7 Series space and X5 practicality sounds like a winning combination but can the 5 Series Gran Turismo deliver? Jonathan Crouch tries the now pokier 530d GT to find out.
Ten Second Review
Bringing together the qualities of a big saloon car and a luxury SUV, the 530d GT is an interesting option for buyers who have found that neither category of car has quite fulfilled their needs. Predictably well-engineered and with a nice line in practicality, the car isn't the most attractive thing to look at and can only seat four comfortably but the strong and now more powerful diesel engine works a treat with the eight-speed automatic gearbox.
BMW has enjoyed success with its 5 Series and 7 Series saloons and with its X5 4x4 so logically, there must be a market for a curious amalgamation of all three. It's only speculation, but that could have been how the thinking went in Munich's corridors of power when the scheme for the 5 Series GT was being hatched. As far as we can fathom, the 5 Series Gran Turismo, to give it its proper title, is a luxury executive hatchback with mild SUV tendencies. If that sounds like the car you've dreamed about all these years, or you're just curious, you'll want to know how we got on in the recently improved 530d GT model. The Gran Turismo or GT billing for this 5 Series is slightly misleading in that they're widely employed by other car manufacturers but usually on overtly sporting cars. The classic Gran Turismo vehicle is the big powerful sports car capable of crossing continents at speed, in comfort and impressing the locals when you arrived. Bentley's Continental GT, Maserati's GranTurismo, the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorino - these are what we tend to think of as GT cars but the 5 Series GT is rather more about practicality than panache. In 530d guise, it looks a consummate all-rounder but how does it shape up in the real world?
There are some great engines in the BMW portfolio and even this 5 Series GT model's volume diesel unit is a cracker. The 530d GT is powered by the brand's seemingly ever-present 3.0-litre common-rail turbo diesel. Here, it's generating 258bhp, 13bhp more than before and enough to take the big GT through 60mph in under seven seconds before locking horns with the laws of physics at 149mph. The engine is extremely smooth as you surf around on the vast 560Nm wave of torque and the eight-speed automatic gearbox eases almost imperceptibly between the ratios. There's some noise from the suspension and the road but the engine keeps its council remarkably well, only rising to distant roar when the throttle is given a determined prod. The GT features Dynamic Drive Control as standard. It's a system which adjust the settings of the gearbox, throttle, steering and dampers according to the mode selected by the driver. There are Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ settings to get to grips with and they do have a significant impact on the way the GT feels on the road. What they can't do is turn the substantial 5 Series GT into a sportscar. The driver is sat in an elevated seating position somewhere between that of a conventional saloon and an SUV. It affords a good view out of the front but can't do much at the rear where the small angled screen and thick C-pillars seriously restrict your field of vision. The GT produces a comfortable ride on good surfaces and lets you know that the road has deteriorated when it does. It can't equal the ride quality of BMW's saloon cars and it's the same in the handling department where there's more body roll than would be ideal. Well weighted steering and brakes with plenty of feel add to the experience but the car still feels closer to a large but well-balanced SUV than a sporty saloon car on the road.
Design and Build
Much of the exterior styling effort has gone into disguising the inherent bulk of the 5 Series GT but despite the frameless side windows and the plunging roofline at the rear, it still looks a serious piece of metal. The bulbous bodywork dwarfs the wheels from some angles and it stops the GT appearing particularly elegant or sporty - like a less aggressive X6 on 15" rolling stock. The benefit of the Gran Turismo's substantial dimensions is felt inside where despite the elevated seating position, headroom is on a par with that of the X5 and rear passenger space compares to that in the 7 Series. There's the option of a two separate seats in the rear but a three-seater bench comes as standard and on the three-seater models, the middle berth is very narrow. There's also a wide transmission tunnel restricting legroom and the sculpted ceiling impinging on space overhead. This takes a big bite of the GT's practicality. The boot capacity of 440-litres isn't vast for a car this big but it can be extended to a huge 1,700 litres by folding the rear seats down. It's accessed through the Gran Turismo's trademark two-piece tailgate which can open like the boot of a conventional saloon when you want to load small items and avoid exposing the cabin to the elements, or as a full hatchback when big objects need to be heaved inside. General build quality impresses and BMW appears to be getting to grips with its iDrive menu-driven control system. The version in the GT is more intuitive to use and the huge central display screen is impressively clear.
Market and Model
The 530d GT is one of the more affordable ways to get into a 5 Series GT but you'll still need well over £45,000. It's offered in SE trim or with M Sport spec for £3,300 more. The standard specification is pretty swish. A full length panoramic sunroof, four-zone climate control, full leather and heated front seats are all included. The 530d GT is the most popular model in this Gran Turismo line-up. Buyers, we're told, are those who want the practicality of an SUV without the ostentation and those seeking limousine luxury in a sleeker package. BMW is also hoping to make headway with those customers who just want something a bit different and the Gran Turismo does appear to offer that.
Cost of Ownership
The 530d GT can eek out an excellent 48.7mpg on the combined cycle with 153g/km emissions, which explains why it's the biggest seller. The petrol alternatives struggle to break 30mpg so you pay quite a price for the extra performance that a car like the 5 Series GT doesn't really encourage you to use. EfficientDynamics rears its environmentally friendly head in every new BMW these days. It's BMW's name for a collection of modifications designed to enhance efficiency without ruining the car's dynamics. The 5 Series GT has brake energy regeneration which charges the battery with energy recovered during braking and active aerodynamics which close off the grille to improve airflow over the car at speed.
Is there no limit to BMW's ambition? Recent years have seen the marque expanding its model range into all possible sectors of the car market and quite a few improbable ones as well. Excellently engineered though it is, the 5 Series GT doesn't appear to be a car that buyers of executive saloons and luxury SUVs were crying out for. A cross between the two schools of vehicle design, it's an unusual blend but one that may be exactly what a very small number of buyers want. The 530d GT is definitely the model to go for with its effortless performance and modest running costs. It's hard to make a case for the more powerful petrol models in the 5 Series GT range, especially in a car that never really encourages you to use the performance it has. The smooth, torquey diesel seems a fine match for this big, practical BMW that isn't quite sure what it wants to be.