The first car that came to mind was the Audi A4 Avant. I drove a 1.8-litre turbo model a while ago and it blew me away. It was relatively fast, comfortable and endlessly practical. It was also coated in a dark-grey hue and had the optional turbine 18-inch alloys. I thought it was the coolest piece of metal I’d seen in ages.
As it turns out, I was alone in my assessment. My wife hated it, calling it a fancy hearse. My friend also frowned when I advised him to buy a second-hand version of the above-mentioned Avant. In his mind, station wagons are deeply uncool and the rest of South Africa seems to agree. Audi recently canned most of its Avant range and BMW has no plans to import the Touring version of the current 3 Series.
So what’s a man to do? The obvious solution is to buy an SUV instead. With an SUV you don’t have to sacrifice your sex appeal on the altar of practicality. Now, thanks to the boffins at BMW, there is a third way. The researchers in Munich are very good at this sort of thing: building niche cars that solve problems no one knew they had in the first place.
The new car is called the 3 Series Gran Turismo (GT) and it’s aimed at the distinguished family man who likes to lead an active lifestyle, but doesn’t want an X3. I never knew these people existed, but BMW says they do and who am I to argue? At the end of the day it’s the consumer who wins and that can never be a bad thing. I’ve never heard of a single customer complaint stipulating that there are far too many options out there…
So what are the differences between the normal sedan and the GT variant? The answer is space. The 3 GT is bigger in every direction - width, height and length. Think of it as a 3 Series that’s been stung by a bee. You also get a significant increase in rear legroom, headroom and luggage space. To cap things off, there’s a nice GT badge on the boot and an active boot spoiler that raises and lowers by itself depending on the speed you’re travelling at. The rest is pure 3 Series sedan.
Considering the fact that the 3 Series sedan is the undisputed leader in its segment, it’s not a bad place to start.
The interior is a study in excellent ergonomics. Exposed surfaces are shod in high-quality materials and there is more than enough space for the driver and his passenger.
The back seats are even better. Because of the increase in length, rear passengers are treated to the kind of legroom you normally find in a 5 Series. Standard specification is generous, but potential customers should be wary of the options list. Spec it up and you could find yourself in a 3 Series GT that costs almost R800 000.
That doesn’t mean it’s the kind of car your better of being driven in. The 3 Series’ party piece has always been the way it drives and none of that magic has gone lost in the GT. It still sticks to the road like dog dirt sticks to the bottom of a shoe. The 3 Series GT is a deeply impressive driving machine that can proudly take its place along its more traditional brethren.
The range kicks off with a 320 in both petrol and diesel guises. The petrol 320i delivers 135kW/270Nm, with a claimed fuel consumption of 6.2 litres/100km. The 320d delivers the same kilowatts, but packs a meaty 380Nm of torque. Fuel consumption for this model is claimed to be 4.9 litres/100km. Both come as standard with a six-speed manual, but an eight-speed automatic can be ordered as well.
Two other petrol engines complete the range. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine in the 328i produces 180kW and 350Nm of torque. It accelerates to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds and is claimed to consume only 6.4 litres/100km on the combined cycle.
The range-topping - and award winning engine, I might add - is the 3.0-litre in-line six found in the 335i. This monster of a powertrain delivers 225kW and 400Nm. It reaches 100km/h in 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 250km/h. BMW claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 7.7 litres/100km for this particular model.
Like the 3 Series sedan, the GT can be ordered with a number of equipment lines, each with their own unique character.
Pricing ranges from R410 500 for the entry-level 320i, all the way to R595 000 for the range-topping 335i. A standard 5-year/100 000km maintenance plan and 2-year unlimited mileage warranty is included in the purchase price.