The BMW 535i Grand Turismo

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by KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on April 8, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 8 at 11:03 AM

It used to be fairly simple with BMW.  There was the 3 Series, 5 Series, the 7, occasionally a 6 and an 8.  When the Z3 (and later Z4) came out, people embraced it as a natural extension of the “ultimate driving machine” ethos.
 
The X3 and X5 sport utes rocked purists that believed Bavarian Motor Works was strictly about sport sedans and coupes. Then came the X6, the so-called “sports activity coupe” that looks like an X5 a bobbed tail.  “Who will buy that?” sneered some critics at launch.  Uh…  a lot of people it turns out.  Last year it outsold the X3.  In short, the folks from Bavaria have done very well by not sticking to coupes and sedans.
 
With that in mind the folks from Munich are introducing the Gran Turismo. The 5 Series has been around in sedan form since 1972.  Now, the sixth generation 5er is available as sort of a hatchback, crossover thingy.  The GT looks a bit like a chunky 5 Series sedan with a short rear deck.  It’s nearly four inches taller than the standard four door and seats four (though practical folks can order it with belts for five).
 
If you can find a completely base 535i Gran Turismo it will retail for $57,375 including shipping from Dingolfing, Germany.  My xDrive tester with Convenience, Dynamic Handling, and Sport packages comes to $73,225.  GT is not an inexpensive proposition.
 
The Ultimate Hatchback Machine
 
BMW is known best for its legendary driving dynamics.  The 535i Gran Turismo (and it’s larger hearted brother the 550i)  has a new trick- An owner can amaze and astound their friends with a dual function tailgate.  For quick access to cargo, pop open the small trunk that opens just the very end.  Need to load large items.  For its second act the GTs entire glass raises up to get large stuff in the back. It’s sort of like those station wagon tailgates made in the 70s that opened as a tailgate or a door.
 
How’s it work? There are two touch sensitive pads near the license plate, one operates the smallish opening for quick access, the other is for the big powered hatch (that power feature is optional BTW). 
 
Fun to play with?  You bet.  The practical Midwestern-raised side of me wonders if it’s needed since I find myself using the full-on hatch most of the time.  The folks at BMW say using the small door helps to keep rain and snow off the backseat passengers.
 
Two Turbos Are Better Than One
 
Providing the oomph is BMWs 3.0-liter twin turbo inline 6-cylinder that makes 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque from 1,200-5,000 RPMs. My tester has optional xDrive, aka all-wheel drive, which defaults to a 60/40 rear-wheel drive bias but can split the power 50-50 or send all power to the rear wheels. GT is the first BMW to use an 8-speed automatic transmission.  It has manual mode on the console but no paddles on the steering wheel.
 
Gran Turismo is a bigger rig but it hustles.  0-60 rushes up in 6.1 seconds, a hair quicker than the rear-drive GT simply because of better traction.   Most drivers will not need the 550i with its 400HP and 450 lb-ft or torque. On wet roads xDrive provides stability and traction, perfect on slick Northwestern roads. If things get rough there’s even hill decent control.  EPA fuel economy is good at 19 city, 27 highway.
 
Transmission shifts are smooth and quick.  Maybe it’s the higher ride height but the Gran Turismo does not have the cat-like handling reminiscent of other BMWs I’ve driven.  Yes, it handles well for a larger sedan, oops, hatchback but the telepathic BMW drive-me-hard quality is missing.  It is quiet and comfortable though and the brakes are very capable even in wet Pacific Northwest conditions.
 
Choose Your Ride
 
The first time I hopped into the Gran Turismo I was surprised at how soft and compliant the ride quality was, especially for a Bimmer.  Then I realized the adjustable suspension was set to comfort.  D’oh! 
 
My favorite mode is SPORT which firms up the suspension, sharpens the throttle, changes the transmission shift dynamics and adjusts power steering effort.  SPORT + does the same but reduces the amount of electronic stability control.  Something I found peculiar-  Shut the car down in SPORT mode and it defaults to NORMAL on restart.  Shut down in COMFORT and it remains there on the next power up.  That doesn’t seem very BMW-like to me.  
 
Normally, a car’s alternator is always charging the battery.   The GTs does it only during coasting or braking so it’s not a drag on the engine.  A small gauge in the cluster shows what’s happening and may trick a few people into thinking they’re in a hybrid.
 
That’s a Big Plank of Wood
 
The cabin is classic BMW design and it’s easy to get comfortable behind the heated steering wheel with nearly everything a driver comes in contact adjustable in myriad ways.  The comfortable seats are heated but not cooled.  Forget what your radio presets are?  A light brush on the preset button offers up a preview in the display.  Luxury touches a huge slab of lumber. Yes, it’s real and light piping on the instrument panel looks great at night.
 
Everything touched inside feels solid and expensive.  Added to the usual collection of airbags are knee units.  The doors have power assist that pulls them snug if you don’t have the strength.  You have to work very hard to get the “door ajar” light to illuminate.  Don’t corner too hard with hot coffee, the cup holders are very shallow and tall cups are not held securely.  Ask me how I know…
 
Peek a Boo
 
My GT tester is equipped with side facing cameras up front that offer up a good view of traffic when pulling out of blind driveways and garages.  A “bird’s eye view” mode that looks like a camera is hovering over the car never fails to get a reaction from the passengers.  A standard rear view option is here too.
 
As expected, BMWs iDrive interface controls everything from the great sound system to browsing the owner’s manual on the huge LCD screen.  It is improved but I’m still lukewarm to iDrive.  Same with the transmission joystick that gets pushed forward for reverse, pulled back for drive and tapped on top for park.  Seems like I have to actively think about everything I want to do in this car. An example:  To turn off GT, the keyless ignition button needs to be pushed… twice. 
 
The driver isn’t the only one coddled in the Gran Turismo, there’s plenty of room in back for passengers with heated and reclining seating that is especially comfortable.  Seats split and slide forward and back to adjust for leg or cargo room.  A panoramic glass roof comes standard with GT so there’s a great view of the sky.  Two power ports, map pockets, and a foldable armrest with storage and cupholders round out the features.  A DVD entertainment system is available.
 
For pure passenger pampering BMW offers a Luxury Rear Seating package.  It includes individual multi-adjustable power seats, a center console with cup holders and storage, plus the folding seat backs are powered.  Consider it if you are often chauffeured. 
 
Back to the Cargo Hold
 
There are a couple spots under the floor to stash things away, and a hook to keep bags from sliding around.  Two thick elastic straps on the side walls are my new favorite trunk accessory.  They hold nearly anything in place, including my photography gear.
 
Loading up the Gran Turismo is easiest in full-on hatchback mode, the small opening is a little cumbersome especially if cargo has slipped toward the seatbacks.  GT essentially replaces the 5 Series wagon which I have to believe holds more than six bundles of Kirkland bath tissue (my standard trunk measurement metric if you’re new to these reviews). Why Americans can’t embrace station wagons is a mystery…
 
In the end (pun intended) Gran Turismo is an amalgam of sedan, wagon and crossover.  In mission it’s similar to Honda’s Crosstour but more luxurious and better looking.  Not that the GT stands out in a crowd, people seem oblivious to its chunky-yet-svelte lines until the double jointed hatch gets used in a grocery store parking lot.  Then it turns heads.
 
And so BMW gives us another vehicle that defies instant description.  GTs as you probably know are traditionally two seat touring cars with generous accommodations for luggage BMW just happens to expand the body count to four.  Will it be more popular than a 5 Series wagon?  Check in sometime next year, BMW seems to create segments and buyers where they have never existed before.
 
 

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