On the Road Review: BMW 335i GT

BMW’s 3-series has become the established gold standard for the entry-level/compact size premium sedan class. Audi’s A4 is a close second, but does not have the model variations or the market penetration in America that BMW has. Mercedes’ new CLA hopes to better challenge the 3-series, Lexus continues to seek the model(s) that can earn the same cache as the 3-series, while Cadillac is turning the corner but has a long ways to go. The others? They get the crumbs.

{gallery}bmw-0324{/gallery} And their tasks will get harder now, as the 2014 3-series continues to improve, add models and further define what buyers want in this class. BMW adds an Active Hybrid 3-series this year plus a new four-cylinder diesel option that gets the best mileage of ANY premium small sedan. The coupe and convertible models have been split into their own 4-series lineup, plus BMW has added the five-door GT variations to the 3-series lineup — supplementing the traditional 3-series wagon and the X3 crossover with one more choice for discerning buyers.

The five-door GT comes in two models. The 328i GT uses the lineup’s new 2.0-liter 240-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine for power, while the 335i GT utilizes the brand’s stout 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder, making 300-hp. Both are backed up by an eight-speed automatic transmission and both models are available with BMW’s X-drive all-wheel drive hardware, as shown here.

The model proliferation for BMW’s 3-series has not been without controversy. Some critics have been vocal about the subtle manners in which the 3-series has lost its crisp edge in performance, letting rivals close the gap. The sales numbers say otherwise, as the 3-series has widened the space between itself and other class competitors. BMW also has wisely created alternative models — like our GT this week — that complement the characteristics of the base sedan with numerous optional layouts that give buyers myriad opportunities to take advantage of the car’s inherent virtues. From coupes, convertibles, sedans, hatchbacks, wagons and crossover models, to gas, hybrid and diesel power, BMW has got every base covered with the 3-series.

Hatchback sedans are a uniquely German philosophy right now; none of the American or Asian luxury brands are building these five-door designs. Audi’s stellar A7 has been the most successful, while BMW created the 5-series GT two years ago. It only makes sense that the top-selling 3-series lineup would get a GT model this year.

BMW has stretched the 3-series sedan fractionally in every direction to create the GT. Length is up to 190 inches while the wheelbase grows to 115 inches — pushing this 3-series close to midsize. Of course, weight also is increased; to just over 4,000 pounds here, about 300 pounds more than a conventional 335 sedan. Fortunately, there is not a discernable level of sacrifice in the car’s inherent ride and drive dynamics.

The big gain is certainly the cargo versatility of the hatchback body. Rear seat spacing is actually more comfortable in the GT — with multi-positional seatbacks. Lower those seatbacks and cargo room triples, jumping from 18 cubic feet to 57 cubic feet with the space for odd-sized articles that would never fit in the 3-series sedan. Aided by a power liftgate, the GT also has an underfloor compartment with a gas-strut lid, plus moveable D-rings embedded in the cargo deck for cargo retention. Lift-over access is very convenient.

Passenger access also is enhanced with the GT as the hip-point of the car is slightly higher than the sedan.

BMW now offers five different gas and diesel engines for the 3-series; GT models will currently use only the 2.0-liter turbo-four (240-hp), or, the 300-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six. An eight-speed automatic backs each, while the X-drive all-wheel system is optional. It seems inevitable that the two diesel engine variants will soon be available for both GT models, seeing as how the new 2.0-liter diesel earned EPA highway estimates of 45 mpg in the 3-series sedan — much greater efficiency than even the Active Hybrid powertrain.

Our handsome Estoril Blue 335i GT has strong curb appeal backed up by above average driving dynamics. LED-trimmed running lamps capture your eye when meeting the GT, while brilliant xenon headlamps burn huge holes in the nocturnal darkness and make this driving much more relaxed and safe. The hatchback body does not detract from the 3-series’ stance, although road-burners need to know that the electronic rear spoiler deploys at exactly 70-mph, leaving a telltale notice of your velocity until your speed is much slower.

BMW’s engines are either underrated for performance, or just that much better than their rivals. Our turbocharged six was smooth; it delivered lineal thrust at all engine speeds, quickly responding to any throttle positions with aplomb. Snowy road conditions did not impede progress, the X-drive system working superbly, while my end-of-week fuel economy average was a surprising 27 mpg given the vigor with which the BMW and I traveled together. EPA estimates are 21/28-mpg for the 335i GT, on suggested premium fuel.

Using these strong performing engines in a chassis that delivers such composed balance has become a BMW hallmark. Ride suppleness and handling accuracy were evident in the GT no matter how winter-corrupted the surface, how rutted the road. Driver control and driver confidence go hand-in-hand here, so rest assured that you sacrifice little if anything by adding the convenience of a hatchback to your 3-series sedan.

Inside, BMW gives buyers a roomy, comfortable work space. I especially appreciate the manually extendable thigh supports on the sport seats, the rotary adjustable headrests, plus the overall ergonomics of the cabin. The GT offers an expansive dual-panel sunroof to increase the airiness of the cabin, plus the legroom for tall drivers. The thick-rimmed leather steering wheel, appropriately heated here, lends itself to being a natural extension of your arms — accurately in your command and control. And, BMW’s console-mounted MMI control knob is simpler to use than most, reducing driver frustration.

Atop the dash, the optional NAV screen is a large unit that offers great detail. When not in nav mode, information is readily available for audio, climate, etc., functions that have traditional push-buttons and knobs below. Our GT also featured BMW’s heads-up display screen on the base of the windshield.

It was surprising to not have a rear wiper working to clear such a large piece of glass in the hatchback, while a rear view camera also is an omission unless you opt for an additional $950 package. BMW offers a lot of standard fare, but earns heavy margins by creating option packages that quickly pad the retail price.

A 328i GT with the 240-horse motor starts at $42,375, including X-drive. Our 335i GT with X-drive started at $47,775. Start clicking on the option boxes, $950 for cold weather package, $1,000 for M-package, $2,200 for premium comfort, $3,150 for technology with NAV, heads-up, BMW apps, more, $900 for the xenon headlamps, $1,900 for the driver assist safety programs, and the suggested retail price approaches $60,000.

The GT’s headlamps are stellar, the driving dynamics superb, the versatility of the hatchback incredibly obvious, and the turbo-six delivers a splendid blend of performance and economy. The BMW’s front seats were all-day supportive, the rear seats adult-friendly, and the car’s styling distinguishes it from the common premium sedan. Unlike the visually challenged Honda Crosstour, the BMW GT is an integrated package that enhances the 3-series lineup rather than detracting from it.

Two thumbs up for the 3-series GT.

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Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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