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First drive review: BMW 335i Gran Turismo Modern (2013)

All pumped up and ready to blast

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BMW GT3
At the press launch in Sicily of the BMW 3-series Gran Turismo there was little appetite for understatement. Journalists were ushered into a pop-up amphitheatre, the house lights dimmed and a countdown commenced, accompanied by the heavily amplified crunch of industrial machinery on rock.

You would have hazarded a guess that these were the preliminaries to the end of the world had you not been flown in specifically on the premise of inspecting a popular mid-sized saloon now modified to offer a highly practical boot space.


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At zero, screens rotated and dissolved. Lights roamed the ceiling and music thundered, vibrating the floor. And finally, with headlights on full beam, the car drove across the stage in a cloud of dry ice. I’ve seen Prince come on with less fuss.

After that, amid the clearing smoke, suited executives took turns to read out from index cards the available engine sizes while, inevitably, conditions of mild anticlimax prevailed. But what could the poor men do, short of switching on a wind machine and performing the presentation as a power ballad? The end of the world is a hard act to follow.

Anyway, you don’t necessarily need a full-bore theatrical lighting rig, or even a prepared index card, to notice that the 3-series GT is a good-looking car — nor even to intuit something more than inflationary hype in BMW’s claim that it “will establish its own sector”. This all-new derivative is intended to sit aloof from the latest version of the esteemed 3-series saloon (400,000 sales and counting) and its covetable estate spin-off the 3-series Touring, and yet to merge the best aspects of both, as established by a poll of customer opinions.

Those customers apparently yearned for the fun and verve of the saloon with the spaciousness of the Touring. So clearly here comes another of the car industry’s ambitious attempts to fuse “sportiness” and “practicality” in a single box, which one always welcomes in prospect while quietly worrying that those two things are destined for ever to go together like salt and slugs.

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Shrivelled, however, is the last way you would describe the GT. It is as though someone has put a bike pump to the exhaust of the latest 3-series saloon and carefully inflated it, shaping it along the way to become a little more imposing, perhaps a little more self-important and certainly a little more grand.

But the scale seems to suit it. The signature BMW grille is pleasingly plumped up — one of a very limited set of circumstances in which an enlarged kidney could be described as good news. The car is 20cm longer than the saloon and 8cm taller, and its wheelbase has grown by 11cm. Among several consequences for the roominess of the interior, the boot is more capacious by 25 litres than even the Touring’s back end, though fundamentally less friendly to the carriage of dogs, unless they’re not fussy about being squished against an  automatically operating glass hatch.

At least they won’t be in the dark back there: the boot has its own interior lighting as well as handy aluminium cargo rails. Perhaps more significantly, the rear passengers get 7cm more legroom, meaning that a businessperson wouldn’t be ashamed to show a key client into the back.

And if those details alone aren’t enough to have you scampering across the showroom, there’s always the fact that the GT automatically becomes the 3-series range-topper, or king of the 3-series. It thereby makes a naked appeal to one-upmanship that, let’s face it, is at least as important in this sector as promises of respectable fuel economy and decent service intervals.

The boomerang-shaped insert on the front wings is an “air breather”, designed to ease the flow of wind around the wheel housings, and the car duly sweeps quietly and swiftly towards the horizon, with the usual BMW levels of staggering coherence.

Most buyers are expected to opt for the 320d diesel, but you can play the sportiness off against the practicality more spectacularly with the 335i petrol unit. I drove this model virtually the length of Sicily, pointing it with confidence along mountain roads strewn with landslides, pale green Fiat Pandas driven by flat-capped farmers, stray dogs and, just once, an entire herd of sheep on day-release from their field.

BMW GT3

Of these manifest threats, the landslides were plausibly the most ruinous. Had BMW chosen even slightly to widen the GT as well as lengthen it I would still be forlornly queuing by a mound of soil near Alcamo. The other peril was mud. So slippery was it in places that even a thin coating was enough for the car to slide like Jayne Torvill towards a sheer drop.

Still, on the plus side, you would never slide too far because a crater in the road was always there to catch you. If you think Britain’s B-roads have a pothole problem, try the strada provinciale up to Camporeale some time.

Questions duly arose, then, over how well this particular model was matched to the pace and style of rural Sicilian life. Even nudged as politely as possible through the narrow streets of quiet villages, the car appeared by its very nature to be bursting with impatience.

BMWs don’t really do demure and the 3-series GT does demure even less than most BMWs.

 

Verdict ★★★★☆

Separates the sheep from the goats

Factfile

BMW 335i Gran Turismo Modern

Engine:
2979cc, straight 6-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power:
302bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque:
295 lb ft @ 1200rpm
Transmission:
6-speed manual
Acceleration:
0-62mph: 5.7sec
Top speed:
155mph
Fuel:
34.9mpg (combined cycle)
CO2:
188g/km
Dimensions
L 4,824mm, W 1,828mm, H 1,489mm

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