Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

As an interior styling achievement, the BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo is not all that remarkable.

From the B-pillar forward, the Gran Turismo could be confused with the vehicle whose platform it shares, the flagship 7-Series sedan.

The switchgear, firm seats, straightforward design cues, ambient lighting and controversial iDrive controller carry over from other BMW vehicles. It’s all very familiar.

The backseat in the short-wheelbase 7-Series is plenty spacious and luxurious, and it’s the same with the Gran Turismo, with heated and cooled seats that recline.

But there’s a flexibility to the backseat that sets the Gran Turismo apart, making it the obvious choice for this year’s Interior of the Year award for Design Versatility.

First, the backseat comes in conventional bench format or as twin buckets with a center console in between. Second, the Gran Turismo’s backseat feels unique, largely because the sweeping roof creates more headroom and the giant rear window allows lots of natural light to cascade from behind.

Stand at the rear bumper as the dual-access liftgate raises, and the deal-clinching qualities of the Gran Turismo become evident. For a small bag of groceries, the full liftgate need not be raised at all. Instead, just a portion of it, the decklid, lifts to reveal a large trunk.

But when space requirements are more intensive, the Gran Turismo is fully up to the challenge.

In those instances, the entire rear of the car above the bumper ascends to the heavens, providing that “Hallelujah!” moment for the driving enthusiast who wouldn’t mind a little functionality thrown into the mix.

For years, BMW tried steering customers of this ilk to vehicles such as the X5 and X3 cross/utility vehicles. But the ultimate driving machine is a car, not a crossover.

With the Gran Turismo, the BMW customer can have his cake and – oh, heck, he has room for 10 cakes and can eat them whenever he wants. No compromises necessary.

There are other reasons to herald this interior. A hatchback body style can be problematic because vibration in the rear of the vehicle can be projected forward, creating a noisy cabin.

BMW dealt with this issue by adding a robust package tray, as well as a retractable wall separating the rear seats from the trunk.

When both are deployed, the Gran Turismo is as quiet as a 7-Series. Even when the package tray is removed and the dividing wall and seats lay flat, noise levels are low.

The nearest approximation of this package in BMW’s car lineup (the 5-Series wagon) left the U.S. market in October, creating an important void the Gran Turismo hopes to fill, albeit at a higher price point.

Our twin-turbo 550i Gran Turismo stickered at $80,375, but pricing begins at $64,725. Not a bad entry point for 7-Series technology.

Of course, no interior is without flaws. The lack of standard power for the dual-access liftgate is surprising at this price, and some editors continue to question the user-friendliness of the iDrive controller.

But on the whole, Ward’s editors find the Gran Turismo pretty grand.

“Maybe it’s me, but BMWs have a smell I really enjoy,” writes Associate Editor Byron Pope.

It’s the smell of success and Bavarian luxury.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com