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Short Report: The new 2018 BMW 6 Series GT is the closest you can get to a 5 Series wagon

For a long time, I hated station wagons. My mom drove one, a 1973 Ford Gran Torino in burnt orange metallic with simulated wood paneling on the sides a giant chrome front bumper, and it was embarrassing to be seen anywhere near it, let alone inside of it.

Today, the modern equivalent of Mom’s old Torino is a crossover SUV festooned with faux off-roading cues like gray cladding, simulated skid plates, and an oversized roof rack. Just as was true in the 1970s, suburban driveways all around the country contain the dang things. And just as was true when the Bee Gees were busy stayin’ alive, nobody believes a crossover SUV is going anywhere off road, just as they were never conned by the Gran Torino’s fake wood siding.

Gran Torino and Gran Turismo sound an awful lot alike. Yet BMW’s new 2018 6 Series Gran Turismo is nothing like that (un)forgettable Ford.

For starters, it is a rare breed, and I happen to like unusual cars that you don’t see coming and going at every intersection. The new 6 Series GT also isn’t attempting to be something its not, which in modern American society is undeniably refreshing. And, now that I’m a solidly middle-aged driving enthusiast with children of my own, I know that nothing beats a station wagon for combining driving dynamics with the utility demanded by a family. The BMW 6 Series GT is as close as it gets to buying a 5 Series wagon.

While its 6 Series name is new for 2018, this GT is essentially a redesign of the old 5 Series Gran Turismo. It’s based on the new 5 Series platform, comes only in 640i xDrive specification, and costs $9,700 more than an equivalent 540i xDrive sedan. What you get in exchange for the extra money is a taller driving position, a huge back seat, a roomy cargo area, and now that the GT has 6 Series nomenclature, whatever extra prestige you might associate with the higher number.

To see if the new 6 GT is as appealing as the 5 GT was, I headed to Palm Springs, California to sample the car on local desert highways. My sample had M Sport trim, metallic paint, leather, heated front and rear seats, a head-up display, a Harman Kardon premium sound system with Apple CarPlay, and the Driving Assistance Plus Package. The final tally came to $77,270 including the $995 destination charge.

Get into a nicely equipped 6 Series GT, and you’ll revel in the comfort and quality. No doubt, the atmosphere is businesslike, as is true of all BMWs. Soft leather, rich wood, and metal accents decorate a high-contrast cabin in any interior color except for black.

As an option, premium Nappa leather elevates interior luxury with a quilted appearance. The 6 Series GT is also available with multi-contour front seats, ventilated front seats, and massaging front seats.

Compared to a 5 Series sedan, the 6 Series GT offers higher seating positions in a roomier interior. Up front, you sit nice and high with a commanding view out. The standard 16-way power adjustable sport seats are comfortable and supportive, and a driver easily finds a perfect position behind the steering wheel.

The rear seat is a genuine treat. Whereas a 5 Series sedan feels a bit low and cramped in the back, the 6 Series GT provides tall chairs with outstanding thigh support and more legroom than anyone this side of an NBA player might possibly require. Three adults can easily ride in comfort in this car, and power adjustable rear seats are optional.

Open the Gran Turismo’s huge power-operated hatch to access a generous 31 cu.-ft. trunk. With the 40/20/40-split rear seat folded down, the 6 Series GT supplies 65 cu.-ft. of cargo space. By comparison, that’s more than the similarly priced BMW X6 offers (26.6 cu.-ft. to 59.7 cu.-ft.), but less than the boxy X5 (35.8 cu.-ft. to 76.7 cu.-ft.).

A panoramic glass roof is standard, bathing the interior and occupants in natural light when the cover is retracted.

Naturally, given its position in the middle of the luxury market, the 6 Series GT is loaded with technology, some of it standard, some of it optional.

Every version of the car is equipped with the latest version of BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, now with a 10.25-inch freestanding touchscreen display. The company continues to offer iDrive controls on the center console, steering wheel controls, and a voice recognition system, the latter upgraded for 2018 with natural voice recognition capability.

You can even get an optional Gesture Control system. When I’ve used this feature in other BMWs, I’ve accidentally turned the stereo volume up or down while telling a passenger a story, because I tend to gesticulate with my hands when I speak. Consider yourself warned.

Additional standard features include BMW Connected services with a smartphone app and a Wi-Fi hotspot, BMW TeleServices, and BMW Assist eCall with SOS emergency calling and automatic crash notification. The 6 Series GT also includes a navigation system, wireless device charging, and a digital 12.3-inch instrumentation display.

Options include a wireless Apple CarPlay connection, a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound system with 16 speakers and 1,400 watts of power, and a rear seat entertainment system. A new head-up display supplies a 75-percent greater viewing area, but still washes out when the driver is wearing polarized sunglasses, an increasingly unforgivable sin given that many car companies have found solutions to this problem.

BMW will also outfit the 6 Series GT with a surround-view camera system, a parking assist feature that steers the car into parallel parking spaces, and a Remote Parking function that allows the owner to exit the vehicle and park it by using a smartphone app.

Standard driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies include a forward collision warning system with daytime pedestrian detection and low-speed automatic emergency braking, active blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and a lane departure warning system.

Safety-related upgrades include a night vision system with night pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and traffic-jam assist, a front cross-traffic alert system, and an active lane keeping assist system that allows up to 50 seconds of hands-free driving.

Wow. Pretty sophisticated stuff, especially the Gesture Control and Remote Parking features. My test car didn’t have many of these options, and my time behind the wheel wasn’t extensive enough to sample everything with which it was equipped.

What I can say, however, is that a touchscreen display significantly improves the iDrive user experience. Nevertheless, I am accustomed to using the iDrive controls on the center console, and aside from the occasionally daunting depth of some sub-menus, I find it absolutely natural to use. With time, so would you.

Getting into the BMW 6 Series Gran Turismo is a treat. First, the car sits higher than a 5 Series, which means the seating hip point is higher, which means it is easier to enter and exit the vehicle.

Once you’re seating in the high-quality cabin, and you’ve adjusted everything to your liking, and you press the start button to fire up the silky turbocharged 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine, you can’t help but look forward to the drive.

Making 335 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 332 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,380 rpm and 5,200 rpm, the turbo six powers all four of the 6 GT’s wheels through an 8-speed sport automatic transmission with shift paddles, launch control, and intelligent networking software that adapts shift strategy based on navigation map data.

Acceleration to 60 mph takes 5.1 seconds by BMW’s stopwatch, and that feels like a credible claim by the seat of my pants. Unless you’re in Eco Pro driving mode (the other two are Comfort and Sport), the 640i xDrive surges forth, effortlessly gathering speed.

Automatic engine start/stop technology aims to improved fuel economy, as does the Eco Pro driving mode’s coasting function, which decouples the drivetrain when you lift off the accelerator pedal and the car is traveling between 30 mph and 100 mph. Clearly, I did not use this, as I averaged no better than 17.9 mpg during my drive. The EPA says this car ought to get 23 mpg in combined driving.

Suspension is comprised of a double wishbone front and 5-link rear design, with standard rear self-leveling. The car’s 4,409 pounds are distributed with 51.1% over the front wheels and 48.9% over the rears.

An optional Dynamic Handling Package installs a full air suspension with Active Roll Stabilization and adaptive Dynamic Damper Control. With this upgrade, the driver can raise ground clearance by nearly an inch, and the car lowers almost half an inch at higher speeds. This package also includes Integral Active Steering (4-wheel steering), as well as Comfort+ and Adaptive driving modes. The latter feature works in conjunction with navigation data to proactively adjust the car to current driving situations.

During my drive east of Palm Springs and into the desert via Box Springs Canyon, the 6 Series GT proved itself to be calm, cool, and collected, a form of rapid transit in the best of German traditions.

Yes, the software dominates the hardware, the source of the recent complaints amongst enthusiasts that BMW has forgotten its roots. But the same is true of all modern vehicles, and at the end of the day what matters is whether a particular vehicle has put a smile on your face, instilled confidence in your head, and inspired desire in your heart.

If you tend to favor comfort, practicality and utility in your choice of a driving machine, the 6 Series GT checks all three of those boxes. I thoroughly enjoyed driving this swift, swept, and sizable hatch, much preferring it to a taller and tippier X-branded BMW SUV.

No amount of techno-wizardry, and no wheel-and-tire package, will allow an SUV with a higher center of gravity to match the handling of a beautifully balanced automobile. And that’s why I’m a big fan of modern station wagons.

Though the 6 Series GT is not a traditional wagon, I’d still prefer it to the BMW X5, and most certainly to the BMW X6. It simply drives better than either of those SUVs.

Value is admittedly a challenge, though to be fair my test car landed in the same general pricing neighborhood as an equivalent Audi A7 would. Simply put, you can get more for less by choosing a 5 Series or a BMW X5.

But then you’d be driving the same car as tens of thousands of other people, instead of an automotive unicorn like the 2018 BMW 6 Series Gran Torino…I mean, Turismo.

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