BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo: When Americans Don’t Buy Wagons, This is the Crap We Get
Photos from motorauthority.com
Americans don’t buy wagons or hatchbacks, and when we don’t, automakers get mad. They start creating things like crossover “utility vehicles,” tricking us into buying station wagons with less practicality and a larger carbon footprint. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the spec sheet for a Toyota Venza, Honda Accord Crosstour, or even an Audi Allroad. They share engines and platforms with the smaller cars they are based on (Camry, Accord, A4, respectively) but are bigger, slower, and more expensive. The CUV was created when auto manufacturers realized that customers needed to downsize in the wake of $5/gallon gasoline from a few years back, but still wanted to retain the look and perceived safety and convenience of a larger vehicle. Crossovers share platforms with cars, in contrast to SUVs, which share platforms with trucks.
The hatchback and wagon have fallen by the wayside, and that’s a damn shame, because they are much more practical compared to their heavyweight counterparts and more economical to boot. As an aside, the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon is a criminally overlooked piece of machinery, and I’ll eat a hobo’s boot if it doesn’t light up the auction blocks at Barrett-Jackson in 30 years.
Why am I going on a tirade about Americans’ apathy toward wagons? Because when we don’t buy them, automakers get creative and try to trick consumers into buying them. Case in point: the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Actually based on the larger 7 Series’ architecture, the GT is a large hatchback that was meant to replace the aging wagon as the 5 Series moved from the E60 to F10 underpinnings. It is significantly taller than the standard 5 Series and weighs 550lbs more in turbocharged 6 cylinder form. Oh yeah, and it costs $5,000 more than the sedan. So here we have a fatter, slower, uglier, and more expensive version of BMW’s pretty good midsize offering. It’s no wonder that BMW saw previous 5 Series wagon owners deflecting to Mercedes, who kept their five door E Class a normal wagon; BMW North America CEO Jim O’Donnell admitted in 2011 that the GT wasn’t exactly flying off dealer lots, although it did do well enough to cannibalize sales of the much more expensive 7 Series. So what does BMW do to follow up one of the most disastrous cars it has ever created? Create a new M1 and earn some goodwill? Fast track the production of the hybrid i8 sports car? Axe the X6?
The BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is what BMW thought up. Longer, wider, taller, and fatter than the normal 3 Series, the GT is the answer to a question that only the deranged would ask. The 5 Series GT was a misguided attempt to replace the wagon, but the 3 Series already has a wagon in the lineup that BMW has said will be sold in the US sometime this spring. The GT will be nearly 8 inches longer than the wagon, and likely several hundred pounds heavier (BMW wisely omitted weight figures in the initial press release).
The GT will feature new inverted “L” slats behind the front wheel arches that reduce air resistance by diverting air into the wheel arches. It’s definitely a case of form following function, but as the GT is by far the largest iteration of the 3 Series to date, one wonders why there is any sort of sporting pretense at all. Likewise, this large fastback features BMW’s first active spoiler, which deploys at speeds above 68mph. So here we have an additional piece of tech that will undoubtedly add weight to the final product, all under the guise of maintaining the feel of a 3 Series at higher speeds. What this says to me is that the GT is unable to replicate the driving dynamics of the sedan or coupe without resorting to electronic trickery. The major point of contention is the styling, one of the main reasons the 5 Series GT was an abysmal failure; the 3 Series GT carries the design themes of its big brother, practically assuring that the car will be DOA.
While the decision for a smaller version of the 5 Series GT is perplexing, it is not a surprise. BMW has been off its game for the last few years, from the disastrous X6 and the high performance M versions of the heavyweight X5/X6 SUVs to the Gran Turismo to the rebranding of the 3 Series coupe as the 4 Series. BMW is attempting to be everything for everyone, and in doing so, is making a series of high-profile mistakes relating to its product mix. Consolidation will be the key to its continued success in the future, but the family is growing with the addition to the X1 small CUV and proposed electric vehicle offerings.
The 3 Series GT will be officially unveiled next month at the Geneva Auto Show.