2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
November 12, 2009

The 2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo hatch-wagon may puzzle some shoppers, but it knows how to entertain on the road and doesn't mind if you bring company.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com drove the new 2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo to bring you this hands-on road test of its capabilities. Editors assigned ratings to each of five areas-styling, performance, comfort, safety, and features-and use those ratings to compare the new BMW with other crossover vehicles. TheCarConnection.com has also compiled a full review that condenses opinions from around the Web into a comprehensive look at the 5-Series Gran Turismo.

High Gear Media accepted travel expenses to attend the first press drive of the 5-Series Gran Turismo.

With the 2010 5-Series Gran Turismo, BMW slices the crossover-wagon-activity vehicle segment into even thinner segments. Technically, it's a wagon, and it's certainly a precursor to a whole new range of 5-Series models. For now, though, the Gran Turismo has more in common mechanically with the BMW X6 and 7-Series than with the current 2010 BMW 5-Series sedan, which is an older platform in its final year of production. Priced from about $45,000, the 5-Series Gran Turismo competes with BMW's own X5 and X6 utes, traditional wagons like the Audi A6 Avant, and the odd outlier or two, such as the 2010 Lincoln MKT.

The striking 5-Series Gran Turismo blends some station-wagon and SUV cues into a shape that's not quite sedan or crossover. In passing, the new GT shares some cues with recent Mazda hatchbacks and the Infiniti M sedans, and it's infused with traditional BMW cues like the twin-grille nose and the "Hoffmeister kink" that links its rear pillar to the car's rear quarters. Though its proportions lean toward those of the BMW X6 sport-ute, the GT sits lower to the ground, and its frameless doors emphasize the long descent of the roofline. Like the X6, it has a thick, tall tail, though here designers visually trim down the rear end's heft with downturned taillamps and chrome details. TheCarConnection.com's editors have warmed to the shape; other expert car reviewers have not. Inside, the 5-Series Gran Turismo's dash and door panels are a great leap ahead of the former 5-Series; it reads more cleanly, thanks to simple metallic trim that delineates control areas into logical groups, as well as plenty of lavish wood and leather that arc and curve to take visual mass out of the cockpit. The gauges are bright and readable, and information and navigation directions are well integrated into LCD readouts placed below the dials. Even with its punctuation mark of a shift lever, the 5-Series Gran Turismo's cabin feels mature, warm, and more upscale than ever.

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As usual, the powertrains are the real stars in this BMW. The 2010 5-Series Gran Turismo lineup in the United States will include the 550i, equipped with BMW's 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8, with 400 horsepower, teamed to the new eight-speed automatic transmission, BMW promises 0-60 mph times of 5.4 seconds and a limited top speed of 130 mph in that edition. Though the 550i GT will be the first to go on sale in late 2009, for this road test, BMW provided GTs equipped with a new 3.0-liter, single-turbo, direct-injection inline-six that arrives in the spring of 2010. It's a further development of the engine found in the X6 and differs from the twin-turbo six in the 3-Series in other ways. BMW says it's the first engine it's built that offers turbocharging, direct injection, and variable valve timing and lift, all of which improve power characteristics and fuel economy. In the 5-Series Gran Turismo, it's easy to accept the claimed 0-60 mph time of 7.0 seconds and a top speed of 130 mph. The engine's flexible and gutsy like the turbo six in the 3-Series and mates seamlessly with the new eight-speed automatic spreading across the BMW lineup. Fuel economy figures haven't been released. The rear-drive Gran Turismo will also add an all-wheel-drive option in mid-2010; in addition, BMW plans to offer a Sport package that tweaks the top-end speed to 150 mph on the V-8 car.

Underpinning the new car is a multilink front and rear suspension, with many components made from aluminum to save weight. Active Steering is an option-it uses electronic sensors to determine steering weight and response-as are electronic shocks, dubbed Dynamic Damping Control. A self-leveling feature is incorporated into the rear suspension. Adaptive roll control puts more pressure on anti-roll bars to stiffen lateral response, and finally, Driving Dynamics Control-familiar from the M3 and 7-Series-lets drivers choose settings for throttle, transmission, steering, and traction control response. In more than 150 miles of driving around metropolitan Lisbon, the various electronic systems give the 5-Series Gran Turismo good ride and handling, with the usual caveats that electronic systems can feel less smooth and overly responsive compared to conventional shocks and steering. The Comfort mode's ride softens considerably without bounding too much on freeways, though steering response slows too far down. The GT's best in Normal mode unless you're attacking seriously challenging roads, where the Sport mode stiffens the car from rolling too deeply into corners, and the steering quickens and stiffens to controllable levels. It's missing the sixth sense that used to link BMW drivers to the road, that seat-of-the-pants feel that electronic controls wipe away completely. But the electronic aids widen the Gran Turismo's driving palette to suit most drivers and do a technologically amazing job of dialing in steering feedback and ride control 95 percent of the time.

The 2010 5-Series GT has a long wheelbase, a flexible rear hatch that opens like a trunk or like a hatchback, a second row of seats that rivals some airline's first-class accommodations, and customizable cargo space. Its slightly elevated seating position in front matches well with comfortable, snug-fitting chairs. The console is narrow enough for driver and front passenger to expand their footprint, and the shoulder and headroom are superb. There's enough space to lift an elbow without hitting the other front-seat passenger. In back, it's even more luxuriant. The second-row seat slides on a track 4 inches to and fro, as passenger and cargo needs change. With the front seats in the rearmost position, the Gran Turismo has as much rear-seat legroom as the 2009 BMW 7-Series, leaving 15.1 cubic feet for luggage in the trunk. With the seat positioned far forward, luggage space increases to 20 cubic feet. The backseats also fold down-nearly but not quite flat-for 58 total cubic feet of stow space, and they can fold individually for split cargo/passenger room so that a backseat passenger can access the trunk space without leaving the car. A bench seat is standard on cars sold in the United States, but the Gran Turismo will have an option for a pair of bucket seats separated by a console, and they look and feel like the best airline seats you'll find. It's easy to enter and exit the GT, too, since the step-in height is closer to that of an SUV than a sedan.

Amping up the 5-Series Gran Turismo's usability is a bifold tailgate and a low loading height for cargo. The tailgate opens as a conventional trunklid or as a large hatch. The rear seats can be powered forward from trunk-mounted buttons, and the angled cargo dividers behind them can be raised to vertical or folded almost flat ahead. There's also a cargo cover that detaches and stows under the cargo floor. In theory and in practice, the flexible cargo hold probably offers more storage options than many crossover vehicles.

The new 5-Series Gran Turismo has plenty of standard safety features, including front, side, and curtain airbags. Also standard are anti-lock brakes; stability and traction control; Brake Standby and Brake Drying, which are said to improve stopping performance; and wheels and tires in 18-, 19-, and 20-inch sizes that can be ordered as run-flat tires. BMW Assist and accident notification hardware are also included. Safety options will also include night vision, a head-up display, rearview and side-view cameras, dynamic cruise control, park distance control, and adaptive headlights with automatic high beams. Of these, the park-distance control may be the most useful feature, since the Gran Turismo feels wide like an SUV on narrow streets. High seating and low step-in height create good visibility to most angles. TheCarConnection.com will reevaluate the Gran Turismo's safety rating when testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is completed.

Among the 5-Series GT's new features are a revamped iDrive system, which TheCarConnection.com's editors have experienced in the 2009 BMW 7-Series. It's improved and far easier to navigate, and redundant buttons make the cabin more pleasant to operate. Also standard on the 550i GT will be a panoramic sunroof. A navigation system is offered, as are a music hard drive and satellite radio. BMW plans to offer a rear-seat entertainment system with twin LCD screens and a luxury rear-seat package with massaging functions built in, as well as heating and ventilation; a premium audio package with USB connectivity; soft-closing doors and a power liftgate; and a cold-weather package. Satellite radio will be offered, along with integration kits for smartphones like the iPhone to control audio and phone functions via the GT's iDrive controller and voice-activation interface.

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