As Lufthansa flight 4532 skimmed the hills of Lisbon on its landing approach, we reflected on the five-year journey that had brought us to Portugal to drive the newest BMW, the 5-series GT. It was back in the March 2004 issue that our European bureau chief, Georg Kacher, provided the scoop: BMW was planning an unusual new type of vehicle, one that was known within the company as the “space-functional concept” or RFK (for, in German, Raum-funktionales Konzept). Two models, one based on 3-series components and the other drawing from the 5-series, would differ substantially from BMW’s existing wagons and SUVs and provide seating arrangements akin to - don’t say it - a minivan’s. By our June 2008 issue, we were able to report that this not-quite-a-sedan, not-quite-an-SUV, not-quite-a-wagon concept, which had become known as the V-series, had evolved into a four- or five-seat hatchback sedan called the V5. (BMW’s second-generation, seven-passenger X5 apparently met the company’s needs for a people mover.) We were wrong about the name but right about everything else, and we observed that, like the X6, the new vehicle would attempt to “tap into a niche that you didn’t even know existed.” Fast forward to September 2009: As we arrived in Lisbon, the 5-series Gran Turismo still seemed to us as unlikely a vehicle to wear a BMW badge as it did back when our man Kacher first reported its conception.
BMW doesn’t disagree. “There has never been a BMW quite like this,” says Torsten Müller-Ötvös, BMW’s vice president of product management. “We are breaking new ground.” Over dinner the night before our drive, Müller-Ötvös discussed the role of the 5-series GT in a lineup that, as he pointed out, consisted only of the 3-series, 5-series, 7-series, Z3, and X5 a decade ago. Although BMW maintains that the United States will be a key market for the 5-series GT, the vehicle seems to owe its existence mostly to European market considerations. First, there’s a growing backlash against sport-utilities across the Atlantic; in Berlin, they’ve been vandalized and even burned. Second, SUVs are often not allowed as company cars in many European countries. Third, Müller-Ötvös observes a new trend among Europeans who might naturally gravitate toward the 5-series wagon: they consider it too family-oriented and lacking in elegance. The solution to all these concerns? Build a hatchback version of the 5-series that seats no more than five people, weighs as much as an SUV, and - with its ungainly rear styling - is nowhere near as attractive as the X5, let alone a 5-series Touring. That’s right: the six-cylinder 535i GT weighs 4586 pounds, and the V-8-powered 550i tips the scales at a breathtaking 4938 pounds. For a company whose representatives uttered the slogan “EfficientDynamics” as often as Guten Tag during press days at the Frankfurt auto show, the 5-series GT’s weight problem is a bit rich.