The design changes are slight but the car shines on the road
BMW's 5GT gets a facelift The iDrive system which recognises handwriting is a neat trick but it will appeal to left-handers more. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

If the cars in BMW's current line-up were to be in a beauty pageant, the 5 Gran Turismo would not stand a chance of winning the crown. But it may just snag the Ms Personality title.

While the large crossover lacks a single strong character trait like the beefy X5 or the sultry Z4, it surprises with its split personality.

The model was an enigma when it landed here three years ago. And the newly arrived mid-life update does little to change that.

Only a sharp eye can pick out the design changes. The car is now longer, but only by the width of an infant's thumb. The 6mm added to the car tips it over 5m. The other dimensions are unchanged.

A chrome-lined apron beneath the kidney grille makes the car less dumpy from the front, but its mildly resculptured rear still divides views.

The car gets a 60-litre increase in boot space to 500 litres - a modest gain that is unlikely to impress those looking for load luggers.

The engine beneath the bonnet is virtually untouched. The familiar 3-litre inline-six continues service, but tweaks now make it more frugal (8.2 litre per 100km instead of 8.9) and fractionally faster in the 0 to 100kmh sprint (6.1 seconds instead of 6.3).

The transmission is the same eight-speed automatic with paddle shift.

Thankfully, the facelift has kept some clever bits of its predecessor intact, including its two-section tailgate that allows it to be partially opened to load smaller items.

In the cabin, head and legroom of the rear seats still rival the 7-series' - a catch between the legs slides the seat forward and a lever at the side reclines the backrest.

There are five driving modes on the menu: from hard-core driving with electronic interventions turned off to a fuel-sipping Eco mode. The instrument cluster even changes colour to match the mood - fiery red for sports mode to icy blue for fuel efficiency.

Best in comfort mode

The 5GT will let you know what it prefers. I stomped the accelerator too hard in the Eco mode and a blue shoe with an upward pointing arrow appears on the instrument cluster. What is missing is a disapproving “tsk tsk” sound.

And regardless of how I last drove the car, it always resets to the comfort mode when restarted.

The 5GT shines in the comfort mode. On a drive to Raffles Marina for dinner last week, the car seemingly glided over the truck and weather-beaten sections of the Ayer Rajah Expressway near Tuas. The cushy ride almost tempted me to skip dinner and keep driving to Malacca for supper instead.

But even in the comfort mode, the kick-down remains brutal, so swift lane changes and overtaking are effortless.

Equipment-wise, the car has all the kit a car costing more than $370,000 should have, including head-up display and adaptive headlights. The head-up display is delightful – driving directions of the navigation appear on the windscreen so you keep your eyes on the road.

Another useful feature is the car’s top-down surround view camera, which completely eliminates blind spots during parking.

There are some curious bits though. The iDrive system now recognises handwriting, but it confuses D’s with O’s when I wrote “O-R-C-H-A-R-D R-O-A-D”. Even if this is sorted out, the new trick will appeal to left-handed drivers more.

The already tiny rear windscreen lacks a wiper and I found it uneasy to drive in the rain without a good view of the cars behind me. A tailing Daihatsu Copen can be easily missed, even in fine weather.

I still could not get a handle of where to place the GT after driving it for three days. It has a sizeable boot space, but nowhere near the stowage of the 5-series Touring’s. It is nearly as comfortable as the 7-series, but not quite as luxurious. Shape-wise, it is still sometimes mistaken for the X6.

The large 2-tonne car is also fast, but only as fast as the 328i sedan which has a smaller 2-litre engine.

It is best to stop trying to figure the car out. Maybe its enigma is what makes the GT appealing.

It is a good thing then that the facelift left it largely untouched.


CAR INFORMATION

BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo 535i Luxury (A)

Price

:$357,800

Engine Type

:

6-cylinder in-line Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

2,979 cc

Horsepower

:

302 bhp / 5,800 rpm

Torque

:

400 Nm / 5,000 rpm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A) Steptronic

Acceleration

:

6.1 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

250 km/h