On the road with Declan Colley
It is fair to say that the arrival of the GT series of cars from BMW in both 3 and 5 Series formats did not do a lot to get the adrenaline flowing in this small corner of the motoring globe.
As always with BMW, it was hard to find fault with the driving characteristics of either machine — no matter what engine it was fitted with. But you could certainly quibble with the look of the things as the hatchback vibe, I felt, did nothing to enhance the appeal of the cars.
Certainly they oozed quality and driver appeal, but they looked terrible and were, to these eyes anyway, something of an abomination from a company which prides itself on the aesthetic appeal of their product.
The whole GT thing was invented by BMW in an attempt to expand the appeal of both 3 and 5 Series to people who wanted all that went with the saloon, coupe, and estate models but with added practicality. Allegedly.
In effect, they tried to design a car which people never realised they wanted and while the we-must-fill-a-niche frenzy gripped Munich as much as it did Stuttgart and Ingolstadt, the bottom line is it didn’t hit targets.
The cars were certainly capable of making people double-take when they saw them first; the only problem was that the startled reaction they engendered in most people was one of horror rather than joyous surprise.
Thus it was that I came to the latest version 3 Series GT with something of a jaundiced mind and, being someone with something of a stubborn streak, not in too much of a mood to change my opinion about the damn things. Last year, BMW carried out something of a facelift on the smaller of the two cars, the 3 Series GT, and quite frankly you’d nearly need to be Miss Marple to tell the difference between the new and the old. Sure there were changes such as the lights and air vents, and things, but the majority of people would need Sherlock Holmes’ magnifying glass to spot them.
It is immediately differentiated from the other 3 Series models because it is longer, has a longer wheelbase. and is also higher than the rest of them. It also has that bulky boot, complete with fifth door, which sort of spoils the look of the car, especially when you compare it to the sleek look of its siblings.
Having said that, though, if I was forced to make a choice between either of the two GT models, it is the 3 Series I would choose as it is the least visually offensive of the two. The other thing about the original GT was that it simply did not have the same driving dynamic as the saloon or coupe (which is now a 4 Series, of course) versions and it wasn’t even much cop by comparison with the Touring version either.
BMW has addressed this on its second stab at the GT and the new car is inherently more of a BMW than its predecessor in terms of its abilities on the road. Thus anyone coming to this car from any other 3 Series model will find that it bears a much closer resemblance to them now than was previously the case.
It must be noted, however, that the suspensions have been tuned differently from those siblings because the manufacturer has decided that, as it has gone to the bother of calling it a Grand Tourer, it wanted it to handle accordingly.
That means that while the car retains the steel monocoque construction of its bedfellows, as well as the same basic MacPherson and multilink suspension set-up, the latter has been fettled more for comfort than for directional nimbleness and this is something which may not appeal to all afficionados of the brand.
But, having said all that, I definitely felt during my time with the car it was a lot better both in terms of handling and ride than what came before — a trip from darkest West Cork to Glenbeigh in Kerry proved the mettle of the GT. I don’t know how many readers know the joys of the Caha Pass between Glengarriff and Kenmare, but it is as reasonably testing a stretch of road as there is in this country — particularly so for a car that labels itself as a Grand Tourer.
Throw in the Kenmare-Kilgarvan-Killarney road (a route preferable to that over Moll’s Gap because of the tour bus density at this time of the year) and the stretch from Killarney out to Glenbeigh and you’ve got a combination of roads that will test the credentials of anything with ‘touring’ aspirations.
And they did test those aspirations. The early morning spin was completed without fuss, bother, or any discomfort. Curiously, the addition of the rear hatch actually had something to do with the improvements, as did the fatter rear rubber. More weight at the back, along with more traction, was a decent combo.
On the engine front, we are all by now familiar with the two-litre diesel on offer here which provides strong acceleration, excellent economy, and a generally purposeful demeanour which will put a smile on the face of any enthusiastic driver.
In the week that’s in it, what with BMW joining Volvo in proclaiming the future is electric — it isn’t — it is also worth noting that BMW expended a lot of sweat last weekend defending itself (and its diesel engines) from the row which is currently enveloping the German motor industry.
Following on from the VW ‘defeat device’ scandal, others are now becoming embroiled, but BMW is insisting it and its products, through a combination of technologies “fulfil all legal emissions requirements and also achieve a very good real-life emissions performance”.
Further arguments may emerge on that particular issue, but for the moment we shall await developments with interest.
For now, we will focus on this GT, which was a much better prospect than we expected.
Sure it is a car which divides opinion because of the way it looks and I have to confess that I am still not a fan of the design and would far prefer a saloon or coupe model, but this time around I really liked the way it drove and was impressed with the improvements BMW have implemented.
And remember, once you are inside driving it, you won’t have to look at it.
BMW 330i GT
The Cost: Trom €51,032 — €63,017 as tested.
The Engine: Tried and trusted.
The Specification: Build quality immense and cabin fantastic, but spec add-ons will cost.
The Overall Verdict: Still with contentious looks, but a better overall car. Much better.
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