I must confess – I like a glass of wine. Sometimes I like several, so over the years I’ve become adept at using a corkscrew, skilfully removing the foil and, with only a few twists of the wrist, extracting the cork with its welcome “plop”.
I never thought it much of a challenge so I wasn’t over-impressed a couple of years ago when I was given the latest “must-have” – an electric corkscrew which removed the cork at the press of a button and the power of some small batteries. It was effective and efficient, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was the solution to a problem I hadn’t realised existed.
I’ve since been proved right with the now more common screwtop wine bottle, rendering both my electric device and the previous manual version all but redundant. The concept of solutions to non-existent problems came to me behind the wheel of the 3 Series GT from BMW. It’s basically a hatchback version of the best-selling 3 Series saloon, which has been hugely popular over the years and continues to attract a loyal band of customers.
I wonder how many of them thought “Yes, it’s a nice car but I wish it was a hatchback”. Have BMW simply come up with something to offer to those customers who didn’t know they wanted it? It’s clearly a limited market as they’re expecting to sell only 4,000 in a full year. But after spending a few days with the car, I was impressed and coincidentally found the large automatic electric rear door, and the underfloor storage area, absolutely ideal for loading up my festive wine stock at the local supermarket.
The rear loadspace is considerable, bigger even than the equivalent estate, or Touring as BMW call it. That’s because the GT is taller and longer than the Touring, with an extended wheelbase which creates more space inside. So it’s definitely practical if you’ve got lots of stuff to move about, but where the GT scores brownie points is in its looks and performance.
The design is impressive, with a significant coupe profile over the rear quarters, and while it has all the standard BMW characteristics such as the big kidney grille at the front end, it has larger headlamps and smoother bonnet contours than the saloon or the Touring. It’s also got aerodynamic features such as blades set into the outer air intakes of the front apron and air breathers just behind the front wheels to reduce drag around the wheel arches.
At the back end, the car is the first model in the range to have an active rear spoiler, which rises automatically when the car reaches 70mph to reduce lift on the rear axle and maintain the dynamics at higher speeds. When the speed falls below 43mph, it retracts into the boot lid. If you’ve got time on your hands and like playing with buttons, it can be raised and lowered manually through a switch on the driver’s door.
On the road, the aerodynamics combine with finely tuned suspension technology, lightweight but strong bodywork, electric power steering and conventional straight-line engine with rear wheel drive to return a secure and solid ride with great performance. That can be adapted to your driving style, road conditions or your personal preference through the Drive Performance Control switch that’s standard throughout the range.
The driver can choose between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes which alter the powertrain settings for the style of drive. The test car was the mid-range four cylinder 328i, one of three petrol and two diesel engines, with very useful 245bhp, great torque and around the fastest acceleration in the range. Economy is claimed at around 42mpg but you’d have to be pretty light on your loafers to achieve anything near that. On a range of routes, admittedly with some spirited driving, I found it nearer the mid-30s. It has the standard BMW interior, which is businesslike and perhaps a little conventional but very effective with all the information and controls right at hand.
The test car has a starting on-the-road price of just over £34,000 but in true BMW tradition, they don’t hold back when it comes to adding pricey extras. The media package with Bluetooth, emergency assist and sat-nav adds £1,900 and if you want the head-up display which projects navigation or speed info onto the windscreen, that’ll be another £900. Even the sliding front central armrest has a price tag of £120.
The cream Dakota leather upholstery and cream carpeting comes as standard and looks great but is completely impractical for a muddy Scottish winter – or if you’re unfortunate enough to spill some of that festive red wine.
Car BMW 328 Gran Turismo
Price £34,030 (£45,870 as tested)
Performance Top speed 155mph; 0-62mph 6.1 secs
Economy 42 mpg
CO2 emissions 156 g/km