This week, we've been focused laser-like on the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show. Focused, precisely, on the moment we could leave the un-air-conditioned halls and Frankfurt's grey dinge for the Portuguese coast and a tour of Lisbon behind the wheel of the 2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo.
We're just back from the first drive of the "GT," as it's abbreviated on the trunk. And like the silhouette promises, it's not exactly like anything you've seen from BMW before--but there's an awfully familiar feel to it on the road. If you thought it was impossible to slice the crossover segment any thinner, you were wrong: the Gran Turismo sits somewhere between the 5-Series sedan, the Touring station wagon, and the X6 coupe-ute in mission and appeal.
You'll never confuse the 5-Series Gran Turismo for a "true" gran turismo. It's simply too tall and too large to fit the vision of an Italian-style four-seat coupe, or even a tread-shredding American musclecar. In the looser sense, though, it's every bit a grand tourer, with swift reflexes and luxuriant accommodations sized for people grown beyond Garanimals.
The highlights of the Gran Turismo include that long, tapering roofline, more masterfully executed than the sideview on a Benz R-Class, and a rethought cockpit that streamlines ergonomics and BMW's recent tilt to dark, complex dash designs, while it siphons off plenty of the visual clutter and distraction of the older cars in its lineup. Tradition represents inside with wood and leather, but the technology's integrated better into the Gran Turismo's style, with a lump or two left to digest (the Tron-style shift lever and the iDrive controller are like seldom-used punctuation marks; you notice them before you comprehend).
Then, of course, there's the expected joys of a good BMW drivetrain. Here, it's a revamped single-turbo six with identical output to the 3-Series' twin-turbo engine, and a new eight-speed automatic without paddles to shift but with joystick control through the gears. A 400-horsepower twin-turbo V-8's actually the first to arrive in the U.S. later this year, with the six and optional all-wheel drive due by spring of next year.
A brisk lap of national parks near Lisbon went too quickly to soak up all the turquoise scenery, but it did remind us that of all the cars with drive systems assimilated by the Borg, BMWs have fared the best. Digitized steering and suspension control in the Gran Turismo swing from "comfort" mode to "sport plus" with some natural progression, though the steering slows down considerably when you dampen the car's handling ambition. It feels appropriately BMW, even if it's not quintessentially BMW.
And for the Gran Turismo's reason for existence, we're a fast fan of the limo-like rear seats and the flexible cargo area. Fitted with two rear seats and a console, the 5-Series GT does a convincing impression of a first-class cabin, depending on the airlines you frequent. The seats can be reclined, heated, ventilated, and stimulated with massaging functions. When they fold forward, panels that separate passengers from cargo can be opened for quick and easy access to luggage or, maybe, a box of Cinnamon Life on its way home from the grocery store. From another angle, the Gran Turismo lets you load in cargo through a trunk-like opening, or open the whole tailgate to expose a package shelf and seatback that both move and move out of the way when Costco gets too tempting. There are elements of crossover vehicles here, to be sure--just wrapped in a much more elegant bow.