Pros: Excellent engines; exceptional ride/handling balance; sumptuous interior; versatile backseat and cargo area; tons of standard features

Cons: Strange looks; steep price; firm ride with the bigger wheels

What's New: The 550i's V8 now comes standard with 445 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque, a significant upgrade that still costs extra on some other BMWs with this engine. Standard across the board this year is auto start/stop and an Eco driving mode for improved efficiency.

Introduction

Pretty much every other 2013 BMW 5 Series GT review on the Internet will say something snarky about this car's styling, but not this one, folks. We're done poking fun at BMW's oddly shaped hatchback people mover like a playground bully. Why pick on the 5 Series GT just because it looks different? It may be unconventional, but, bottom line, this is one heckuva car.

Of course, if you check the archives, you'll find that we had our own laugh at the GT's expense in last year's review, comparing it to Pontiac's historically hideous Aztek, which is perhaps best known these days as Walter White's pathetic ride on "Breaking Bad." But then we spent some quality time with the 2013 550i Gran Turismo and, folks, there's just no denying this vehicle's across-the-board excellence. Most notably, the V8-powered 550i GT is now rated at a just-plain-silly 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque, and it comes that way right out of the box. If you want the same output in your X5 or X6, you'll have to spring for the pricey M Performance package.

Beyond enabling you to embarrass unsuspecting performance cars whenever you please, the 5 Series GT boasts a world-class mix of refinement and practicality. Although it's got 5 Series in its name, the GT borrows its basic dimensions--wheelbase, front track, rear track--from the executive-class 7 Series sedan. No surprise, then, that the ride quality is royal, though the optional 20-inch wheels don't do it any favors. The handling's outstanding too, as is the finely crafted cabin. And with up to 63.6 cu ft of cargo space behind the front seats, the GT can haul as much as some crossover SUVs.

So we're holding our tongue this year, because when a car is this good, looks are almost beside the point. Forget the Aztek. The 2013 5 Series Gran Turismo is actually closer to being a cheaper, more practical Porsche. Proud new owners will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 BMW 5 Series GT is offered in two trim levels: 6-cylinder 535i and 8-cylinder 550i.

The 535i comes standard with a turbocharged inline-6 engine, 18-in alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlamps, fog lights, electronic limited-slip differential, self-leveling rear air suspension, auto start/stop, power tailgate, panoramic sunroof, keyless entry with push-button ignition, leather upholstery, 10-way power front seats with lumbar support and driver memory, power tilt/telescopic steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, 12-speaker audio system with dual subwoofers and the hard-drive-based iDrive infotainment system with a 10.25-in wide-screen display, 12 GB of digital music storage and rearview camera.

The 550i adds a twin-turbocharged V8 engine, but otherwise its standard equipment is comparable to that of the 535i.

Options include wheels up to 20 inches in diameter, 20-way Multi-contour front seats with Nappa leather upholstery and two power rear bucket seats in place of the standard 3-person bench. There's also a Dynamic Handling package with adaptive dampers, two Sport packages (which, notably, do not include a sport-tuned suspension) and a Cold Weather package with heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel.

Sliding into the Gran Turismo's driver's seat, the first impression is one of unexpected elevation. The GT has more of a crossover-style ride height, so you don't plop down into the seat, because it's already at hip-level. Although the standard 10-way power front seats are excellent in their own right, the 20-way Multi-contour seats are a no-brainer upgrade, in our opinion. They belong in any conversation about the best automotive seats in the world.

The gauges will be familiar to any BMW fan, employing the classic white-on-black numerals that change to orange-on-black at night. Interior materials are top-notch, and the graceful dashboard design is basically the same one you'll find in the 7 Series. Unlike the 5 Series sedan, every 5 Series Gran Turismo comes standard with the wide-screen iDrive display for a uniform look across the lineup.

One way in which the 5 Series Gran Turismo actually outdoes its 7 Series sibling is in backseat comfort. Thanks to that elevated ride height, the bottom cushions provide extra thigh support, and the seat backs recline for added comfort. The backseat also slides fore and aft, and those adjustments are power-actuated if you get the optional power rear bucket seats.

As for cargo space, it seems there's not much in the trunk (15.5 cu ft), but let's take a closer look at that cargo bay. The 5 Series GT's liftgate is divided into two pieces, and the lower piece can be lifted independently for access to the area directly behind the rear seat backs--that's where the 15.5-cu ft measurement comes from. So unlike conventional hatchbacks and crossovers, in which trunk space is measured all the way up to the ceiling, the 5 Series GT's smaller measurement refers only to the trunk-like compartment underneath the liftgate's lower half. Translation: It's a useful amount of space. Moreover, if you open the entire liftgate and fold the rear seat backs down, there's 63.6 cu ft available--a healthy number that puts the GT on par with smaller luxury crossovers like the Cadillac SRX.

Technology

The 5 Series Gran Turismo comes standard with a dizzying array of high-tech features, including an awesome stereo with two subwoofers, but the technological heart of the beast is the beautiful 10.25-in iDrive system. More than just a pretty face, iDrive has improved dramatically from its controversial early years, now featuring a vastly better menu structure and numerous physical buttons next to the controller knob for direct access to common pathways. Furthermore, iDrive is now hard-drive-based, which gives you higher processing speeds and the fringe benefit of digital music storage. As a bonus, BMW's navigation system comes standard on every 5 Series GT. On the 5 Series sedan, for example, that's an extra-cost option.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The 535i is powered by a turbocharged inline-6 rated at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is plenty strong and exceptionally smooth with this engine, and fuel economy is quite good at 20-mpg city and 30-mpg highway, improvements of 1 and 2 mpg, respectively, compared to last year's model.

The 550i features a twin-turbocharged V8 with 445 hp, 480 lb-ft of torque and simply absurd acceleration that makes the family-friendly Gran Turismo a match for all but the very fastest production cars. The V8 is unbelievably refined too, with so little in the way of noise and vibration that it could pass for an electric motor at times. Fuel economy has improved here as well, inching up to 16/24 mpg versus last year's 15/22 mpg. Most of the credit goes to the new-for-2013 auto start/stop feature, which is standard across the lineup.

An 8-speed automatic is standard on every 5 Series Gran Turismo. Rear-wheel drive is the default configuration, but xDrive all-wheel drive can be added to both the 535i and the 550i. With AWD, fuel economy drops to 18/26 mpg for the 535i but oddly holds steady at 16/24 mpg for the 550i.

Safety

The 2013 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain).

In government crash testing, the 5 Series Gran Turismo received a perfect five stars overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested the 5 Series GT.

Driving Impressions

The 5 Series Gran Turismo drives exactly like what it is, a tall 7 Series. We prefer the 7er's lower center of gravity, but we do appreciate the GT's commanding view of the road ahead. That's not to say that the Gran Turismo doesn't handle well; in fact, this is one of the best-handling family vehicles on the market, exhibiting remarkable cornering composure for something so big and heavy. But the GT really hits its stride making time on the highway, as its composure at speed makes it feel more like a bullet train than an automobile. We'll warn you, though, that the optional 20-in wheels noticeably worsen the ride quality, so we'd stick with the standard 18s or the optional 19s at the most.

Other Cars to Consider

Mercedes-Benz ML-Class - In the 2-row luxury crossover segment, the M-Class is arguably the most refined option, and its available V8 engine is pretty competitive with the Gran Turismo's V8. But the BMW's athleticism is superior.

Porsche Panamera - If your tastes run to unusual-looking luxury vehicles, check the bottom line on the GT you're considering and see if you could snag a new or lightly used Panamera for the same price. Probably not, but it's worth checking. The 4-seat Panamera is an epic car.

Volkswagen Touareg - It's a dark-horse candidate, we admit, but the cheaper Touareg has a nice interior, a wonderful backseat and far more off-road capability than the car-like Gran Turismo. We really like the way the Touareg drives too.

AutoTrader Recommends

Did you see all the standard equipment on the 535i Gran Turismo? We're amazed. But with the V8's upgrades this year, we think the 550i is the no-brainer choice. Drive one. It's addictive.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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