Page 1 of 3
The 2012 BMW 535i GT proves a versatile addition to the chauffeured fleet market, with its balanced blend of performance, style and design, comfort, technology and amenities.
LOS ANGELES — Upon learning that BMW formally entered the U.S. chauffeured transportation industry this year, and after spending some quality time with the BMW 535i Gran Turismo, my reaction resembled that of a single person who finally meets a special someone: Where have you been all this time, and what took you so long? It’s always been a mystery why BMW never entered the limousine industry years ago.
By ceding the premium luxury vehicle limo market to Mercedes-Benz, BMW stayed single-and-waiting far too long — and apparently for no good reason. Having test-driven three Mercedes-Benz chauffeured vehicles so far, I can say there is nothing that a Benz has that a BMW doesn’t. By the way, the whole Mercedes-Benz vs. BMW competition resembles one of those endless Coke vs. Pepsi-type branding arguments that will never get resolved, so don’t ask me to choose.
Better late than never
The 535i GT debuted to the industry in February with much anticipation and excitement at the 2012 International LCT Show in Las Vegas. The 535i GT and its bigger companion 750Li sedan were buzz-makers at the Show, eliciting interest from a handful of well-known operators, such as Joe Ironi of Global Alliance in Toronto.
As is often the case with people who get committed later rather than sooner, the BMW 535i GT is a vehicle comfortable in its own skin, not to mention for the chauffeured people riding in it. This newcomer, with an incentive-base price of $46,440, qualifies as a formidable competitor on two levels: With the standard workhorse chauffeured vehicles such as the Lincoln MKT Town Car and the Cadillac XTS, and with vehicles on higher levels of luxury, such as the Hyundai Equus and Mercedes-Benz sedans. And if you overlook the svelte trunk space (more about that later), the 535i GT can mingle comfortably in the same league as the premium-category vehicles.
Actually, we’ll let limousine operators decide whether the 535i GT belongs in the standard luxury sedan category, or if it should be marketed as a premium-level luxury sedan, or a mid-category in between. The advantage for the BMW 535i GT is it can have it any which way.
As is the case when finding a reliable mate, selecting someone with some depth is a good approach. Right away, the BMW lets you know that it is solid, sturdy, and will hug the road curves as long as you want it to. You feel fewer bumps, lurches and jiggles than in comparable sedans. With its sleek hatchback design, the 535i GT hints a bit at being a crossover, but once inside, feels like a sedan.
The 3.0-liter, dual overhead cam (DOHC), 24-valve, 300-hp inline 6-cylinder engine with TwinPower Turbo technology performs in three modes: Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. Comfort mode delivers ample power and pick-up, whereas the Sport modes can easily lead to higher RPM shifts and acceleration, which is a formula for speeding tickets if you’re not paying attention. For chauffeured transportation operators, Comfort mode is fine, and frankly, the thought of a chauffeur switching to Sport mode, even when accelerating onto a freeway, would raise GPS tracking alarms; exactly what is the chauffeur doing? The Sport modes are strictly for pleasure, and if a client asks for it, by all means, push the button. Otherwise, no chauffeur needs it, but it’s nevertheless nice to know the extra power is there.