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Published: 03/14/2013 - by Richard Bremner, Correspondent
Space. You get a surprising amount of it in the 2014 BMW 3 Series GT. Especially in the rear seat and the trunk. Unless you're familiar with riding in the back of BMW's biggest machines, you'll be shocked at how much room there is in this new hatchback.
And if there are three in back, they'll make the surprise discovery that the arrangement can be tolerated for more than half an hour without inducing grunts of complaint.
This is a car born from a deep dive into the desires of 3 Series buyers. Those desires include more room and the raised seating that SUVs provide, which is why this car is unusual for being a taller sports hatch with no direct rivals in the premium segment.
It's Roomier Because It's Bigger
The reason the GT has so much extra space inside is quite simple. It's bigger. Compared to the 3 Series sedan, the GT has a 4-inch-longer wheelbase, stands 3 inches taller and stretches out 8 inches longer overall. It's also half an inch wider and has wider tracks, too.
You sit more than 2 inches higher in the GT compared to the sedan, and not surprisingly, the GT's center of gravity has been raised as well. Although GT and sedan share the same front bulkhead and floor, all of the GT's exterior panels differ.
The body has been strategically reinforced to optimize the suspension's compatibility with this five-door structure, and there's an extra link locating the rear axle to the shell. Happily, this work has produced an ideal 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, too.
A Sharp-Handling Hatchback
And you can feel this balance on the road. The 335i arcs into bends with a confident zeal that's heightened by our car's optional sport steering gear and its quicker-acting rack. Even with the adaptive dampers at their softest setting, the GT's body control is kept well in check.
Our test 2014 BMW 335i GT's optional 19-inch rims, which do a great job of filling out its arches, doubtless heighten this agility, which steps up a notch when you engage Sport via the rocker on the center console. It stirs the engine and gearbox to greater efforts, even though they hardly felt lazy in the standard setting.
The turbocharged straight-6 revs with an even, eager urge that climbs unabated to 7,000 rpm before upshifting, and with a smooth-pumping beat that makes you want to do it all again. This engine isn't quite the electrically smooth revver that Munich sixes have been in the past, as there's too much of a mildly coarse roar for that, but it's tuneful enough to make you want it over a four, and it's plenty quick. BMW claims a 0-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds and a 155-mph top speed.
And the chassis is good enough to encourage such wanton behavior. Tight damping, strong body composure and fine chassis balance make this a car you'll enjoy swooping about in, even if your passengers might not thank you.
There are some blemishes in the GT's behavior, though, both of them ride-related. Sharp-edged lumps generate loud thumps in the cabin that are a bit unexpected. Crests can be its undoing, too, as the suspension sometimes sends the car into a curious vertical bounce that's particularly emphatic at the rear. All of which is a surprise, since the 3 Series sedan suffers neither of these issues.
Loads of Convenience
This is a 3 Series for families, and families that need more room than even a 5 Series sedan can offer. And not only is it roomy, but the 3 Series GT is versatile, too. The 40/20/40-split backrest can be adjusted through 15 positions to allow for varying degrees of cargo room, while the trunk floor covers a deep, partitioned well with additional storage. There are also aluminum runners for the securing of loads, while further inspection of the trunk turns up shopping hooks, lashing eyes, elastic load ties and a power point.
The rear seat drops at the tug of a lever, too, although it doesn't quite fold flat. Seats up, it provides 18.3 cubic feet of cargo room, while it opens up to 56.5 cubic feet of space with the seats folded (including the underfloor space). The rear hatch opens wide for easy loading of cargo and it will do so with the swipe of your foot under the bumper provided you have the key in your pocket.
Aside from the novelty of space, the GT's cabin is stock 3 Series. That means a convenient, well-made but architecturally fussy fascia along with comfortable seats and the option of a Harman Kardon stereo of striking clarity. Detail GT design features that might please include frameless doors, a levitating tailgate spoiler and vents in the front fenders that are actually functional, exhausting brake cooling air from the wheel housings. Less clever, however, is the absence of a rear wiper.
The GT goes on sale in the U.S. this September. The base 328i gets BMW's latest 2.0-liter turbocharged engine while the 335i model represents the top of the range. All-wheel-drive versions will also be available, along with Sport, Luxury, Modern and M Sport trims.
Prices have yet to be announced but are expected to start at around $36,000. The GT is not quite as well rounded a car as the 3 Series sedan on the road, but there's no denying its hugely improved versatility. And though it has its dynamic flaws, it remains an entertaining drive.
Will it take a significant bite out of 3 Series sedan sales? We wouldn't bet against it. Although many 3 Series buyers count themselves squarely in the enthusiast camp, the price of BMW's most popular model puts it in a demographic that needs space for a family. The 2014 BMW 3 Series GT fills that space quite nicely and does so in a way that is not likely to be objectionable to anyone looking to have it both ways.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.