Not so many years ago, when you went into a BMW showroom you would be offered the choice of saloon, with the option, maybe of a Touring, coupé or cabriolet. That was it.
Now, of course, you also have the option of SUVs, four-wheel-drive saloons and a growing number of niche models. Last year we brought you impressions on the latest niche, the four-door coupe in the shape of 6 Series Gran Coupé
Prior to that, a few eyebrows were raised with the launch of the 5 Series Gran Tourism and, now, here comes the 3 Series Gran Turismo. What is the Gran Turismo? It's a concept that seems not clearly understood, perhaps because of the GT monicker. That conjures up thoughts of a sporting derivative of the standard saloon.
The Gran Turismo option is actually all about accommodation – more room for passengers, more versatile space and the convenience of hatchback access.
So, one of the first things I had to check out when the BMW 328i GT arrived for test was the rear seat. It’s true! There is more space. It comes courtesy of an increase in the total length, up 200mm on the 3 Series saloon. Of that, 110mm is within the wheelbase, directly contributing to the greater legroom. It is also taller by 81mm compared to the 3 Series Touring.
Normally, when I set the driver's seat in the long-legged driving position that I like, knee space is tight for me when I try to get in behind. On the 328i GT there was notable knee room and legroom.
The driver and front seat passenger will see little difference from the saloon. The dashboard is the same, but they might notice the slightly more commanding view as the seats are raised by just under 59mm.
Round the back, luggage space is substantial with a good flat load floor accessed by a big (motorised on the test car) hatchback. As you would expect with a hatchback, you can fold down the rear seats to more than triple the load space on a notably flat floor.
Rear seat passengers commented on the comfort. Indeed one passenger, a car enthusiast, enquired after a short journey “Is this a 7 Series”. That is quite a tribute to the feeling of space and luxury in the back of the Gran Turismo. Admittedly it was an evening journey in the dark, but I shall still not name names to save his embarrassment.
As is now common on BMWs, there are four settings that you can select by a switch on the centre console. These range from Eco Pro, through Comfort, to Sport and Sport+. The car defaults to the comfort setting, but I found the suspension a little too soft in that setting. Keep that setting for when you want to cosset your granny. I normally switched to Sport, which just sharpens things up nicely but still with a great deal of refinement.
The (optional) adaptive headlights, with main beam assist, are very clever, not just dipping for other traffic, but cleverly masking out areas while illuminating verges.
Still on the tempting options list, I also liked the (optional) head up display which projects speed, warnings and sat-nav directions onto the screen, just below the driver’s line of sight. But it is quite an expensive box to tick.
In the past it used to be easy to work out what engine size was under the bonnet of a BMW, just by looking at the badge. The last two numbers indicated the engine size. But, BMW now tend to give a larger number than the actual engine capacity. So, under this bonnet is not the 2.8-litre you might expect, but a four-cylinder 245 bhp two-litre.
The move to more efficient, smaller engines is, of course, all about economy. While the official figures give the BMW 328i GT a combined economy of 44.1 for the automatic versions, I found my actual mpg working out in mid to upper 20s on a mix of town and country motoring in the Sport setting.
The automatic gearbox adds £1,550 to the price, but it is a very sweet gearbox with 8 speeds and almost imperceptible changes. There are paddles for those who want, but I found myself only occasionally using them, so good is this box at selecting the right gear for the moment.
As you might expect the BMW 328I Gran Turismo is a lively performer, taking just 6.1 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 62 mph. Top speed is governed to 155 mph.
Having started out perhaps a little sceptical about the market need for a Gran Turismo option, I ended up being convinced that there is a niche that it fulfils. This model deserves to widen the appeal of the BMW 3 Series. With greater space, it should appeal to those who need more room to carry a full complement of passengers in greater comfort – plus it has the increased load-swallowing ability of a hatchback.
CO2 emissions 154
VED band G
0-62 6.1 seconds
Boot capacity 520/1600 litres