First drive: 2010 BMW 535i GT

It's got a lot going for it, but is the GT really a 5-Series?

by on Sep.14, 2009

It may not be a classic 5-er, but there's a lot to like about the 2010 BMW 535i GT, says reviewer Henny Hemmes.

It may not be a classic 5-er, but there's a lot to like about the 2010 BMW 535i GT, says our European reviewer Henny Hemmes.

How do you define a hit in today’s automotive market?  Take BMW, which once limited its offerings to a handful of sedans, coupes and convertibles.  These days, the Bavarians offer an alphabet soup of offerings, with still more models on the way – notably including the 2010 BMW 535i GT.

Does it have the ‘Freude am Fahren,’ the joy of driving, qualities to become a hit in its own small niche segment?

In 2000, when BMW introduced the X5, there was some figuring out to do about the real character of the marque’s first crossover. It was referred to as a Sports Activity Vehicle, as the X5 put the emphasis on sport, rather than utility. Last year’s launch of the huge X6 only blurred the lines between car, truck and crossover even more.

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Now comes the GT, a 4-door coupe.  Or is it a crossover?  Or perhaps something else entirely.  After spending some time behind the wheel, during a drive through Portugal, one thing did become clear: The 5 Series GT is not a classic 5-Series, at all — but I’ll come back to that issue later.

The 2010 BMW 535i GT is not quite coupe, not quite crossover.

The 2010 BMW 535i GT is not quite coupe, not quite crossover, but creates its own unique niche.

One decision we certainly can appreciate.  Anders Warming, design chief of the BMW division, said that soon that after the idea for a four-door hatchback was born, it was agreed the car should offer rear passengers the same head room as the 7 Series and the same head room as the X5.  Anyone who has been stuck in the back seat of a Mercedes-Benz CLS will clearly appreciate that.

Designer Warming says, “We literally designed the 5 Series GT from the inside out,” putting an emphasis on what he dubbed a “variable” interior.  Resulting in a larger, taller shape, that’s one of the reasons the new model is not a true 5-Series.

The front seats are more ute-like, which makes it easy to climb in and out.  The high roof and special roof liner deliver plenty of head space in the rear.  Meanwhile, those back seats can be moved, individually, fore or aft by as much as four inches.  There’s also plenty of cargo space – 20.7 cubic feet, or a third more than the classic 5-Series.  And if you fold down the back seats, luggage capacity nearly triples, to 59.5 cf.

The tailgate on the 2010 BMW 535i GT can be operated several ways, depending on how much cargo you need to load.

The tailgate on the 2010 BMW 535i GT can be operated several ways, depending on how much cargo you need to load.

One of the GT’s more intriguing design features is a two-piece tailgate, which offers the ability to open the large hatch back (by remote), or to lift the small lid beneath the rear window for easy loading of smaller pieces of cargo. BMW actually isn’t the first to come up with this idea, as Skoda introduced it for the Superb, but the Bavarians certainly did a thorough job to match the system to the premium standards of the 5 GT.

Functionality has a trade off.  The overall look of the new GT is not as sleek and low as true Gran Turismos such as the Aston Martin Rapide and Porsche Panamera.  Notwithstanding its serious height, however, the 5 GT is a remarkable vehicle with an elegant feel that is likely to create a niche of its own in an increasingly fragmented market.

In Lisbon, we got the opportunity to drive two models of the GT, the 530d, with the 245 horsepower 3.0-liter diesel engine; and the 535i, equipped with a new 306 hp 3.0-liter motor. It is the first I-6 gasoline power plant with a combination of direct injection and a TwinPower Turbo, and also incorporates Valvetronic. The US market will get the 535i and 550i with the 400 hp V-8 power plant now found in the X6 and 7 Series.

All engines are teamed to the ZF 8-speed automatic transmission that can also be shifted manually and that was introduced in the 760i this summer. It works perfectly well with both engines and shifts effortlessly and all but invisibly.

I drove both models and was impressed by the performance of the new gasoline I-6. Its torque is available over a broad range of RPMs and it reacts willingly to any input at the throttle.  The GT with its I-6 will turn a reasonably aggressive 6.3 second from 0 to 60, and a top speed of 155 mph.  Using the European test cycle, we saw a solid 26 mpg, overall, though that will likely drop, a bit, when using the U.S. test measurements.

The 2010 BMW 535i GT features a well-appointed cabin, including a huge, 10-inch video display and a revised iDrive system.

The 2010 BMW 535i GT features a well-appointed cabin, including a huge, 10-inch video display and a revised iDrive system.

In both models the interior noise is of a low level, only the frameless side windows generate a bit of wind noise.

It’s natural to enjoy the sporty nature of both the diesel and petrol powertrains. But it’s absolutely easy to ease back and act like a real tourist and enjoy the view of the Portuguese coast, near Sintra.

Drivers who are used to SUVs will like the somewhat higher seating position, but the feel you get is of a real BMW. From the thankfully updated iDrive system, with the optional 10.2-inch screen, that debuted in the new 7 Series, to the look and feel of the interior’s materials.

The models I drove were loaded with all possible options, including 19-inch wheels, that definitely look better on the GT than the standard 18-inch ones. We would even opt for the big 20-inch versions, despite the slight potential impact on ride.

Designers put a premium on functionality and flexibility with the 2010 BMW 535i GT, and provided a useful rear seat.

Designers put a premium on functionality and flexibility with the 2010 BMW 535i GT, and provided a useful rear seat.

The concept for the 5 GT was unveiled as the Progressive Activity Sedan at the Geneva Motor Show, last March, and the production version will debut at the IAA in Frankfurt next week.

In my own country, where BMW Netherlands started giving potential buyers a sneak peek, several months ago, the back has been excellent, with a company source insisting that the Dutch allocation, for the coming months, is already sold out.  BMW insists its goal is to attract new buyers, though there’s a very good chance the Gran Turismo will wind up cannibalizing existing models, from the 5-Series sedan to the X5 and X6.

Officially, both the 535i and 530d will arrive at European dealerships on October 24, while the 550i with the V-8 is slated for early next year. The GT 550i will arrive in the North American market in December with the 535i following, in March.

The cargo compartment on the 2010 BMW 535i GT is a third bigger than that of a conventional 5-Series sedan, and can be tripled with both rear seats folded down.

The cargo compartment on the 2010 BMW 535i GT is a third bigger than that of a conventional 5-Series sedan, and can be tripled with both of the rear seats folded down.

While the GT won’t easily fit into a traditional product segment, we expect it to develop its own niche following.

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