Hatchbacks traditionally have scored in popularity somewhere between lawyers and used car dealers.
But that's changing as the practical vehicles proliferate in the popular-priced classes. Among them: Ford Fiesta and Focus, Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, Mazda3, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa Note, Scion XD and Toyota Prius.
They don't show up much in mid-sized, mid-priced territory, which is dominated by traditional sedans with trunks. Curiously, however, they are infiltrating the luxury classes. The latest example is BMW's 2014 3-Series Gran Turismo.
The company doesn't call it a hatchback, probably figuring that would denigrate it. But it's actually way bigger than the compact 3-Series sedan -- fully seven inches longer, with a back seat that has limousine-like room to stretch out, along with generous headroom for passengers of almost any size.
There's also a cargo area of 18 cubic feet compared to the sedan's trunk of 13 cubic feet. If you fold the rear seatbacks, the space jumps to 57 cubic feet, rivaling some station wagons. Overall interior room of 120 cubic feet qualifies it as a large car.
But as manufacturers have found, Americans don't like station wagons either, preferring sport or crossover utility vehicles.
The BMW Gran Turismo neatly finesses that with its fastback profile, which itself is catching on with an increasing number of nameplates, both in sedans and hatchbacks. Witness the Jaguar XF and Audi A7.
You might expect that a car with such a generous back seat -- likely to be popular in China, where cars like this usually are chauffeur driven -- would provide enough room for all the positions with seatbelts. But the Gran Turismo's center-rear seat is an uncomfortable hard cushion made more difficult by a large, square hump in the floor that requires the person's legs to be splayed to the sides. In BMW's defense, punishing center-rear seats are common.
However, getting into and out of the back seat is convenient, with wide doors and minimal bending. That contrasts with the front seats, where driver and passenger must duck down considerably because of the sharply sloped windshield.
There are two Gran Turismo versions, both with all-wheel drive. Rear-wheel drive, standard in other BMW models, is not offered but likely would be welcomed by Sun Belt customers. There are two versions: the 328i xDrive, the subject of this review, and the 335i xDrive.
The latter arrives with BMW's turbine-smooth in-line 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine. Turbocharged, it delivers 302 horsepower. Its fraternal twin, the 328i, also is turbocharged but at 2.0 liters with four cylinders, the horsepower is 241. Both cars have eight-speed automatic transmissions that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
It's doubtful that anyone other than an outright enthusiast or somebody who simply has to own the most horsepower would choose anything other than the 328i. It accelerates to 60 miles an hour in 6.1 seconds, according to the factory specifications, and delivers 22/33 mpg on the EPA's city/highway test cycles.
Unfortunately, it's a costly creature. The starting price is $42,375, but the options list stretches out almost as long as the back seat legroom. With a whole bunch of them, the test car topped out at $57,025.
Equipment included full safety features, navigation system, automatic climate control, upgraded Harman Kardon audio, satellite radio, engine stop-start technology, 18-inch alloy wheels, motorized glass sunroof, Bluetooth connectivity, radar cruise control, heated front seats, head-up display, keyless entry with pushbutton starting, blind-spot warning, and rear and top-view cameras.
On the road, the Gran Turismo delivers what BMW owners have come to expect: Plenty of power on demand, precise steering with good feedback and on-center feel, an absorbent and controlled suspension system, and solid braking.
The standard eight-speed automatic transmission shifts slickly either in automatic or manual mode. Manual operation is particularly useful driving on twisting, hilly roads where the driver can hold a selected gear for maximum performance. However, the automatic does it almost as well.
Stop-start technology, in which the engine shuts down at stoplights to improve fuel economy, is becoming widespread. It works fine in small, low-power engines but in higher power engines restarts with a shudder. Fortunately, it is not terrible on the Gran Turismo and can be switched off.
There are a variety of luxury interiors, including blue striping with aluminum trim.
The navigation screen is small and the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to block sun from the side.
Model: 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo four-door hatchback.
Engine: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged, 241 horsepower.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/18 cubic feet.
Weight: 3,915 pounds.
EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 22/33 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
Base price, including destination charge: $42,375.
Price as tested: $57,025.