2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo Review

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The Car Connection

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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2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo

Styling

The 2010 BMW 5-Series GT doesn't match its sedan and crossover outfit as well as you might like, but its interior is inviting and appealingly styled.

So...what is it?

The striking 2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo, abbreviated to "GT" on its tailgate, blends some station-wagon and SUV cues into a shape that's not quite sedan or crossover. It's most accurately called a fastback, a vehicle description that's all but lost its meaning since the 1970s. Kelley Blue Book asks the same question, noting, "it's certainly not an SUV," while Motor Trend points out, "to the enthusiast a Gran Turismo is something low and fast and usually made in Italy."

For the sake of argument, TheCarConnection.com calls the GT a wagon, and it's likely the EPA will do the same. That settled, it's not quite attractive to most reviews around the Web, though TCC's editors have warmed to the tall roof. There's a reason for the proportions: "BMW executives decreed it should offer the legroom of a 7-series and the rear headroom of an X5," Car and Driver reports, and "given those two goals, it's no wonder this new model is no classic beauty." Autoblog says, "we wouldn't use the word 'elegant' to describe this vehicle's styling," and Edmunds snipes, "If anyone looks straight on at the rear end of the BMW 5 GT and uses the adjective ‘sexy' or 'handsome,' then we must have changed planets." 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 decrease the rear end's heft with downturned taillamps and chrome details. Kelley Blue Book observes it "lacks any sense of ruggedness or off-road pretense," while also noting it "features a sloping roofline that greatly reduces its functionality compared to a wagon." Edmunds states bluntly, "the full-on rear view is just not pleasing to the eye." Still, reviewers like Kelley Blue Book appreciate the GT more than in photos, asserting it "works better in person than pictures might imply."

Inside, the 5-Series Gran Turismo's dash and door panels are a great leap ahead of the former 5-Series and even the X6; 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 dashboard is a study in horizontal layers that emphasize the interior's width," Autoblog agrees, "and the 5GT has genuinely inspired door panels whose undulating lines flow uninterrupted between the front and rear passenger compartments." In all, "The cabin has an open and airy feel to it," says Kelley Blue Book, and "the interior is beautifully laid out." The gauges are bright and readable, and information and navigation directions are well integrated into LCD readouts placed below the dials. It's "is laid forward to create a feeling of space," observes MSN Autos, adding "the soft-touch, sturdy materials exude quality, and the wood trim looks like wood." 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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2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo

Performance

The 2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo has brilliant powertrains, but its heft and micromanaging electronics dull the typical BMW handling edge.

As usual, the powertrains are the real star 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. Car and Driver says this engine is "capable of moving the mail," though Edmunds remarks "a 4.4-liter V8 in a family car seems like overkill."

Though the 550i GT will be the first to go on sale in late 2009, a 535i GT with new 3.0-liter, single-turbo, direct-injection inline-six arrives in the spring of 2010. It's a "a killer engine; not quite as silky smooth as old-school BMW straight sixes, but packing plenty of punch right off idle," Motor Trend reports. It's also 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. Automobile says it has "strong, linear power across the band and really nice initial acceleration from a stop." So outfitted, the 535i GT will run "from 0 to 62 mph in a claimed 6.3 seconds and on to a governed 155-mph top speed," Motor Trend notes.

The engine mates seamlessly with the new eight-speed automatic spreading across the BMW lineup. It "nimbly surfs the torque, ensuring a smooth, seamless surge of acceleration," Motor Trend remarks, "and keeps revs down to a fuel-sipping 1600 rpm while cruising at 60 mph." MSN Autos contends it "delivers smooth shifts but is sometimes hesitant to downshift for passing," but Autoblog observes "decisive, well-timed gearchanges" and confirms "no manual gearbox is offered."

BMW says the new transmission "offers a 3 to 4 percent fuel-economy savings over a 6-speed," MSN Autos states. Fuel economy figures for the 550i model are "EPA rated at 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway," they add, but 535i GT numbers have not yet been released.

The rear-drive Gran Turismo will add an all-wheel-drive option in mid-2010.

"There's a lot of 7 Series in the 5 Series Gran Turismo," Motor Trend reports. "It uses the same double pivot multi-link front suspension, and lightweight aluminum suspension components." It also shares much of the 7-Series' grafted-on electronic controls for driving systems. There's Active Steering, which "electronically varies the steering ratio and turns the rear wheels up to a maximum of three degrees," Motor Trend explains. It's an option-one all reviewers said they'd skip. "I definitely preferred the regular setup, which was precise, required just the right amount of effort, and made the GT easy to place in a corner," Automobile says. "The Active Steering car, on the other hand, seems to confound any effort to storm through a corner with grace and composure." Car and Driver dislikes it, and Motor Trend "preferred the car with the regular steering, which felt more communicative, more organic than the car with the oddly non-linear active steering."

Electronic shocks, dubbed Dynamic Damping Control, are featured on the GT as well. The system "adjusts the firmness of the shocks from comfortable to sporty," MSN Autos reports. Also installed is Active Roll Stabilization, which "twists the anti-roll bars to firm them up and make cornering flatter," MSN Autos adds.

Finally, there's Driving Dynamics Control-familiar from the M3 and 7-Series-which lets drivers choose settings for throttle, transmission, steering, and traction control response. Comfort mode softens the ride considerably without bounding too much (though Car and Driver thinks it "tends to foster bobbing and swinging motions"), but steering response slows too far down. Normal mode is best unless you're attacking seriously challenging roads-"we'd recommend the middle setting even for daily driving duties," Autoblog says, "as it isn't too firm"-while Sport mode quickens steering and stiffens the ride to controllable levels. "We found Dynamic Drive Control to be a key asset for driving," Edmunds reports. "Leave it all in Sport Plus and you get to 60 mph from a standstill in just 6.3 seconds, and it feels enough like a BMW while doing it."

Handling may not be up to BMW's edgy reputation, but ride quality is good, thanks mostly to the GT's heritage. Kelley Blue Book declares "the vehicle cruises as stably and comfortably as a grand tourer should." While Car and Driver thinks the "driving experience is closer to that of the taller X5 than the regular 5-series," Automobile says nearly the opposite: "in the way it goes down the road, it's very close to a 5-series." Compared with a crossover SUV, the 5 GT feels much more planted. It's slightly smaller, which could explain why Motor Trend thinks the GT feels "more coherent and composed than the new 7 Series on marginal roads."

For some reviewers, the muddled handling comes down to weight. The 5-Series GT "feels very much like a 7-Series, with sharp steering, quick reactions and a supple ride," MSN Autos reports, "but it has too much mass to excel in a slalom or bite into sharp turns." While Automobile expresses surprise at "how light the 535i feels," and Motor Trend calls it "remarkably light on its feet, and remarkably agile through the twisties," most reviews agree with MSN Autos that "at 4,600 to 4,900 pounds, the 5 GT is just too big to be truly sporty." Edmunds asks, "Does it drive like an Ultimate Driving Machine? We cannot wholeheartedly say yes"-and yet, most reviews agree with Motor Trend that "the more we drove the 5GT, the more we liked it. The car shrinks around you on a winding road, yet it has a limo-like feel everywhere else."

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2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo

Comfort & Quality

The 5-Series Gran Turismo's rear seats are a regal place to ride; the flexible cargo area adds weight but offers innovative alternatives to even heavier SUVs.

BMW pitches the Gran Turismo as a car for people with occasional needs for cargo space and more frequent needs to carry adults in first-class accommodations in the back. It succeeds: "It's a genuinely useful piece -- truly luxurious and impressively spacious inside, with astonishingly versatile load carrying capacity," Motor Trend agrees.

The evocative shape wraps around a flexible interior, with a slightly elevated seating position and a second-row seat that slides on a track to change its position by up to 4 inches, as passenger and cargo needs change.  At 196.8 inches long, with a wheelbase of 120.7 inches, the new 5-Series GT's "wheelbase and both track widths are identical to those of the new 7 Series," Motor Trend adds, "but it's three inches shorter overall...and, more critically, just over three inches taller." From the front seats, there's a sense of height that's shared with the X6-the "command" driving position-and a wide range of adjustments to what are already comfortable, well-fitting chairs. The GT "perfectly splits the difference in seat height between BMW's 5 Series Sedan and its X6 SUV," Kelley Blue Book points out, and Edmunds calls the height "perfect for the everyday." Elsewhere, the console is narrow enough for driver and front passenger to expand their footprint, and the shoulder room and headroom are superb.

In back, it's even more luxuriant. "BMW has made the 5 GT's rear environment a first-class experience," Edmunds says, "offering the legroom of a 7 Series and the headroom of an X5." Kelley Blue Book observes the GT has "a supreme feeling of spaciousness." A bench seat is standard on cars sold in the United States, and Motor Trend describes how the "standard rear seat slides 3.9 inches fore-aft, and its backrest, which is spilt 40-20-40 is rake adjustable from 15 to 33 degrees." The Gran Turismo offers an optional pair of bucket seats in back, separated by a console, and they're like the best airline seats you'll find. "For a marque that has prided itself on being the Ultimate Driving Machine," Autoblog wryly asserts, "it's perhaps a bit ironic that the best seat in the 5GT's haus is in the back." Though "you can't control the front passenger seat or huge panoramic sunroof from the rear," as Car and Driver reports, the 5-Series GT almost obsoletes other BMWs. "Unless you simply must have third row seating," Motor Trend advises, "there is absolutely no reason why you'd buy an X5 instead."

Amping up the 5-Series Gran Turismo's usability is a bifold tailgate and a low loading height for cargo. "You can open the lower portion of the liftgate or the entire liftgate itself," Car and Driver explains. 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. With the rear seats up, the GT has 15.1 cubic feet for luggage in the trunk. With the rear seat positioned far forward, luggage space increases to 20 cubic feet. "Fold the rear seats and the bulkhead down, and cargo space expands to 63.6 cubic feet," MSN Autos says, "about the same as a Ford Escape or Jeep Liberty." The seats can fold individually for split cargo/passenger room so that a backseat passenger can access the trunk space without leaving the car. 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. And while the tailgate itself isn't heavy-it's "mostly made of stamped aluminum...so there is no great effort in managing the opening and closing of this showpiece," Edmunds reports-"in the end, it really just adds weight to this already heavy machine," Car and Driver asserts.

Fit and finish in the 5-Series GT is "first rate," Autoblog says. "Superior isolation of wind and road noise from the cargo area" makes it better than an SUV or wagon, contends Kelley Blue Book. Car and Driver remarks "the interior is so quiet you'd never guess you were sitting in something with a huge hatch out back," though they note the "new engine sounds a bit coarse in the midrange."

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2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo

Safety

No crash tests have evaluated the new 5-Series GT, but advanced safety features give it an early edge.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has completed its tests on the BMW 5-Series.

The current BMW 5-Series has a new body structure and 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.

MSN Autos notes a standard "tire-pressure monitor" and "active front head restraints," and says BMW's standard Automatic Hold can "prevent rolling backward on hills."

Car and Driver explains the 5-Series GT's DDC system has a Sport Plus mode for "relaxing the stability control enough to allow drifting."

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, 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, but Autoblog takes issues with the "mail slot of a rear window," and suggests you "plan on becoming BFF with the excellent backup camera."

TheCarConnection.com will reevaluate the Gran Turismo's safety ratings when crash-test scores are published.

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2010 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo

Features

With a big sunroof, entertainment galore, and leather and wood trim, the 2010 5-Series Gran Turismo won't disappoint many BMW shoppers.

A look at the 5-Series GT's spec sheet reveals a long list of standard features and some no-brainer options.

MSN Autos reports standard equipment on the new BMW GT includes leather upholstery, the split-folding rear seat, 10-way power front seats, an AM/FM/CD stereo, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive headlights, and 18-inch alloy wheels on run-flat tires. Autoblog says it's "surprising to find such features as auto soft-close doors and power headrests as standard equipment."

A navigation system is offered, as are a music hard drive and satellite radio. A rear-seat entertainment system with twin LCD screens is an option, as is a luxury rear-seat package with massaging functions built in; there's also heating and ventilation. Other options include 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.

Among the 5-Series GT's new features is a revamped iDrive system, which TheCarConnection.com's editors 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. Edmunds says "it's really good, especially with the optional 10.2-inch screen." MSN Autos agrees it "has become easier to use, incorporating several buttons around the main rotating controller to access various functions quickly." They also report "a USB port in the glove box allows for loading drive routes and the like."

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