BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo driven
That's a question you're likely to be asked fairly frequently if you drive a BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo.
BMW says it's for people who want something more versatile than a saloon, but who are put off by the bulk of an SUV – but if that's the case, then why not just buy an estate? The 5 GT is neither a saloon, an estate nor an SUV, although it contains elements of all of them.
Its platform and chassis, two of its engines and its electrical architecture come from the 7 Series limo – even the wheelbase is the same as on the standard-length big saloon.
The 5 GT has a coupe-like rear reminiscent of BMW's X6, though, and a raised seating position that makes you feel as if you're in a semi-SUV like an Audi A6 Allroad or Volvo XC70.
At the back, there's a conventional boot lid and a tailgate, as in the Skoda Superb. Still with us? Then you've probably realised this is a car that's not easily pigeon-holed.
The engine line-up is more straightforward. You can have a 245bhp 3.0-litre turbodiesel (530d GT) or a 407bhp twin-turbo 4.4-litre V8 petrol (550i GT), both from the 7 Series. There's also a new, third option – a 306bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre petrol engine in the 535i GT. All three drive through a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
Diesel do nicely
The obvious choice is the diesel, and not just for tax and fuel-economy reasons. It's not that far behind the V8 for torque, it makes barely a sound and it's so lovey-dovey with the eight-speed gearbox that you could hang a 'Just Married' sign on them.
Then you drive the new 3.0-litre petrol engine and start to have second thoughts. Unusually for a turbo, it revs to 7000rpm, but with maximum torque available from 1200 to 5000rpm, there’s no reason to stray there. It’s mighty impressive, although we’d stick with the diesel: it just seems that bit smoother all round.
It also rides better. The petrol car isn't quite as settled and calm. However, it's important here to warn you that there are enough chassis options to tie you in knots, and you'll need to make the right choices to get a car that drives the way you like.
Every version has variable shock absorbers and gearshift and throttle mapping (Dynamic Drive Control) with self-levelling air springs at the back. You can then add four-wheel steer (Integral Active Steering) and electronic roll stabilisation (Adaptive Drive), which also adds a comfort setting to the damping choices. We’re not finished yet. You can then personalise various settings through the iDrive central control system. Help!
Frankly, the simpler you keep it, the better it is. That four-wheel steering clouds feedback to the wheel, and do you really want to be adjusting the damping every time the road surface changes?
The car's natural habitats are highways and fast, sweeping roads, where it rides with the compliance expected of a GT and isn't affected by the considerable body lean – a legacy, no doubt, of its higher centre of gravity – that’s there in long corners.
Just right for four
You can have either a rear bench or two individual back seats, sliding and tilting in both cases, but it's best as a four-seater. It just seems to suit the car's character more.
Either way, with 7 Series legroom and similar headroom to an X5, it's not short of space, while big windows and a standard panoramic glass sunroof ensure a good view out – except to the rear, where the sloping screen with thick blacked-out side portions should ensure a good take-up for the optional rear-view camera.
There's less cargo space than in a 7 Series, but the boot expands to provide more capacity than a 5 Series Touring. The smaller of the two boot openings is a bit like a glorified cat-flap, so we reckon most people will just use the electronic tailgate. The rear seats don't fold flat and you also have to move a folding bulkhead out of the way if you want an extended boot floor. It all seems a bit over-elaborate.
Still, there's a lot more to like than to criticise. The GT is a different kind of BMW, quite removed from all that 'Ultimate Driving Machine' stuff. It's extremely good at playing the role of a stylish, spacious, luxurious tourer. What it is? A GT, that's what.
On sale: October
You'll like: Space; quality; engines; pricing
You won't So many chassis options