No, not the Maserati Gran Turismo. Although those are nice too. They only have two doors, and a mini trunk – no good for sporting drivers who have familial baggage and earthly possessions. Sure they look great, but what a waste of beautiful Italian leather upholstery for just you. An army of friends stuck in the back could appreciate your good taste and plush spaceship surroundings. Luckily, there are other GTs to consider.
The BMW 5-series Gran Turismo replaced the 5-series Wagon as the marque’s main car-based hauler in 2010, amid annual sales that had slowed to a trickle over the last decade, one example of a wider trend in US auto sales. To say the 5 wagon was a niche model would be generous. In 2010, The GT’s intent was to blend wagon, sedan, and crossover to form a utilitarian luxury people and stuff mover…BMW’s closest effort to a minivan. *Cringe*
In practice, the GT is much better than a minivan. It is also full of contradictions. Classified as a 5 (535GT, 550GT), but yacht sized like a 7-series, and with 7 interior space. Frameless windows, a la coupÃ©, but with four doors (the VW CC and Mercedes CLS have similar setups). It rides a bit higher than its car siblings, more like BMW’s X-series crossovers, but has reclining rear seats for lounging and a fifth door that opens both as a hatchback and as a trunk (double-hinged).
Cramming all those definitions into one doesn’t make styling simple. The result is pretty ugly. Call it any number of things – bathtub, parsnip, egg. Other vehicles with similar descriptors are not good company (Buick Rendezvous, Mercedes R-class). From very few angles is it a winner in the BMW beauty pageant.
As a result, and for other reasons, it is not terribly popular. People aren’t clamoring for wagons, and BMW just introduced its latest (also smallest and cheapest) crossover – the X1, which invariably will sell briskly. Coupled with polarizing styling and not insignificant cost (a premium on the comparable 5-series sedan), BMW has swapped one slow-seller for another.
I decided, after driving it, looking at it, and exploring the multitude of options it has to offer, that the GT is an unexpectedly competent car for the discerning utilitarian with an independent streak.
It’s odd shape makes it both interesting and useful for hauling small and large items (the rear seats fold down too). It has large-car size for medium-car price. Many of the options on the 5-series sedan are no-cost or standard on the GT. The one I’ve been driving has features like comfort access (touch the door handle to lock or unlock the doors) and parking sensors/rearview camera. Heated, ventilated, dynamic (pulsating), and multi-way adjustable seats provide endless forms of comfort. A panoramic sunroof blocks and capitalizes on the light, as situations dictate. And smart cruise control lets me choose a speed and distance from the car in front of me, both of which the GT will maintain (by braking and accelerating).
From a spiritual place, driving it feels less pompous than in a normal BMW. It isn’t a car you’d lust after, and it’s not flashy or particularly fast. Because it’s big and stately, and damped from the outside, it feels serious and safe, as if you have critical events to attend and people to see, but you’re doing it in the humble comfort of a massive bullet-shaped shaceship. It insulates well, but allows access to the outside from a safe buffer. Driving 90mph on I-275 feels decidedly drama-free.
Being a BMW, despite shapes, means you can still throw it to a corner and it handles beautifully. The suspension and chassis can be modified for Sport mode, which tightens everything a bit. Good for corners, bad for bumps – so I’ve kept it in Normal mostly.
Would I buy one brand new, for full price? As a single person? No. Would I consider it as an alternative to the dreaded ubiquitous SUV, once I assume the role of kid (or pet) taxi? Absolutely. It has more niche appeal than a true wagon, but functions like a sedan in most situations. I would choose it over other BMWs, because I am a discerning pragmatist with a strong desire to go against the grain, and it satisfies those conditions well.
I found a couple on eBay, a silver 550i GT and a champagne-flavor 550i GT. They’d be more powerful than the 535i I’ve been driving, which can only be a positive. Happy hunting!
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