Review and road test of the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo [F34] (2013 - 2020)
MORE 3 STYLING
By Jonathan Crouch
In rare Gran Turismo hatch form, BMW's sixth generation 3 Series offered five-door hatchback versatility and much more rear seat space, along with a more unique look and a slightly raised Crossover-style feel. The extra height and weight these changes brought created a different kind of drive with this 'F34'-series model, but families looking for a compact hatch with a premium badge from the 2013-2019 period might not mind that. This, after all, was at launch the most practical compact model the Munich maker had ever brought us.
5dr Hatch (318i, 320i, 328i, 330i, 340i / 318d, 320d, 330d, 335d) [SE, Sport, Modern, Luxury, M Sport]
So, you like the idea of a BMW 3 Series saloon, ideally the sixth generation 'F30'-series model, but it's not big enough in the boot. You like the idea of a 3 Series Touring estate from this period, but it isn't roomy enough for those in the rear. You also like the idea of the 3 Series-based X1 crossover model, but it's not sharp enough to drive. At least we've established you want a 3 Series - possibly this one, the 3 Series GT - or 'Gran Turismo'.
This rare 'F34' model, a 3 Series with a hatchback, was launched in the Summer of 2013 aimed at better-heeled families. Folk wanting a BMW with the higher stance and commanding driving position of a small crossover, but one they could still enjoy driving. And a compact car that wouldn't perhaps feel too much like one after stretching out inside it. Such was the rationale behind this, Munich's smallest Gran Turismo model.
A bit of a niche product? Yes, but one you could see appealing to plenty of people. Packaged up neatly here are attributes that BMW claim to have carefully pitched to suit the Qashqai crowd, the station wagon set and people for whom perfection is a compact executive saloon. A car for all seasons and all reasons then? Or a compromise best forgotten? Well it didn't sell too well - despite a facelift in mid-2016. So the 3 Series GT wasn't replaced when production of the sixth generation 3 Series range ended.
What You Get
Here was a Gran Turismo BMW model you could actually call stylish. Few would say that of the originator of this line, the 5 Series Gran Turismo, with its awkwardly bloated body. In this case, the extra size necessary to create this car was more artfully accommodated into a shape that had as much SUV and MPV-ness about it as it did conventional family hatch. In other words, this GT has a bit more about it than your local sales rep's Passat or Insignia. Just as it should have for the money being asked.
The arcing silhouette and elongated tail see it sitting 81mm taller than an ordinary KM6 'F30' 3 Series model from this period and of course it's longer, even than the Touring estate. At the front, subtle changes offer a slightly different visual signature: the forward-slanting kidney grille, the reshaped headlamps, the more smoothly contoured bonnet and the so-called 'blades' set into the outer air intakes of the front apron. Moving back, you come across lovely boomerang-shaped 'Air Breathers' behind each front wheel arch: they have a purpose - drag reduction - but you wouldn't really care if they didn't. A car of this kind needs styling trinketry.
Like the first active rear spoiler ever fitted to a BMW. Follow the double shoulder lines back and the coupe-style roofline sweeps down into it, an intricate touch to a tail section completed by the customary L-shaped tail lamps that blend around the corners of the car. Overall, it's a very nice piece of penmanship. So heavy is the tailgate that BMW had to standardise electric operation across the Gran Turismo range. Once raised, the hatch reveals a commodious 520-litre space (25-litres more than you get in the Touring and more too than you'd get in most comparable Crossover and small SUV models). And if you need more space, well of course you can flatten the 40:20:40 split-folding rear backrest - but before you do, bear in mind its adjustable reclinability. Pushing it's angle forward (it'll go right the way to a vertical position) could be just enough to help you get that pesky chest of drawers in while still being able to take passengers on the back seat. When you do finally push forward the rear chairs, it's a bit disappointing that because the backrest merely flops onto the seat base, they don't fold completely flat. They do however, extend total carriage capacity to 1600-litres, 100-litres more than 3 Series Touring.
So much for the packages. What about provision for people? Well this is where the critics who simply dismiss this as 3 Series with a hatch have failed to do their homework. BMW did more than just shove in a slanting tailgate here, redesigning the floorplan of this car around a wheelbase 110mm longer than that of the saloon. And nearly all of it benefits rear seat occupants. Many might feel cramped in the back of an ordinary 'F30'-generation 3 Series saloon or Touring model. Here it's very different, with proper space for three and leg and headroom to spare, even if you happen to be stuck in the centre perch with feet astride the transmission tunnel.
We think it's roomier than a 5 Series at the back, which isn't surprising given a wheelbase similar to that of BMW's huge X5 luxury SUV. Of course the over-riding feeling of comfort is helped by that reclining backrest, adjustable through 15 stages and 19-degrees. There's an airy feel to the cabin too, with plenty of light from the frameless windows, even if you don't choose a car fitted with the expensive panoramic glass sunroof.
Take a seat up-front and another reason why the back seat experience is so pleasant dawns upon you. All the seats in this car have been raised by 59mm to give everyone a better view out and it's something you especially notice behind the wheel where in a GT, you oversee the controls rather than sitting snugly around them. Perhaps this change is all the more obvious because there are no other differences over an ordinary 'F30'-generation 3 Series. Not that there needed to be. The dashboard remains a model of driver-focused clarity, with crystal clear circular instruments, a freestanding iDrive monitor and the iDrive infotainment system controller within easy reach on the centre console.
What to Look For
Our owner survey did reveal many satisfied users of this car but inevitably, there were a few issues reported. Obviously, a fully-stamped service history is vital. This car uses complex engines and only regular and appropriate maintenance will see them go the distance. Common 3 Series GT problems include failure of the blower final stage fan resistor, worn brushings in the front suspension, coolant leaks in the water pump, engine oil leaks, coolant loss from expansion tank leaks, coolant leaking from the radiator and leaky power steering hoses.
In our ownership survey, one owner had tailgate issues (spoiler getting jammed) and electric problems (TPM sensor blew twice). Another owner had problems with the Tyre pressure monitoring system and Pedestrian Protection System. The biggest problems were reserved for an owner who had the alternator replaced at 60,000 miles, along with few other problems - fan belt issues, then constantly engine management light issues. These led to the DPF filter being changed multiple times, the EGR valve being changed multiple times and the sensors (coolers etc) being replaced multiple times. Plus the turbo was replaced as it damaged engine components. The steering rack was also replaced, plus the owner had a coolant leak, an oil leak and had the drivetrain replaced. In other words, if you get a bad 3 Series GT, you really get a bad one. If on your test drive, the engine management light flickers, then these kinds of issues might be imminent, so stay well clear. Otherwise, it's just the usual things. Look for signs of child interior damage and check the alloys for scratches and scuffs.
[based on a 2015 model 320d diesel auto] Parts prices for a 3 Series GT 320d from this period can be reasonable if you shop around. We trawled around the internet and found these: An air filter costs around £56. An oil filter is in the £29 bracket. A fuel filter is in the £43 bracket. Front brake discs cost in the £98-£140 bracket, though pricier brands can cost in the £350-£420 bracket. Rear brake discs cost in the £65-£170 bracket, though pricier brands can cost in the £350 bracket. Front brake pads sit in the £84-£97 for a set. A set of rear pads is around £57-£158. A starter motor is around £88. A radiator costs in the £123-£220 bracket.
On the Road
So. Just how will this GT drive? It's hard to think of any car ever sold whose driving dynamics were improved by making it longer, higher and heavier. So there's reasonable scope to fear that the traditionally magnificent 3 Series driving dynamics may have been irrevocably corrupted here by a higher centre of gravity - you sit as high up as you would in BMW's X1 SUV - and a 145kg weight penalty over the saloon model. In the event, we didn't think the men from Munich did too badly. Crucially, at the wheel of this thing, you know still know you're driving a 3 Series: just a rather different one.
Let's start with what you don't get. The cornering turn-in isn't as sharp as a saloon or Touring '3'; and, as you'd expect with the higher ride height, there's a bit more roll through the corners. The motoring press, who demand their 3 Series models to be razor-sharp in response, didn't like this at all, but let's bear in mind that this is a 3 Series for families, not Fernando Alonso. In any case, BMW clearly worked very hard to try and limit the downsides to this design, even going as far as fitting wider tyres on the back to try and maintain a neutral handling balance. And they engineered this car to accept the option of xDrive 4WD for extra wet weather and cornering traction, though at launch, you could only specify this option on the petrol 320i.
And the ride? A car badged 'Gran Turismo' suggests itself to be able to cover long distances in magic carpet luxury. On paper, this one is hampered from the start, with extra weight that requires more roll stiffness in the chassis and that in turn makes bump absorption more abrupt. With that in mind, try and find a model whose original owner specified the optional M Sport Adaptive damping system which in its standard mode is able to give a real suppleness to the ride, particularly over poor surfaces. Switch it to 'Sport' though and you'll feel every ridge and crack in the road.
In a way, it's a similar story with the steering. The standard Servotronic electrically-assisted set-up is certainly accurate but it doesn't have the driver feedback you'd expect a 3 Series to be able to give you. Or at least it doesn't in its standard form. If you can get a car whose original owner specified the optional Variable Ratio Sport steering set-up, turn-in is more direct. We'd try and find a 3 Series GT fitted with the 8-speed automatic gearbox too, which for us seems to better fit with the whole 'Gran Turismo' ethos better than the standard 6-speed manual.
On to engines, which as expected are exactly the same as those offered on conventional MK6 3 Series models from this period. Most customers will want the 2.0-litre diesel engine, offered in 143, 184 and 218bhp states of tune in the respective 318d, 320d and 325d models on offer. To give you some idea of the performance available, even the base 318d manages the 0-62mph sprint in 9.7s on the way to 130mph, while the 320d improves those figures to 8.0s and 143mph. With 380Nm of torque on tap, that car really feels responsive. But if it's not responsive enough, six cylinder 330d and 335d diesel models were subsequently added to the range, cars that could also be had with 4WD.
What about petrol power? Again, the emphasis is on a single 2.0-litre engine offered in different guises. The 184bhp 320i manages 62mph from rest in 7.9s, while the 245bhp 328i improves that to 6.1s and has to be artificially restrained at 155mph. This was later replaced by a 330i GT model as part of the mid-2016 facelift. We can't really see why you'd want to go faster than that in this car, but for those likely to be seduced by six cylinder power, there's a thirsty twin turbo 3.0-litre 335i model at the top of the range. With 306bhp on tap, this delivers the 62mph sprint in 5.7s. This was later replaced by a 340i GT model as part of the mid-2016 facelift.
All these figures are based on setting up your car in its fastest form, selectable through the 'Sport' and 'Sport+' modes on the standard Drive Performance Control system you operate via a centre console button. This is able to tweak steering feel, throttle response, stability control intervention and, if you've an auto gearbox, gearshift changes based on your preference. Go for a car fitted with the M Sport Adaptive damping and the ride can be adjusted in the same way. If pressing on isn't a priority, you'll just leave it in 'Comfort' mode - or better still in the 'ECO PRO' setting which optimises all of the vehicle's systems towards maximum efficiency.
You can see why BMW had to build this car. With Audi proving the need for a five-door bodyshape in the compact executive segment and key markets like China and the USA proving distinctly lukewarm to estates, back in 2013, a hatchback 3 Series seemed the obvious answer. In contrast to its Ingolstadt rival though, BMW went further than simply adding a rear hatch to its existing saloon model. It tried to do something a bit cleverer than that.
Raising the ride height and giving the car a more commanding Crossover-type feel gave this car wider appeal without too many dynamic downsides. Those who object to the slightly vaguer feel probably shouldn't be buying this model anyway. It is, after all, supposed to be the 3 Series for families.
Ultimately, it all depends what you want. We weren't totally sold on BMW's 'Gran Turismo' concept in 5 Series form but we were rather more convinced by this 3 Series GT. It may not be the 'ultimate driving machine' but then it doesn't have to be. In terms of versatility, for some, this might be the ultimate 3 Series. For many, that'll be all that matters.
BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo [F34] (2013 - 2020) review by Jonathan Crouch