Column: The Zaftig GT

5 Series GT | January 26th, 2010 by 21
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There seem to be multiple definitions of the term, Gran Tourismo Turismo . How else could such disparate vehicles like a Mustang GT, Bentley Continental …

There seem to be multiple definitions of the term, Gran Tourismo Turismo . How else could such disparate vehicles like a Mustang GT, Bentley Continental GT, Nissan GT-R, Ferrari 599 GTB, Pontiac GTO and the new BMW 550i GT all be considered Grand Touring cars.

The definition of a Grand Touring car revolves around the following characteristics, room for two (or 2+2) and their luggage, capable of comfortable high speed cruising, oriented to the driver (not chauffeur driven), and capable of handling any road thrown at it. The classic GT car would be something like the BMW 3.0 CS, lithe, agile, perfectly proportioned and eminently capable on mountain passes or autobahn.

Few previously would have included the 550i GT in the Gran Tourismo Turismo category, however. Its tall, Reubenesque, four door body makes this the BBW BMW. But what that rather large shape does do is coddle three plus passengers in the lap of luxury. Its versatile two mode rear opening allows it to swallow the contents of an antiquing run using the hatch, or a smaller items without exposing the cabin to the weather using the smaller bootlid. And yet it still provides the driver the tools to enjoy the joy of long distance, high speed, motoring.

5 GT 81 655x435

Unlike its smaller (closer to the ideal) GT brethren, the 550i GT delivers high levels of comfort to back seat passengers. Depending on the options specified, four zone climate control, heated and cooled seating surfaces and rear seat entertainment spoils rather than squeezes those relegated to the back seat. And unlike its luxury saloon competitors, it sacrifices little in the way of driving pleasure.

The trick to making a big vehicle a GT is to deliver similar driving performance that its smaller siblings enjoy. The 550i GT does that through a variety of techniques. First is the high torque, high horsepower, 4.4L turbocharged V8. That great powerplant is coupled to a sophisticated eight speed automatic transmission. This transmission is lighter and shifts quicker than the six speed it replaces. It really works well with the flat torque delivery of the engine and shifts perfectly in any of its modes.

Adaptive drive permits multiple suspension tuning, from Comfort to Sport + and the optional integral active steering allows speed dependent steering inputs from the rear wheels. This features eases slow speed parking maneuvers and mimics a shorter wheelbases car’s agility at higher speeds.

The cumulative effect of BMW’s technology is to produce a new version of the GT, one that carries four and all four’s luggage comfortably at speed on any road.

21 responses to “Column: The Zaftig GT”

  1. Shawn says:

    Well said Hugo, basically it’s a GT car built for 4 occupants with luggage.

    • atr_hugo says:

      The drive was pretty good, but it was on public roads and just a couple of squirts at full-song and maybe a 6/10th cornering test. She Who Must Be Obeyed was the passenger (providing me feedback on comfort – she’s more into that than I am).

      I suspect you won’t see these at a lot of track days though. ; -)

  2. Giom says:

    I agree with this assesment. The first thing that I’ll do with my GT (one day), is take it on a long cruise down to Cape Town. This is a 1500km (932 miles) journey that demands a one night sleep-over and a few stops for pick-nicking along the way.

    I can not think of a better companion for such a trip!

  3. efoza says:

    This car is just so well built and rides so well (but not on 20″ wheels) that it is already making a huge impression on anyone who has seen it and/or driven it. It is a fab advancement for the BMW brand. Once again BMW has moved the game forward. Well done to those in Munich who are always at least 4 steps ahead of others.

  4. Laszlo says:

    I agree on the requirements however the definition of the GT is a COUPE which a 4 door car isn’t. Also it must be pleasing to the eye, which the 5GT isn’t. A real word GT’s are the Ferrari 456GT, Aston Martin DB9, etc. This balloned up 5 with a hatch is nothing like a real GT. its a sedan with a hatchback – remember Merkur Scorpio ? – and has less room/space then a real wagon should have. an another pointless car just like the X6. But since people with enough money and imagination will buy anything I predict a moderate success to the GT. It will be always a niche modell, BMW does not want to sell more then 20-25k pieces a year, so it will fulfill the request.

  5. bob says:

    First of all, BMW spells it, “Gran Turismo”.

    For whatever reason, after considering “RFK”, “FAV”, and “V”, they settled on “GT”. Presumably, calling it the “Y” — to go along with the X & Z Series — would have some calling it the “WHY? Series”. :-O

    From Column: “The trick to making a big vehicle a GT is to deliver similar driving performance that its smaller siblings enjoy.” Not only does it fail at that, but against its bigger siblings as well. It weighs nearly 400lbs more than the co-developed F01 7 Series; with all of it just where you don’t want it – up high & aft of rear axle. Consequently, as BIMMER said in their February 2010 Cover Story: “Unfortunately, the vehicle has also broken new ground by being distinctly disappointing, as a BMW.”

    Therefore, we shouldn’t be easily fooled by the mktg hype about it being a ‘GT’.

    It is, however, an exciting new niche for BMW. Good companies exploit niches. Better companies are the first to exploit niches. Best companies — like BMW AG — create new niches, to their own advantage(s). BMW is giving a certian segment of the marketplace something they want, before those customers even knew what they wanted. The F07 is a luxury RWD SUV, er, SAV. The luxury interior cabin of a 7 Series; an intermediate driving position; the utility of an E71, without being it being an empty box like the E70 when not hauling cargo; and, the approximate RWD dynamics of a 5 Series Touring, without the ‘family’ reference. In the US, where the 5er Touring only sells in the hundreds, the GT’s success seems almost assured. Clever!

    • atr_hugo says:

      Good catch on the spelling Bob, thanks. My all time favorite GT has to be the DB4 Zagato. The 550i GT is a different species. ; -)

      • bob says:

        DB4 Zagato good choice. Mine would be 250 GT Lusso. A clear distinction among it & stablemate 250 GT SWB that said, “GT”.

    • Horatiu B. says:

      As much as I disliked the GT when I first saw the photos, it slowly started to grow on me. While I’m not in their demographic, I certainly see myself picking it up before a Wagon.

      Also, the new niche will have plenty of followers and the more competition, the more we can expect in the future in the same segment.

  6. Tom says:

    Perhaps BMW was hoping Saab would disappear and it would stake claim to the 5-door hatch market.

  7. Brookside says:

    Right- Ruebensesque…? Haha- & that’s being kind Hugo. The niche they’ve carved out is interesting- well-healed oldsters who find it easier to climb up into the lap of luxury than step down into something that’s low and sleek. It’s reason for existing was determined by the physical lack of suppleness in aging Boomers and the health of their 401k’s.
    Problem design-wise is is the rear and 3/4 rear view which has the same visual charm as a Pontiac Aztek. It is just plain weird back there with basically a sculpted flat plane that no amount of creases and curves can resolve. Maybe the poorest design solution in the BMW lineup.
    Maybe it’s growing on you Horatiu but to me this is the poster child for BMW at it’s most crass. The answer to a question no one asked.

    • Giom says:

      Sorry to blow your theory out of the water. But I’m still young and this will be my next car. You see, BMW knows their people better than any body else – that’s all that matters.

      • Brookside says:

        OOoooh, way to defend the everything that BMW does….I mean that basically seems to be your reason to be on this blog…a sort of unofficial cheerleader.
        I’ve owned 3 bimmers- I own one now.
        You can get the 5GT when?….when your Mom takes the training wheels off of your bike and you can peddle on your own?

        • Giom says:

          Sorry if I had offended you by my views and love for BMW. I didn’t mean to.

          Are you enjoying your 3 series? Would you ever consider a bigger BMW, like a five series?

          My fav Beemer (before the GT) was the Seven, I really love big cars. But the practicality of the GT really attracts me. Sometimes I need to haul big equipment around and in a sedan that would never work. So, for me personally, the GT is the way to go.

          Also, I find the GT very beautifull. Nothing about it detracts – so, maybe I am just a cheerleader, but then with a passion:)

          No hard feelings!

          • Brookside says:

            Oh, now your practicing tolerance? You haven’t in your other posts.
            I’ve seen you cop attitude previously towards others on BMWBLOG who didn’t agree with you and your boot-licking defense of the status-quo.
            So, yeah, I think you are a total douche-bag and I don’t care about your apologies.
            &btw- where’s that photo….I’m waiting fanboy.

  8. Brookside says:

    You didn’t blow my theory out of the water- you simply responded that you are young and like the car.
    Go out to your dealer and ask what demographic the car is aimed at- that simple.
    If it appeals to you fine.
    You posts always are defensive and smug.
    Tell you what, I’ll call you on this one.
    Post thru Horatiu a picture of your new 6GT.

  9. atr_hugo says:

    An alternate title to this was tentatively, “550i GT: A Niche Too Far”.

    In the grand scheme of things, I’d rather have the 550i GT than an X5, but would I take it over an F10 5er? No.

    As Brookside points out, this is a car with a high H-point, geared to ease ingress and egress of the AARP crowd. But while it is ‘OK’ dynamically, they should have found some other alphabet soup creation other than GT to tag this as.

    As to the Aztek comparison. The Aztek was fundamentally bad on so many levels. I was at SEMA a few years back and a supplier, Decoma, had re-styled the Jeep CJ-esque features of the Aztek. It almost was palatble. At one point I watched Bob Lutz, with a number of GM execs in tow, descend on itto point out what could have been. (The Aztek is one of two cars I’ve had for test drives that my wife has actually refused to be seen in. ; -)

    But back (almost) to the subject at hand. Why hasn’t Lexus created a full-up-lux Sienna? The minivan is the perfect transporter for folks that don’t care about driving, and put one in the near luxury lineup and you could probably sell as many as 5er GTs. But please, BMW, do not, repeat, DO NOT, build a minivan. ; -)

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