Can You Handle This?

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.

(c) : Zombdrive

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

15 thoughts on “Can You Handle This?”

  1. “After all, does anyone, inside or outside of the FIZ have a firm grasp as to what a progressive activity might happen to be?”

    For the US market, “progressive activity” is when BMW owners in coastal enclaves go to an Elizabeth Warren rally and complain about “the rich”.

    1. Angel, that puts a smile on my face! Perhaps you could have added “via Wholefoods”? Or “Wholepaycheck” as my Caifornian coastal dwelling nephew calls it.

    1. It’s gratifying that some of our readers see fit to adjudge our writing with such forensic intensity, and to inform us of our lapses. Some might however be minded to point out that there is a notable difference between a simple typo and a fundamental lack of basic knowledge, but seemingly hobby-horses come in all shapes and sizes.

  2. (Eóin, could you please delete my earlier comment thst is awaiting moderation? I messed up the photos. Apologies.)

    “…aimed at buyers who wanted to purchase a versatile, practical vehicle, but were not interested in either an SUV or an estate car. ”

    That’s an extraordinarily perverse and oxymoronic requirement. Effectively, they want a practical, versatile and capacious vehicle that doesn’t look like a practical, versatile and capacious vehicle. I can understand the resistance to SUVs, based on their aggressive road presence and inferior driving experience, but many estate cars are actually better resolved and more handsome looking than their saloon counterparts. Here’s what you could (should?) have bought instead of a 5GT:

    That said, Eóin’s piece has prompted me to revisit the 5GT and it’s successor, the 6GT:

    I’m actually surprised that the 5GT looks as good as it does. It is, as Eóin says, a calm and disciplined design and the rump looks far less challenging than I remember when I first saw it. The 6GT however, is a flaccid looking thing and suffers the same shortcomings recently discussed regarding the G20 3-Series in comparison with its F30 predecessor.

    1. The 5GT’s development was very much driven by the design department. Initial proposals were even more challenging than the final car, as can be seen (rather astonishingly) in this video on the car’s development:

    2. I have many superpowers, but differentiating a typo from a lack of knowledge isn’t one of them. I’m going to ride all my 218 hobbyhorses in a bit.

  3. Here’s a speculative rendering of the 5 Series estate I came across when looking for images for my post above. It’s obviously wide of the mark with its truncated tail, but would it have made a better 5GT than the production model? It puts me in mind of the Panamera Sport Turismo and I think it’s strikingly handsome:

    1. I dunno, those rear quarters are vaguely conjuring the outgoing Rapid Spaceback, and that is one weirdly-proportioned hatch.

      I think it works better for the Panamera because of its roundness, a ‘la Quattroporte (Cinqueporte?) Bellagio superhatch.

      Ok, the Maserati’s a little, ahem, ‘coachbuilt’, but the idea is there.

    2. Well spotted, Alexander, although at least the BMW doesn’t have the awkward ‘long and narrow’ look of the Škoda Rapid Hunchback.

      Apart from the wheels, I rather like the Maserati!

  4. Three years ago, a colleague returned to our office in his x300 jag to retrieve his shopping, and popped the boot to reveal a folded Brompton (I thought he had serious backpain). Cycle 2 work schemes (as good a tax wheeze as there ever has been) has caused a surge in cycling at least in UK. Linking this observation with the growth in SUVs (‘I have friends and we do outdoorsy things’), I think Beemer (and Audi) appealed to the other not distantly-related- ‘I have friends and we do outdoorsy too but I like good handling more than I do a jacked-up estate’- demographic. Hence we have 6-series GT and A5/A7. When the memo reached Stuttgart, presumably a typo occurred and ‘liftback’ became ‘estate’. (Fitting a carbon frame in to a C6 with lounge option= v inconvenient).

  5. I examined one of these cars at a BMW/Volvo dealership (they were servicing mi dad’s S60)

    The Rube-Goldberg contraption to allow the frameless windows to clear the bodywork did not work in one rear door. You could not close the door. In a NEW car still with factory wrapping.

    I told the BMW salesmen about the matter. They had to open the hood to reset something and allow the door to close.

    Anyone who buys this cars has failed to do due diligence.

  6. When I saw the 5GT I thought the hinge for the ‘bootlid’ was chunky enough that it could probably take the weight of the entire car!

  7. With regard to the styling of the unabashedly intimidating sized vehicle that the 5GT is, out on the streets and roads, it almost resembles a lower
    ride-height X6 that has been fitted with smaller wheelwells & wheels.

    If you consider that the proportions on an X6 are not especially gratifying to start with (as on any huge SUV-coupe, for that matter), just imagine the more or less same proportions appearing drastically closer to the tarmac.

    A behemoth might be a fitting word.

    Among the other contemporary (read: huge) cars out there, a 5GT looks almost absurdly inflated. And if you happen to have witnessed (as I have) its lane presence next to a certain less bulky, more 90’s-00’s populated
    Strassenbild, your notions of good manners will
    be shattered to pieces.

    Throughout the history, we have seen far classier attempts of creating
    a premium sedan with an opulent cabin space. This, however, was not
    their design brief, I suppose. They were ordered to just create something extraordinarily intimidating. An inherently vulgar, automotive societal
    ladder index, if you will. Which they (Bangle?) actually succeeded at.

    It is another aspect altogether to observe the 5GT’s styling in isolation,
    on an empty parking lot, without its ‘gargantuan merits’.

    In this latter exercise, as a virtual design , I consider the 5GT a very balanced, relaxed way of announcing the world that its owner has slowed down in life and seeks out relaxed, hedonistic journeys. At the same time, it conveys
    a clear ‘don’t talk to me’ message, a hint that the same owner is not
    keen on making new friendships.

    It is actually a very resolute design, in that it succeeds to keep such
    high flanks (and a generally very meaty profile), without the
    pitfall of looking utilitarian.

    Detailing apart, speaking as a silhouette, its profile is decidedly non-typically Bavarian, its DLO nodding more than once to Audi’s A5 sedan’s,
    yet doing it differently. It looks almost admirable.

    So, for a BMW, we can say its lines are a bold departure, as it does look rather individual both purely as design, and as a vehicle category that noone
    had before. It is obvious that some serious design effort
    and genius went into it.

    It’s just that its shocking real-world appearance is so socially stigmatising,
    one can seldom find the time to truly appreciate its inner styling virtues.

    It would really be good to find one in an empty parking lot, and have
    a good, long, thorough look.

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