Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: A bit of a stretch
What happens when you take a standard BMW 3 Series sedan and stretch it by 120mm? You get the 3 Series Gran Limousine, a more spacious and comfortable take on the original, aimed squarely at chauffer-driven owners. Stretching a car to liberate more space in the rear seat is an age-old formula that works quite well in India. Mercedes’ long-wheelbase E-Class for one has is the favourite in its class, the Skoda Superb is purposely built on a long wheelbase for greater legroom in the back and then the S-Class, 7 Series and A8 are sold here in long-wheelbase form only. Even SUVs like Mercedes GLE have benefited from being built on a longer wheelbase.
The best-selling BMW in India was the 3 GT, whose main selling point feature was the extra leg room it offered over the standard car. This augurs well for the 3 Series Gran Limousine, which replaces the 3 GT but doesn’t have the same quirky looks.
At first glance, the Gran Limousine looks almost identical to the regular 3 Series and it’s hard to tell the two apart unless you park them side-by-side, where the difference in the length is noticeable. From front it’s almost impossible to tell the two apart except on some variants of the limo version, which have more bling on the nose.
The Gran Limousine’s long rear doors open wide, which makes it easy to access the welcoming cabin. BMW has absolutely aced it with rear seat comfort, which is truly exceptional. The seat cushioning is finally judged – not too hard and not too soft, with lots of generous bolstering all-round. But the real kicker is the well-designed back rest, which despite being fixed, seems to be set at just the right angle. The large windows and massive sunroof brighten up the cabin and make it feel even roomier than it is. BMW has even added strips of mood lighting on the seat-backs for that little bit extra ambience.
What’s missing though are rear sun blinds, which in our climate you need to cut out the blazing sun. Despite this being the coolest time of year, the air-conditioning had to work hard to chill the cabin, which puts a question mark on the air-con’s performance in the summer months.
Move to the front and there’s no big difference between the regular 3 Series and this long-wheelbase car. The supportive front seats with an extendable thigh support is carried over and its easy to find the ideal driving position. The open pore wood inserts on the dash aren’t polished as on the regular 3 Series and there are a couple of other small enhancements like acoustic glass, new Cognac-coloured leather trim, a bit more chrome on the dash and steering wheel, and a more powerful and richer-sounding 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio system. Overall, the cabin has been tweaked more for comfort than sportiness and that’s something that extends to the way the longer 3 Series drives as well.
Behind the steering wheel
Within the first 100 metres of driving the 3 Series Gran Limousine, you can immediately feel the effects of the longer wheelbase and softer suspension. It has a suppleness you only experience in larger and plusher cars and the way it soaks up bumps and ruts is very impressive. This limo version doesn’t feel as sharp as the regular 3 Series and it doesn’t dart into corners with the same verve either. But it’s still a BMW at its very core and the fun-to-drive factor that defines the brand hasn’t been dumbed down greatly.
A pair of strong engines power the limo version; a 2-litre 190hp diesel and 258hp petrol. These are the same proven engines that power a wide range of BMWs, the regular 3 Series included, but it’s the diesel that I prefer over the smoother and more refined petrol. Yes, the diesel sounds a bit gruff, but the smile-inducing punch it delivers overshadows its foibles.
The ₹51.5 lakh starting price, which is a cool ₹4-5 lakh more than the equivalent standard 3 Series maybe a sticking point for some. But, those vital extra square inches you get for the money is what makes all the difference. The 3 Series Gran Limousine is easily the most comfortable car in its class and it’s great to drive too. For the price of one, you get the best of both worlds.
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, February 21, 2021
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