I don’t think you’re ready: Was the 2009 5-Series GT too ‘bootilicious’ for its own good?
Looking back at matters from the distance of a decade, it does appear that niche-filling was the post-millennial pastime du-jour for the automotive industry – at least for those cash-rich and expansionist prestige German carmakers who weren’t busily reinventing them. BMW were somewhat late to this particular party, albeit having introduced the vulgar and corpulent X6 SUV fastback in 2008, they hadn’t exactly been idle.
During the protracted run up to its 2009 introduction, the Bavarian carmaker made much of their forthcoming Progressive Activity Sedan, but when the covers came off the PAG concept, earlier that year, the reaction was let’s just say, somewhat tepid.
Like Mercedes’ 2006 R-Class, the 5-GT was aimed at buyers who wanted to purchase a versatile, practical vehicle, but were not interested in either an SUV or an estate car. It’s still unclear however, how BMW arrived at this particular configuration, although in mitigation, Untertürkheim’s aforementioned effort was no less challenging, although whether there was much in it in commercial terms between either model is debatable. Either way, it did seem for a time as though both Mercedes and BMW were simply toying with niches.
Unlike the Mercedes R-Class however, which was really something of a glorified station wagon, the BMW was more sedan-like in concept and appearance. Part of this stemmed from its basis – sharing its floorpan and technical specification with the short wheelbase F01 7-Series, making it a larger car than the concurrent F10 5-Series saloon with some observers simply dubbing it as a 7-series hatchback
The guiding principle behind the GT model it seems was to create a sense of space within the cabin, with lead designer, Christopher Weil suggesting that it had been very much designed from the inside out. With a longer wheelbase than its equivalent 5-Series saloon, the GT’s rear cabin was more commodious and considerably more sybaritic, being lauded by Autocar at the time as being “very special”.
However luggage capacity wasn’t the GT’s strongest suit, the car’s steeply sloping tail robbing stowage space – falling short of its F10 5-Series Touring sibling although still in advance of the regular 5er, especially with the rear seats folded. And with the provision of optional individual rear seats, the GT came across as less of a practical load-hauler and perhaps more of a private-hire special.
Created under the stylistic auspices of enfant terrible, Chris Bangle, although introduced following his departure, the GT marked a shift in BMW design from the polarizing surfacing and stark graphics of the more polarising ‘Banglesque’ designs towards a more formal appearance.
Taking cues from the previous year’s F01 7-Series, it was notable for the calmness of its lines, although few were prepared to concede this when confronted with the combination of tall roofline and sheer, rather abundant tail treatment. Yet ‘ample booty’ aside, the GT was an imposing, and yes to some eyes, elegant design.
BMW’s US importers envisaged the 5 GT as a replacement for the E61 5-Series Tourer, with projected sales being about a quarter of Dingolfing’s total annual output. However, it’s difficult to envisage its appeal in a market that was then and still remains notoriously hatch-averse. Hence BMW underplayed the GT’s hatchback credentials, employing an unusual, technically complex and perhaps over-elaborate two-position tailgate, which opened either as a conventional bootlid or a full liftback.
Car & Driver suggested in 2010 that the GT was better looking in the flesh than on the show stands, before sticking the knife in, damning it as “ungainly and unattractive.” The US monthly struggled to define the car, summing up the GT in the following terms: “Well, let’s say you desire a higher seating position and the practicality of a liftgate but wouldn’t be caught dead in an SUV or wagon and have to have a BMW that still sort of a little bit looks like a regular car. If you fit into that mighty thin niche, the 5-series GT is your car.”
Mounting the scales in a decidedly portly manner, the 5 GT was no dynamic paragon, although in mitigation, this was hardly its remit. What was however was passenger comfort, and while the cabin was undoubtedly a fine place to spend time, the auto press discovered that the ride quality fell a good way short of ideal, which was somewhat less forgiveable.
Sales were not stellar, although sufficient it would appear. In 2013, the car received a modest facelift with visible (if subtle) changes to nose and tail, before bowing out in 2016. It was replaced the following year by the re-badged 6-Series GT, (over)-designed very much in the contemporary BMW idiom, which demonstrates that either rather more demand exists for a large BMW-badged hatchback than we might have been led to believe, or that the concept retains strong and influential support within Munich-Milbertshofen.
On one hand then a misunderstood and maligned automobile which was in possession of a number of admirable qualities not habitually associated with Bayerische Motoren Werke, but on the other hand, an imperfectly defined and executed vehicle which BMW themselves seemed not to fully understand. After all, does anyone, inside or outside of the FIZ have a firm grasp as to what a progressive activity might happen to be? Answers on a postcard please.