2014 BMW 3 GT

2014 BMW 3 GT (March 11, 2014)

It seems that BMW is on a mission to reach just about every automotive niche, no matter how small. You want an electric car? BMW has you covered. Ditto for luxury cars, sports cars, sport utility vehicles (sport activity vehicles to BMW), hybrids, sedans, coupes, wagons and convertibles. BMW even has a car for people who want wagon-like utility without having to bear the social stigma – in this country, at least – of driving a wagon.

The new BMW 3 GT addresses that market. It’s a hatchback with undeniably stylish sheet metal. A casual observer might think it’s a 3-Series hatchback. Not so. The 3 GT rides on its own platform.

It’s also larger than the 3-Series in just about every dimension, offering impressive passenger and cargo-carrying capacities. The body is longer, higher and wider and, according to BMW, doesn’t share a single piece of sheet metal with any 3-Series model. It’s also about 300 pounds heavier, weighing just over two tons.

The base version, called the 328i GT, is powered by a 240-horsepower inline turbocharged four-cylinder engine. My wife Paula and I had a 335i xDrive Gran Turismo, which had BMW’s smooth and powerful 3.0-liter inline six cylinder. This engine features 300-horsepower boosted by a single turbocharger. It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system.

Despite the substantial weight, our turbocharged six-cylinder 3 GT turned in an admirable performance, reaching 60 miles per hour in a scant 5.3 seconds. Consider this model a form of rapid transit, though not as rapid as what’s found in the lighter 3-Series sedan with the same engine.

The ride is firm and comfortable. One unseen pothole encountered during the review period made its presence felt, but fortunately left the wheel and tire unscathed; a good thing, too, since the 3 GT uses run-flat tires rather than providing a spare.

Handling is rewarding, though not as crisp compared to the 3-Series sedan or wagon driver. The 3 GT is willing to play on twisty pavement, and it demonstrates impeccable manners when it faces a sharp exit ramp or undulating secondary road. It’s just not as eager as a 3-Series, as it’s more prone to understeer. Unfortunately, the electric power assisted steering, which is precise and nicely weighted, is also surprisingly uncommunicative.

The interior is a class act. The front seats are raised, in comparison to the 3-Series, but an older passenger still found them low when getting out next to a high curb. Multiple adjustments, power assisted and with memory, guarantee comfort for a wide range of drivers. The rear seat is friendly for adults and, when it’s time to carry cargo, the lengthened body pays dividends with a large trunk accessed through a one-piece tailgate.

If the 18.4-cubic feet of trunk volume proves to be insufficient, cargo capacity can be increased to 56.5 cubic feet by folding the rear seats, which are split 40/20/40. That space could easily give the 3-Series wagon an inferiority complex, though the wagon’s shape might be more useful to people who search for antiques in Litchfield County.

With BMW already offering the X1 and X3 utility vehicles plus the 3-Series wagon, it seems unlikely that the 3 GT was introduced with the expectation of setting sales records. Nonetheless, it covers one more marketing niche, and it does so with style and competence.

Paula Says

The 2014 BMW 335i xDrive Gran Turismo my husband Jim and I had for review is a lovely, if expensive, vehicle. Still, at its price, estimated to be about $60,000 with its many options (the four-cylinder version starts at $42,375), our review car was missing some very useful features.

One was a backup camera. This feature is useful in any car, but is particularly needed in the 3 GT. The sloping rear window gives a limited view to the rear while backing. Also missing is a rear window wiper and washer.

The backup camera is available as an option; the rear wiper and washer are not. Also offered but not featured on our review car are blind spot and forward and rear parking sensors. These would be handy, especially the rear parking sensor system.

That being said, driving the 3 GT was a treat. There’s plenty of power and the ride is comfortable.

The standard driving dynamic system, controlled by a button on the console, varied throttle responses, transmission gear selection and steering. The Eco setting noticeably softened throttle response and seemed to make the car more willing to enter its “stop/start” mode, which turned the engine off to save fuel while stopped at a red light. The engine restarts when the brake pedal is released.

Even though I’ve had lots of practice, I still find the console-mounted shift control awkward.

It’s electronic and requires a deft touch and plenty of double checking just to be sure. During a second look, noticed that while I thought I had pushed the “park” button at the top of the lever, the car had actually gone into neutral. A second push of the button was required.

The audio system is even more complex. Granted, iDrive, as BMW calls its system, is now easier than ever to use, but to change radio stations using the console-mounted knob requires drilling down through several menus. This is fine for a passenger, but can be distracting for the driver.

Premium fuel is called for. We averaged 23.4 miles per gallon in our week with the vehicle.

Looking at the outside, I thought the BMW 3 GT was a sedan with a sloping roof. From the inside, it’s much more. It is a practical, fun-to-drive family car, albeit an expensive one when you start adding useful options.

Turbocharged engines:           2.0-liter four cylinder             3.0-liter six cylinder

HP:                                           240                                          300

Torque (lb-ft)                           258                                          295

EPA:                                      22/33                                       20/30

Starts at: $42,375

 Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email otr@courant.com. For more automotive news, check out the Cars.com On The Road section each Wednesday in The Courant.