Every big city fleet needs its top-end luxury vehicles for those ever-important executive, celebrity and jet-setting clients. But $90,000 full-size BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, and Audis are, of course, expensive. The midsize offerings from these German luxury powerhouses—like the BMW 5 Series sedan, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Audi A6—are popular alternatives, but they force limo companies and their clients to compromise on leg room, trunk space and, often, luxury amenities.
Enter the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo (5GT). With rear-seat legroom akin to that of a 740i (39.9 inches) and the headroom of an X5 (38.8 inches), yet carrying a fleet price of just $49,940, the 535i GT may well be the perfect luxury vehicle for this market. In fact, at that price, it might even have operators second guessing their Cadillacs and Lincolns. We can almost hear the choruses of, “For a few thousand more, I can add a BMW to my fleet that feels like a 7 Series on the inside? Sign me up!” The 5GT is such a good livery vehicle, it won its category in TheChauffeur.com’s Chauffeur Car of the Year Awards 2013, “thanks to its massive amounts of rear cabin space and an attractive chauffeur [program] on offer.”
For two weeks, we drove a 535i xDrive (all wheel drive) GT—with a fleet price of $54,035—which was loaded with features like heated front and rear seats, navigation system, head-up display, ash grain wood trim, soft-close automatic doors and trunk, tire pressure monitor, and a 3.0-liter, DOHC, 300-hp TwinPower Turbo inline six-cylinder engine. The standard amenities are impressive as well. To list just a relative few: Memory seats, Bluetooth hands-free calling, online information services, like GPS-localized weather and traffic updates; Dynamic Stability Control; Brake Energy Regeneration system; an eight-speed STEPTRONIC automatic transmission; automatic climate control; power-folding, auto-dimming, heated side-view mirrors; rain-sensing wipers; auto-leveling Xenon Adaptive Headlights; iDrive system with onboard computer; and Dakota Leather all around. As stated, these are just a “few” of the included standard features, when considering the whole list. That list goes on and on.
But possibly the greatest feature of the 5GT, for our industry, is the fact that this car is based on the 7 Series chassis. Not only does it have interior width and length dimensions almost identical to those of a 740i, but when gazing upon this vehicle from the outside, the first thing the eye translates to the brain is “7 Series.” It just looks much more like a 7 than it does a 5. Of course, the sloping fastback rear end makes it look like something else entirely—which it is. BMW did a nice job of integrating this hatched backside into what is an impressive and stately vehicle overall, which ends up looking more refined than it does awkward—an otherwise common curse of any vehicle with a hatch.
Step inside, and you’ll find a cavernous cabin that goes well beyond the usual standards of “roomy” and “spacious,” with incredible amounts of headroom and legroom. That hatchback also allows for a massive 10.4 cubic feet of luggage space, and there are storage compartments under the trunk floor—perfect for your drivers’ personal effects, or items you may want them to have on hand for your clients, such as umbrellas. And one of the most innovative features of the hatch is that it can open fully, like a regular fifth door, or via a smaller trunk-like lid that accesses the trunk only—in which case the trunk remains separated from the main cabin by a removable partition, keeping the weather off your clients when their driver is loading and unloading suitcases.
The luxury amenities your clients will experience are equally impressive. Leather seats and wood trim are standard (the black-on-black choices are Black Dakota Leather and ash grain wood trim), as are rear zone climate control and heated seats in the front, which warm up almost instantaneously. Another standard feature on the 5GT is a massive, panoramic, power two-way glass moonroof, which extends over the heads of both front and rear occupants. Unlike the panoramic glass roof of the Tesla Model S we reviewed in October, the 5GT’s glass roof doesn’t block much of the sun’s heat, so you’ll most likely keep the power shade drawn over it during the day. At night, however, your clients will be dazzled by views of tall buildings when riding through cities—and unlike the Tesla’s fixed roof, the 5GT’s glass roof slides open.
As you’d expect, the technology and features continue to be rich in the driver’s space. Standard navigation negates the need for finicky Garmins and TomToms and their expensive updates. An extremely impressive optional head-up display allows your driver to see his speed, as well as perfectly executed turn-by-turn directions from the navigation, without looking down from the windshield. The Park Distance Control system beeps a warning when the front or rear comes close to objects when parking, and tire pressure monitoring informs the driver when there’s a problem with the tires. In the drivetrain, possibly the most impressive features are the start-stop system—which shuts down the engine at stoplights, and instantly restarts it when the brake is released—and the eight-speed transmission. Both of these features do wonders for the 5GT’s fuel economy numbers, which are EPA rated at 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway (the 535i GT without xDrive achieves 19/28)—impressive numbers for a 300-hp vehicle of this size.
We did find a few flaws when occupying the driver’s seat. The design of the 5GT has the unfortunate side effect of poor visibility out the rear and rear-side windows, leading to disconcerting blind spots. Drinks in the cup holders block some of the climate system’s controls. And BMW’s signature frameless doors could be slightly dangerous for shorter drivers, who could whack themselves in the face with the corner of the unframed and hard-to-see driver’s door window (this never happened to us, but we wonder if it could be an issue).
In the back seat, the ride felt smooth and comfortable, if a tad on the tight and bumpy side. This is obviously no Town Car when it comes to cushy suspension, but we would all do well to remember that one of the primary reasons the Town Car/Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis platform has been discontinued after all these decades is that a springy, spongy, super-soft ride is necessarily joined by wretched handling and extreme control and safety concerns. Modern vehicles handle well, and good handling means tighter suspension. And the 5GT corners and handles with what you expect from any BMW: serious aplomb.
For an additional $5,399 with any 5GT, operators can add BMW’s Extended Service Contract to their vehicle. This comprehensive program covers a broad spectrum of the vehicle’s systems for three years or 150,000 miles, including issues derived from normal wear and tear. For the engine, all components are covered, and not just those within the engine itself—connecting rods, timing chains/belts, intake and exhaust manifolds, the catalytic converter, engine mounts, and the oil pan are part of the deal, too. Every part within and relating to the automatic transmission, fuel system and final drive assembly is warrantied, as is the cooling system. The electrical coverage includes assemblies pertaining to the vehicle’s drive operations—such as the alternator, generator, voltage regulator, starter solenoid, and engine and transmission control modules—as well as switches, the heated backglass, control modules, the instrument cluster, the keyless entry system, mirrors, the push-button start, and power door locks, seats and windows, among other components. Air conditioning, brakes and suspension are also insured, and on xDrive vehicles, the transfer case is covered as well. And all new BMWs—with or without the Extended Service Contract—get free maintenance for the first four years or 50,000 miles, including engine oil services, inspection services, wiper blade inserts, brake pads and discs, engine drive belts, and brake fluid service.
The verdict is that the 5GT delivers an uncommon blend of luxury sedan elegance and dynamics with the practicality and versatility of an SUV. A long list of standard high-end features and technology appointments, coupled with the look and feel of much more expensive full-size sedans, complete the package. Add to all of this a price tag starting at less than $50,000, plus a nearly all-inclusive service agreement, and the outcome is what may well be the perfect luxury ground transportation vehicle—one that is already replacing both standard fleet sedans and top-of-the-line VIP-exclusive chariots due to its success in every category: quality, price, appearance, amenities, luxury, performance and prestige.
West Coast Editor