Thursday, 19 May 2011

BMW 535 GT

Remember a few years ago when we were trying to figure out the crossover? We just couldn't get the idea of a sort-of car on a car chassis but tall almost like an SUV. Now crossovers are everywhere, and their sales appeal has saved not a few car companies.
Our newest challenge in vehicular innovation is the "coupelike" sedan that sits somewhere between a four-door and a crossover. We've just now effortlessly egressed from the tall 2010 BMW 5 Series GT in Portugal after driving many, many miles, and our mind is swimming with what this all means. Making its public debut at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show this month, the 5 Gran Turismo is not quite as shocking a product moment as the Porsche Panamera, but it is an entirely new test for the Bimmer faithful.
Does it drive like an Ultimate Driving Machine? We cannot wholeheartedly say yes. Does it drive like a 2006 Pontiac Montana? Absolutely not.
The 2010 BMW 5 GT has a lot going for it, but it's most likely going to take a massively innovative marketing effort to convince BMW aficionados in key markets (read: North America) that it is worthy of the Bavarian roundel, and to persuade people new to BMW that it is worth the premium swan dive into larger monthly payments in these uncertain times.
Here's Your Brief
What BMW bosses handed their designers to tackle back in late 2005 was the company's first vehicle meant to cater blatantly to upper-middle-class family life. But it couldn't be too blatantly a family carrier or the minivan thing would soon scare away the all-important image-conscious orthodontists and corporate managers. And thus started the usual design challenge, as all the cooks in the kitchen tell one another that it needs to be a little bit this and a little bit that, ad infinitum. The risk of turning such a notion into something that means nothing in particular to anyone must have loomed large.
First, the 5 GT is not a 5 Series at all, really. The wheelbase and both track widths are identical to those of the new 7 Series, with which it shares the really good F01 modular chassis that has been created for use with the next 5 and 6 Series as well as the new 7 Series.
Since the GT is 4.3 inches taller than the current-generation 535i sport wagon (and 3.5 inches squatter than the X6), the ease of entry and exit is right on with the design brief — the height is perfect for the everyday. Regarding interior space, the 5 GT is pure genius and we could easily see ourselves driving it cross-country nonstop if the fuel tank held 200 gallons of unleaded and there were a port-a-john aboard. It's particularly spacious in the rear, offering the legroom of a 7 Series and the headroom of an X5.
Looking Good?
Here's where we hesitate. Looking at every single current BMW model up until today, we can say without hesitation that they are all justifiably sexy and/or handsome.
If anyone looks straight on at the rear end of the BMW 5 GT and uses the adjective "sexy" or "handsome," then we must have changed planets. We can deal pretty easily with the 5 GT from a few angles, but the full-on rear view is just not pleasing to the eye.
BMW Group design head Adrian von Hooydonk, along with design leader of the BMW brand Anders Warming, will have several weeks' worth of heated explaining ahead of them. (We can hear former BMW design director Chris Bangle calling out from his grappa farm even now, "Welcome to my world, boys!") Both of these design talents were present in Portugal for our early drive and it was clear that they were aware that this robust discussion was soon to begin.
Working Good
We love the big fastback tailgate deal on any car you care to mention. It's even better when this design incorporates a two-stage tailgate that can open as a regular trunk loader or as a full cargo hatch. Here in the 5 GT, we only wish this big hatch solution had been coupled with something as sexy as the styling of the Audi A5 Sportback. The automated rear lid is mostly made of stamped aluminum (as are all door panels and the engine hood), so there is no great effort in managing the opening and closing of this showpiece.
The 5 GT offers 15.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats. For more room, move one or both rear seat units forward up to 4 inches and you can add 5.3 more cubic feet. Drop the seatbacks forward and collapse the bulkhead to the floor and cargo grows to 60 cubic feet total.
While the rear seats of the 5 Series sport wagon are a form of purgatory and its slab-sided rear doors put the window sills at about your cheekbone, BMW has made the 5 GT's rear environment a first-class experience. This all goes for the standard five-passenger rear bench seat as well as the optional coupe-style two-passenger rear accommodation.
Drives Like a BMW...ish
Keeping in mind the total failure of the Mercedes R-Class to develop much allure, BMW has made certain that you feel like you're in a real BMW as the 5 GT moves down the road. Technology is everywhere and it is of the latest generation, right down to the iDrive system (it's really good, especially with the optional 10.2-inch screen) that we first experienced in the new 7 Series.
The motivation in our particular test car comes from the new N55-generation, 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline-6 matched with a ZF-built eight-speed automatic transmission. The very ready 302 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and turbo-compressed 295 pound-feet of torque between 1,200 and 5,000 rpm do the trick with this 4,442-pound premium transporter.
Our 535i GT naturally had been loaded with almost every option possible, and we found Dynamic Drive Control to be a key asset for driving, modifying shift speed, accelerator response, suspension behavior and steering feel. Leave it all in Sport Plus and you get to 60 mph from a standstill in just 6.3 seconds, and it feels enough like a BMW while doing it. In Comfort, everything goes appropriately cushy for simple cruising. Drivetrain and chassis can be calibrated separately (a fairly unique feature) via iDrive while in Sport mode.
This 535i GT is our favored trim level, as the 530d GT diesel surprisingly feels a bit rough, while the 550i GT V8 wasn't available for testing (though we didn't much care, as a 4.4-liter V8 in a family car seems like overkill).
Even in the Curves?
Standard tires are 18-inch run-flats for the 535i GT (19-inch for the 550i) but our car's optional tires were even bigger — 245/45 R19 98Y front, 275/40 R19 101Y rear Goodyear Excellence Xs. We also had the optional Adaptive Drive suspension, which includes Sachs dampers modified by BMW to recalibrate according to the preference you selected in Dynamic Drive Control.
BMW's Integral Active Steering is also available, just like on our beloved new 7 Series, and this steering assist from the rear wheels is a good thing for the 5 GT. In the bends, we could feel the added volume of the large, relatively flexible body, but the technology BMW gives us compensates well, including the adaptive antiroll bars.
The whole package works as we roll along with low wind and powertrain noise, but the 5 GT is begging to be loaded with three people and their luggage, because we could feel the enthusiasm of the rear end as we drove alone with nothing but a notepad for cargo. This N55 engine now includes variable valve timing and lift, plus direct fuel injection, plus a single twin-scroll KKK-BorgWarner turbocharger offering max boost of 13.0 psi, and it certainly has the get-up-and-go to haul everything up even the steepest climbs without a hiccup.
Family Pricing
BMW has decided to lead off North American deliveries of the 2010 BMW 5 Series GT with the big-ticket 550i GT at $67,400 starting the 5th of December. In spring 2010, we then get this 535i GT and still later xDrive versions and a 528i GT. Put the 535i GT at an estimated $45,000 and you're not far off.
No word on whether the diesel-powered 530d GT could make it over, but we wouldn't advise it. And there will be no M version of the GT. Oh, darn.

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