I don't think sitting in a hospital parking lot for three hours quite meets the standards of ‘Gran Turismo,' a name that, at least in my mind, evokes winding roads, rolling hills and craggy seaside cliffs — the sort of relaxed pleasure driving that, barring the unforeseen, has nothing to do with healthcare. But there we were, my pregnant wife and I, hunkered down in the BMW 535i Gran Turismo's exceedingly comfortable embrace, hoping that our nurse wouldn't spot us out the window.
It's not that our hospital is, well, inhospitable; but neither of us exactly looks forward to spending extensive amounts of time there. And so, during a trying series of blood tests, we eschewed hospital policy and snuck off to the supremely comfy GT, where we enjoyed a DVD, read our magazines, and basked in the car's cool interior. I can see the headline now: BMW 535i Gran Turismo: more comfortable than a hospital waiting room. And yet this anecdote is not meant to reek of faint praise, as we were genuinely excited just to go and sit in the GT, even when we weren't actually going anywhere.
Out on the road, the 535i GT exhibits a Jekyll and Hyde split personality, thanks to it's incredibly quiet and well insulated interior. Rolling down my driveway at low speed, the highly detailed and full range sound system delivers a pleasing musical experience that is uninterrupted by road or engine noise, and continues similarly throughout a range of normal driving conditions. However, stomp down on the accelerator, as I gleefully did from time to time while testing the GT, and a new personality emerges as the turbocharged straight-six works in concert with the eight-speed steptronic transmission to fill the cab with a symphony of automotive excitement, propelling you forward with neck-snapping vigour.
The high precision injection engine delivers a maximum output of 306bhp, and achieves 0-100kph in 6.3 seconds. And while I detected a hint of turbo lag on the first pass, I now think it's more likely that I was simply adjusting to the throttle after handing back another luxury brand's supercharged SUV just days before.
One side note on the accelerator; I noticed that, at very low speed, the GT tended to lurch forward in pulsing fashion until I either depressed the pedal further or released it completely. It was never really a problem, but can feel slightly disconcerting. I suppose the car just resents being driven too slowly, particularly because it handles so effortlessly well, above the speed limit and of course within my own humble speed threshold.
The GT tucks into corners with high-speed nonchalance, as if gravity were an old school chum who, while obscenely successful, just isn't worth being intimidated by; after all you've seen their pale legs in purple gym shorts long ago. Even when I tried to push the GT hard, it always offered a smooth yet nuanced road feel that exuded both confidence and competence.
The car's double aluminium track control arm front axle and the Integral-V rear axle are exclusive BMW designs, and combined with rear axle air suspension and hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering (with on demand steering servo pump), create a ride and handling quality that is classic BMW. And this is where the GT really earns its Gran Turismo stripes because, picturesque scenery or not, this is a car that I can imagine enjoying on long drives, possibly right across the UAE border and into my garage in the US (there'd be a boat in there at some point) where BMW Middle East (hopefully) couldn't find me.
While I personally like the GT's unique looks, which combine components of the X6, 5 series and 7 series, I did have at least one person volunteer that they found the design a tad odd. Well, I'll go on record as liking things that are odd, lest every car wind up looking like a Camry — not that there's anything wrong with that.
One aspect of the GT's formidable touring credentials is its full size, VIP-worthy back seat which looks about the same size as BMW's flagship 7 series. Alternately, if your idea of a VIP is an antique desk or, maybe a Shetland pony; the rear seats can be folded down to reveal an estate-like 1,700 litres of storage. This functionality actually gave me trouble at first, but then our photographer Chris pointed out that there are two different access points to the boot.
The first point opens a small hatch, roughly the size of a microwave oven, which I initially thought to be uncharacteristically small in a touring car. Well the joke's on me, as the GT also opens wide when you depress a second release, revealing more than enough clearance for luggage, bicycles and OK, I'll concede — perhaps not quite enough for a Shetland pony.
The storage space is large enough that the GT outpaces the 5 Series, and is probably closer to the X6 when it comes to hauling your possessions around.
If six cylinders aren't enough for you, the GT is also available in a V8 turbo 550i, which delivers 407bhp. Oh, and there's a diesel version too, but sadly we will not see it here in the UAE for obvious reasons.
The GT also offers Dynamic Drive Control, which adapts gearshift dynamics, gas pedal response, as well as steering assistance control mapping, for the full on ‘road butler' experience. This is a car that is adept at anticipating and exceeding your demands, just as a prestigious luxury car should be.
Driving the GT is a deceptively tranquil affair in no small part because of BMW's high tech approach, and I found myself setting off the high speed alarm more frequently than in my own car, as the car's sheer effortlessness can make you slightly less aware of where the speedometer's tracking.
BMW has a solution for this, as the car has the option of providing speed and other information on the head-up display. This is good because I'm on the tall side and had trouble reading the analogue speedo from my vantage point, as it tended to be obscured by the steering wheel.
Reluctantly, I decide not to try and sneak my, I mean their GT out of the country; as I'd like to be a free man when my daughter is born. With an all-wheel drive version slated for 2011, and the V8-powered 550i as yet untested by wheels, I'll stick to the straight and narrow with the hope that BMW might let me live to test again.
If you're already intrigued by BMW's line of crossovers, but prefer the drive quality of a saloon, the 535i Gran Turismo might be worth more than a cursory look.
It may have a 5 Series designation but it's known as the GT in the Middle East
Model Gran Turismo 535i
Engine 3.0-litre RWD Transmission Eight-speed auto
Max power 306bhp @ 5,800rpm
Max torque 400Nm @ 1,200rpm
Top speed 250kph
Plus Styling, driving dynamics, cargo space
Minus Slight turbo lag