The best of 3 from BMW

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 30, 2013

Diehard BMW fans will wince when they see the 3 GT - a five-door hatchback which is a marked departure from the three-box styling that has defined the 3-series.

Europeans love the hatchback but in this part of the world, a car without a boot section falls automatically into a "low prestige" category. And how we love prestige.

The saving grace is that the 3 GT (Gran Turismo) shares both drivetrain and power plant with its saloon counterpart.

That means, its engine, transmission and drive-axle are exactly what you would find in an equivalent 3-series with a boot.

At the launch, two versions of the model were unveiled: a diesel 320d which is not yet confirmed for sale in Singapore and a petrol 335i.

But there are others in the pipeline, including a 320i and 328i, with four- cylinder turbo engines.

Like the 335i saloon available here, the GT version also comes with BMW's award-winning 302bhp 400Nm 3-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine.

The five-door GT sits on a chassis that is slightly longer than the 3-series' - by 110mm between front and rear axle line, with an additional 90mm overhang at the rear. This raises its weight by 65kg or, if you like, as much as a person.

But it is not for nothing.

The increase in wheelbase boosts rear legroom significantly while the luggage space balloons to 520 litres - 40 more than the saloon's.

As if the longer wheelbase were not enough, BMW has designed the GT with seats raised by 60mm so that the overall effect is a rear section with more space than anything else in its class.

As for luggage space, the huge hatchback with a flat loading bay is actually immensely more sensible than a station wagon.

A longer, taller and heavier 3-series might sound like a step towards the MPV segment. Alas in the design department, it looks that way too.

Aesthetically, the car is far from pretty. Fortunately, it does not have the bulbous proportions of the unloved BMW 5 GT.

It is, after all, a much smaller vehicle than the 5 GT.

Its twin kidney-grille is the biggest you will find on a 3-series. But like the 3-series, you will find the headlamps connecting to the grille.

Its higher roofline slopes towards the tail end, leaving just enough space for a spoiler, which by the way is an active device that remains flush and rises at speed.

There is nothing 3-series BMW about its looks for sure, but what about the driving experience?

A 3 GT 335i with an eight-speed automatic transmission does the 0-100kmh sprint in 5.4 seconds, which is pretty quick.

That is not all. It takes corners almost as well as its saloon sibling. Which by any standard is pretty impressive.

The GT tends to roll more but its ride comfort and roadholding are impeccable, even over bad roads. Perhaps it will lose a couple of tenths of a second to the saloon on the race track, but who really cares?

Admittedly, the 3 GT does not have the suave looks of the 3-series saloon, and some might even say it lacks the prestige.

But the car's combination of space, practicality and impressive dynamics does leave its sedan sibling looking a tad inadequate.

The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 30, 2013

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to