the back seats through 19 degrees, or by folding the 40:20:40-split seat to produce up to 56.5 cubic feet of space. And the power-opening tailgate has a massive 44-inch wide, 24.3-inch tall opening to more easily swallow large items.
BMW will offer the 3 Series GT in the familiar choice of Sport, Comfort, Luxury, Modern, and M Sport. The two "sport" lines feature a 0.4-inch lower ride height, unique 18- or 19-inch wheels, firmer suspension, and more aggressive programming for the eight-speed automatic. The long list of options includes features available on the sedan and Sports Wagon: adaptive headlights, the 360-degree Surround View camera, BMW Parking Assistant, a head-up display, iDrive with navigation, BMW ConnectedDrive, blind-spot and lane-departure warnings, and the ComfortAccess keyless entry feature -- which also allows owners to pop the 3 GT's liftgate by waving a foot beneath the rear bumper.
In addition to all the color, trim, and upholstery choices available in other 3 Series models, BMW blessed the Gran Turismo with three extra metallic hues: Kalahari Beige, Midnight Blue, and Sparking Brown.
The one remaining question is to where the Gran Turismo variant fits in BMW's product range. It's certainly more practical than a 3 Series sedan thanks to its improved cargo room, but then so is the Sports Wagon that launches in the U.S. this spring. And if buyers just want a slightly higher driving position, BMW already offers the X1 and X3 crossovers. It also remains to be seen whether buyers will even be interested in the new body style: the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, which follows a similar design brief to the 3 GT, has been a sales disappointment since its introduction at the 2009 Geneva motor show.
The 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo makes its public debut at the New York auto show and goes on sale in the U.S. toward the end of this year.