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PRINT EDITION
A niche vehicle - but for whom?
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BMW hopes to have its cake and eat it by retaining the practicality of the 5 Series Gran Turismo - a hit in China but a flop in Canada
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By MATT BUBBERS
Special to The Globe and Mail
  
  

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Thursday, November 9, 2017 – Page D3

LISBON -- TECH SPECS

Base price: $76,700

Engine: 3.0-litre, turbocharged I-6

Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/all-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): TBA

Alternatives: BMW X6, BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, BMW 5 Series, Audi A7, Volvo V90 and V90 Cross Country, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe, Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon

If you ever had the misfortune of seeing BMW's old 5 Series Gran Turismo, you'd immediately understand why they've given its successor a new name.

That car was one of the ugliest, maybe the ugliest, BMWs ever made. It was rotund and ungainly like an overfed turtle. Unveiled at the Geneva car show in 2009, it never found many willing buyers, at least not in Canada. But, in China it was a hit. More than a third of BMW's total production ended up there, with only 10 per cent landing in North America.

"We had a styling problem with the old model, and it hurt it," said Claus-Otto Griebel, project leader for the all-new 6 Series Gran Turismo.

The model number has changed from 5 to 6 Series, but make no mistake, the idea is still the same.

Essentially, BMW has thrown every type of car into a blender - a bit of sedan, some SUV, a sporty coupe, a bit of station wagon - and out pops, well, this Gran Turismo thing. It's got interior space similar to BMW's full-size 7 Series sedan, but with cargo capacity more akin to an SUV or station wagon.

The goal, Griebel said, was to keep the practicality of the old model while improving the styling. In other words, BMW is hoping to keep Chinese buyers interested while at the same time make the new Gran

Turismo more palatable for North Americans.

First impressions upon walking up to the new GT is that the design is, indeed, vastly improved. The roof is much lower, making it look less bloated. The C-pillar isn't as chunky, so the hatchback trunk looks natural rather than an afterthought that's been grafted on. The new, angular kidney grille and narrower headlights emphasize the car's width. The rear end is lower, too, which helps it look more like a fourdoor coupe and less like Frankenstein's monster. Over all, it's longer and leaner than before. It's a vast improvement on the old design but still not likely to win any beauty contests.

Yes, some say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we'd say Audi's new A7 is objectively better looking - albeit smaller - while BMW's own 5 Series sedan is more classically handsome and the X6 fastback SUV is more visually exciting.

Step inside the new Gran Turismo and you quickly see none of those other cars can match its spaciousness. The new GT is limo-like, with the same width and wheelbase as BMW's 7 Series. The main beneficiaries are rear-seat passengers.

There's plenty of space to stretch out on a long journey. And, despite the lower roof-line and a higher seating position, there's actually more headroom than before.

None of BMW's usual competitors has created a direct rival to the Gran Turismo. Mercedes offers the midsize E-Class wagon. BMW could've brought the 5 Series wagon from Europe to compete. Wagons are niche vehicles for sure, but no more so than the Gran Turismo. Buyers looking for ultimate luxury and cargo space may opt for BMW's upcoming X7 SUV or the stylish four-door 6 Series Gran Coupe. With so many alternatives, the Gran Turismo may again have a hard time finding buyers to enjoy its peculiar blend of comfort, utility and style.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

RATINGS LOOKS

The Gran Turismo is no longer the ugly duckling in BMW's expanding range. It retains the practicality of the old model while improving the look. You don't have to give up all sense of style to have a car that fits four golf bags any more. But as far as practical luxury cars go, we still prefer the look of BMW's 5 Series wagon, which is available in Europe.

INTERIOR

It's nearly as luxurious as BMW's flagship 7 Series, provided you're willing to tick enough option boxes. The dash layout, controls and materials are all very similar between the two models and, indeed, the 5 Series as well. The front seats in the 6 GT are higher, making it slightly easier to get in and out, while giving more foot room to rear-seat passengers.

PERFORMANCE

The only engine currently available is glorious. BMW's 3.0-litre six-cylinder motor, found under the hood of the 640i xDrive Gran Turismo, is silky smooth. It delivers an immense 332 lb-ft of torque, from just 1,380 rpm, and 335 horsepower.

BMW shaved an impressive 115 kg from the new Gran Turismo, compared with its predecessor, which improves handling. It's not exactly a sporty drive nor is it meant to be.

Zero-100 km/h takes 5.3 seconds.

TECHNOLOGY

The ride is exceptionally comfortable. Our test cars were fitted with air suspension at all four corners that - combined with the long wheelbase - make the Gran Turismo ideal for long distances or the daily grind. BMW's latest driving-assist technologies are available, as is all the tech you'd find in a 7 Series: from gesture control, to a 1,400-watt stereo, to a huge colour heads-up display and much more.

CARGO

The awkward split-trunk of the old model is gone. The new trunk opens as you'd expect a hatchback to, revealing an enormous cargo area. If you were one of the few fans of the old Gran Turismo, you'll be even happier with this one. With the seats folded, total trunk space is up to 1,800 L (100 more than before), and even with the seats up there's 610 L of storage.

THE VERDICT

6.5 Luxurious, comfy and practical, but still not the prettiest thing on the road. A niche vehicle.

Associated Graphic

With the 6 Series Gran Turismo, BMW has thrown every type of car into a blender. It's got interior space similar to the full-size 7 Series sedan, but with cargo capacity more akin to an SUV or station wagon.

BERNHARD LIMBERGER/BMW


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