MY2014 marks the launch of the all-new F34 chassis BMW 3 Series GT. BMW North America were kind enough to invite us up to the winding, circuitous roads that stretch between Seattle, WA and the Canadian border to give this latest entry to the 3 Series family a go.
Interestingly, a little bird mentioned to us that while the BMW 3 Series GT is an all-new entry in the United States, the basis for the car is actually around the long wheelbase 3 Series – a notable player for BMW from the Chinese market. Beyond the elongated wheelbase, which affords a massive amount of legroom in the rear of the car, the exterior design cues curiously lift from both the 3 Series and newly emerging 4 Series. Boomerang styling cues flank each front wheel well ala the 4 Series. While it still has the slight “tacked on” hunchback appearance – is this now the modern Bangle butt? – with the large rear hatch like its large brother, the 5 GT, BMW have managed to better integrate this feature into the overall styling of the F34.
Upon exiting the lobby of our hotel and dipping into the darkened valet stand I caught the first glance of the 3 Gran Turismo for the first time in person and found it instantly more appealing than the 5 Series GT. However, it wouldn’t be until a few hours later that I would get some time both behind the wheel and in the back seat to see which was the best place to be in the 3 Series GT.
After a morning jaunt in a 2013 BMW M6 Competition Package and narrowly avoiding a ticket from the fierce Washington State Patrol, my driving partner and I took a decidedly reduced pace vis-a-vis a 335i xDrive Gran Turismo in the sexy Estoril Blue by way of the optional M Sport line. Beyond the striking color, M Sport brings 18 inch Style 400M wheels, and generally everything else festooned with M badging but the standout piece being the M aero kit which escalates the aggressive nose of the F34.
I offered to take the first stint and slipped into the Venetian Beige Dakota Leather driver’s seat and thumbed the Start/Stop button – noting the surprisingly quiet turnover of the N55 TwinPower turbocharged inline-six. We crept out of the River Meadows Park, our first rendezvous point, and onward North towards the US-Canadian border as the morning fog surrounding Seattle began to burn off. Confined to slower back roads, we took a more leisurely pace. Noting the relative comfort and striking similarity to the F30’s interior while trying to get acclimated to the elevated seating position – though most anything will feel elevated when stepping from the cockpit-like interior of the M6. At the controls, I found the steering to feel light, perhaps a touch lighter than the F30’s. As our speed climbed a bit, the steering firmed up somewhat thanks in part to the optional variable speed as well as switching Dynamic Control to Sport and Sport+ mode.
At speed, the BMW 335i xDrive GT proved to be more accurate than initial feedback through the wheel would have led me to believe. Turn in for a corner and electric steering proved to be accurate and easy to correct when exiting a turn. As always, the 8-Speed ZF gearbox was a perfect pairing for snapping off rapid gear changes but even better when left to its own devices to choose shift points for you in Sport mode – allowing for a satisfying hold of each gear before continuing upward.
Overall, the suspension felt compliant and never let the 3 GT put a wheel wrong even on the occasionally less than perfectly even back roads of the Pacific Northwest. Through the bends, thanks to the adaptive suspension from the M Sport line coupled with the Dynamic Handling Package, body roll was kept to a minimum with the N55 motor providing enough poke to quickly propel us down the road to the next corner.
Everything was good, then, it seemed.
But not quite.
The 335i xDrive Gran Turismo is a good car overall, a jack of all trades but doesn’t champion any one area. Dynamically, the 3 GT falls somewhere between an F30 3 Series Sedan and F10 5 Series Sedan– not as communicative or fun as an F30 but not quite as remote as an F10. Paired with xDrive and the additional weight of the deep rear cargo area, the N55 feels like the right engine pairing while the N20( I was unable to drive the N20-powered F34) could potentially be a bit underpowered for the chassis. The ride height is a bit awkward as well, sitting somewhere between a 3 Series and an X3. From the driver’s seat the 3 Series GT just doesn’t quite get me to a point of buying into the Ultimate Driving Machine moniker.
For that reason, I decided to change my perspective on things.
As my stint as driver came to an end, we pulled off at a small roadside dinner for one of the pre-determined driver swap points. Disappointed in the results I was finding in the front seat, I moved my 6’4 (193cm) frame to the rear passenger side seat and stretched out as my driving partner got comfy upfront before tearing off down the road, inching us closer to the US-Canada border and most importantly, lunch along the Washington coastline.
The rear seats of the 3 GT proved a more compelling place to be. Ensconced in the lightly bolstered rear seat, I felt as though I was positioned slightly above the driver’s line of sight giving excellent visibility both throughout the cabin and outside the car. Just ahead of me, my feet lay, outstretched and happy to be free of the pedal box of the driver’s seat. After a morning either driving or riding it was a nice change of pace to sit in relative comfort in the 3 GT and begin to take better note of our surroundings.
The latter half of the morning was spent bombing along curvaceous back roads as we would climb and fall back toward the valley floor under a canopy of tree tops. Despite the corner carving going in the front seat, I was able to relax a bit and start taking in the nicer accoutrement of the F34 – notably the Harman Kardon 16 speaker, 600W sound system that created a mini-symphony in the back seat, easily overpowering the low pitch of the N55’s exhaust as my driving partner hustled the 3 GT along the back roads of Northern Washington.
As we glided into the Chrysalis Inn in Bellingham,WA I had mixed feelings about the 335i xDrive GT. While, as a passenger it is a wonderful place to be in the back seat, wafted around with acres of legroom and leather surrounding you. The 3 GT is, like its larger sibling, an ideal car for couples vacationing. It can swallow up luggage and comfortably carry four adults for hours without leaving them worse for wear. With the help of the Technology Package, the F34 3 Series GT will even help them get there as they stream music through an iPhone integrated into the recently improved iDrive.
Should I Buy One?
This car feels perfect for empty nesters – but that demographic is perhaps not looking for the Ultimate Driving Machine and maybe that’s OK when it comes to the somewhat lackluster fun factor of the 3 Series GT. However, the car we tested easily clocked in right at the $60,000 barrier when you consider it came equipped with the M Sport line, Dynamic Handling Package, Technology Package and Premium Package in addition to the M Sport Brakes. For my money, BMW has other options that provide a better balance of performance, comfort and technology at perhaps a lower pricing point – give me a 428i or even a lowly optioned X5 xDrive30d.
I’m not the target demographic for this vehicle – but there is a market for it – and that’s why I’ll be recommending it to my parents who are in the market for this type of BMW.