by Roger Biermann
BMW pioneered the Gran Turismo body style on their 5 Series – but it wasn't well received due to the hunchback styling that seemed more at home in a Notre-Dame cathedral than on the roads of the USA. The 3 Series has adopted the lift-back body style with more grace, providing a less sporting 3 that caters for comfort and practicality in equal measure. Available in two engine derivatives, both models feature xDrive all-wheel drive as the only drivetrain option. An upright driving position, all wheel drive, and a lift-back tailgate – the 3 GT has the makings of a crossover SUV, sans extra ride height.
With a stretched wheelbase of 4.4 inches and an upright demeanor, the 3 Series GT offers a vastly more commodious interior than either the sedan or station wagon model. The seating position lacks the driver focus of other models, and instead sits more upright. It's more comfortable, though, vastly so on long distance trips, and the revised position also opens up a world of space for rear occupants who have plenty of both head and leg room. Whilst still loosely based on the styling of the sedan, the new lift-back rear hatch affords the Gran Turismo model cargo capacity that rivals that of the Touring model – 24.6 cubic feet – but unlike the sedan, the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split to enlarge that figure to 56.8 cubic feet. The cargo space isn't mirrored in the interior cubbies though, which are relatively small, though numerous.
The 3 Series GT's stability gets a boost from the lengthened wheelbase, but you'd hardly be pressed to seek the enhanced stability through spirited driving as you would in the sedan or wagon variants. The upright nature of the GT doesn't inspire confidence as it enhances the sensation of body-roll, though the actual roll is quite minimal. The solidified sidewalls of the run-flat tires give the ride a firm edge, but it's one that is quite easily nullified by optional adaptive dampers.
Even with the adaptive damping specified, the ride never quite reaches cushy levels of softness. Big bumps are easily dealt with, though smaller ripples reach the cabin and under duress mid corner they can unsettle the ride. The steering – electronically power assisted – lacks feel and is awkwardly weighted – and puts the final nail in the coffin that buries the 3 Series as a leading driver's car.
In this Gran Turismo body style, the 3 Series is only available with all-wheel drive – though it is the rear-biased xDrive system. Engine options are limited to just 2, updated with new nomenclature for 2017 as the 330i and 340i. The 330i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo 4 cylinder with outputs of 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The 340i gets a turbo 6 cylinder with a 3.0-lite displacement and generates 320hp and 330 lb-ft. Both models feature the excellent 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox as the only transmission option.
The 3 Series GT's trims are matched to the engine variants. However a range of additional trims (Sport Design, Luxury Design, and M Sport Design) are available with varying extras. Standard specification is relatively scant, though the options list is extensive – however it can get expensive as a result if you're not careful. Worthwhile options include the Premium Tier which includes a heads up display, heated front seats, and navigation with real time traffic information. Among the safety features available, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring help earn the 3 Series GT a 5/5 star rating from the NHTSA.
The 3 Series GT offers the space of the station wagon, the upright position of the X3 SUV, and the ride height of the sedan – but in trying to be three things at once, it doesn't really set itself apart as an excellent vehicle on its own. The X3 or standard 3 Series are better alternatives.