GENEVA --U.S. buyers haven't warmed to hatchbacks, BMW executives say -- so the execs expect the 3-series Gran Turismo unveiled here to be a niche vehicle when it debuts in the United States this fall.
But the car probably will sell more than the larger 5-series GT that it resembles, said Ian Robertson, BMW board member for sales and marketing. BMW sells fewer than 5,000 5-series GTs a year in the United States.
"The 3-series GT is more usable in many ways," Robertson said. "But it will be a European and Asian car."
Robertson does not expect the 2014 3-series GT to cannibalize sales of the redesigned 3-series Sports Wagon that goes on sale this spring. BMW sells only about 1,500 3-series Sports Wagons in the United States annually, he said. He would not forecast annual sales of the 3-series GT, which is bigger than the Sports Wagon and will likely be priced higher.
BMW says the 328i xDrive Sports Wagon starts at $42,345, including $895 shipping, and says xDrive all-wheel drive will be standard in the United States.
At 189.9 inches, the GT is 7.9 inches longer than the wagon; and it is 3.2 inches taller at 72 inches high. The GT's 115-inch wheelbase is 4.3 inches longer than the wagon's.
Two 3-series GT models will be sold in the United States: the 328i with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and the 335i with a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard.
Martin Delitz, project manager of the 3-series GT, said focus groups conducted three years ago determined that customers wanted more interior space than is offered in the 3-series sedan or the station wagon.
"And they didn't want the 5-series," Delitz said. "They wanted the typical driving dynamics -- light, agile more precise with more direct steering. And they wanted a 3-series design."
U.S. dealers say would-be buyers are turned off by the larger 5-series GT because of its bulbous shape. BMW insiders said the 5-series GT has other shortfalls, too, including poor rear visibility and awkward rear seating. Those problems have been addressed with the smaller GT.
Unlike those in the 5-series GT, the back seats adjust and can be tilted. They also split into three sections and fold individually.
The exterior was designed by an American, Page Beerman, at BMW's DesignworksUSA in Newbury Park, Calif.
Like the 5-series GT, the 3-series GT has frameless windows that allow for a higher door opening and easier entry. But the 3-series GT has a coupelike roof line and an active rear spoiler that pops up at 68 mph -- a feature the 5-series GT doesn't have. The spoiler allowed BMW to lower the rear window and improve the vehicle's proportions and rear visibility.