Not all that long ago buying a BMW was a simple matter, your options were limited to the 3-, 5- or 7-Series, with a handful of body styles and power train options you could count on both hands. These days, though, you need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the Bavarian maker's offerings, from the Z4 and 6-Series to the various X-bodied "sports-activity vehicles." Now comes the new 5-Series Gran Turismo-which raises a fundamental question: What is it?
This latest offering from Bayerische Motoren Werke, doesn't readily fall into any easy category. It's not quite a car, but certainly not a truck. We're not even sure if it fits into the nebulous column called crossover. What we do know after spending several days whipping the big, yet surprisingly nimble, four-door through the Swiss Alps, is that whatever you want to call it, the 5-Series Gran Turismo is a lot of fun to drive.
Following a winding trail from Munich to Geneva, we clocked just enough time on the open Autobahn to be inspired by the raw power of the 550i Gran Turismo's 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8. Making 440 horsepower, it dominated the road, easily cruising anywhere from 125 to 150 mph. That engine, by the way, is borrowed from the latest-generation BMW 750i, as is the underlying platform of the new Gran Turismo, which explains both the luxurious feel and cavernous interior of the new offering.
On narrow Swiss hillsides, the 5GT is as big a car as you'd want, but despite its bulk it proved as sure as a mountain goat, unperturbed even when a flurry began to turn the pavement white. Some credit goes to the Active Steering option, which not only varies the steering ratio of the front wheels but also turns the rear wheels up to three degrees.
The Grand Turismo is something of a "tweener," its seats mounted about two inches higher than a conventional 5-Series sedan, yet about five inches lower than the X5 crossover. That makes it easy to slide into the new offering, rather than dropping into your seat, as with a conventional BMW sedan. We'd like to say it also improves your visibility- but we can't. The biggest drawback to the 550i Gran Turismo is the limited sight lines provided by the steeply-ranked rear hatch.
On the other hand, the hatchback layout does provide plenty of room for cargo, and here BMW has come up with an interesting layout, with a removable parcel shelf that provides more flexibility than either a conventional trunk or sport-ute design. (You can tuck the shelf away, rather than having to leave it behind, by the way.)
The 5GT's unusual design isn't for everybody, and we expect that some potential customers will stick with what they know and understand-either the 5-Series sedan or X5 SAV. Too bad. Once again, BMW has shown a willingness to go its own way with an innovative offering that's worth a closer look.