It's only been with me a short while, but my new BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo long-termer already has me scratching my head in bewilderment and I don't mean the intricacies of the infotainment system.
Heres my quandary: how can BMW's designers and engineers get the 3 Series GT so right when they got the 5 Series GT so wrong?
The 5 Gran Turismo was meant to be the choice for those wanting 5 Series-and-a-bit space, without resorting to the full-blown estate. It had a trick rear hatchback that could be either a saloon-like boot or, er, a hatch. It was meant to be much more practical than a regular BMW executive saloon.
I know, because I was the man responsible for What Car?'s 5 Series GT long-termer a couple of years ago. As a photographer, with all the associated paraphernalia, it ought to have suited me. However, during my time with it I never stopped finding flaws with the amount of space on offer. I was left to conclude that the 5 GT is a huge car, except when you try to fit anything into it.
So when the editor suggested I run the new 3 GT, you can see why I was a little apprehensive. It's the 5's baby brother, after all. How was it going to cope with all the camera clutter I have to lug around?
Nor is the 3 GT cheap. We've gone for the most modest diesel on offer at the moment, the 140bhp 318d, and stuck with the regular six-speed manual gearbox that brings CO2 emissions down to 119g/km. Yet the starting price for the car is still north of 30 grand.
Then the options kick in and they can really add to the price. To jump the queue, we've taken a car from BMW UK's launch fleet, which means our example is fully loaded with extras. We have 19-inch wheels, adaptive M Sport suspension, leather seats, BMW's Professional Multimedia sat-nav and infotainment pack, a panoramic glass sunroof, heads-up display, adaptive headlights, sun protection glass, parking sensors and much more besides.
The upshot is that our car's price is 41,945. That's a fair chunk more than you'd pay for many a 5 Series Touring, and way more than for a 3 Series Touring. I'll admit this is a crazy figure although when BMW charges for items such as extended storage and a front armrest, you can see how things could easily get out of hand on the configurator. Just be careful out there.
What's really on test here, therefore, isn't so much whether a 42k 3 GT can really be good value (you can guess my answer to that already). Instead, I'm keen to discover if the basic package can deliver what the GT element of BMW's 3 and 5 Series ranges was meant to: the comfort and feel of a premium saloon, with the extra practicality of a hatchback.
On the latter point, things have started well. The 3 GT has pretty much all the room I need. The boot is huge and well shaped, and the rear cabin is vast a result, I guess, of this car sitting on the longer chassis of the stretched 3 Series BMW sells in China.
The engine feels up to the job, helped by a decent 236lb ft of torque, and the ride aided by the adaptive M Sport suspension is comfortable enough.
The only negative is the manual transmission like most from BMW, it's a bit notchy when cold.
Still, this is a solid start, even if the contrast between 3 GT and 5 GT continues to perplex.
List price 30,910
Target Price 30,910
Extras 19-inch wheels (790), adaptive M Sport suspension (750), front armrest (120), brushed aluminium trim (155), enhanced Bluetooth (350), folding side mirrors (275), extended storage (135), Anthracite headlining (215), head-up display (800), leather seats (1265), metallic paint (610), Professional Multimedia pack (1900), panoramic glass sunroof (1155), front and rear parking sensors (380), reversing camera (300), heated front seats (300), sun protection glass (235), variable sport steering (375), Visibility pack (925)
True MPG na
Official fuel economy 62.8mpg
CO2/tax liability 119g/km/18%
Contract hire 400
Cost per mile na
Insurance group 24
Typical quote 685
By John Bradshaw