► Seven-seater version of BMW’s MPV
► £1700 premium over 2-series Active Tourer
► Range starts from under £25,000
BMW cheerfully tells us the 2-series Active Tourer, the company’s first stab at a people carrier, is doing rather better than expected. The production line’s running at full capacity, there’s an eight-month waiting list for petrol models and for the 2015 year-to-date it’s become the third best-selling car in the BMW range.
So it’s with less trepidation that the company ushers in this larger seven-seater version, the 2-series Gran Tourer, at a £1700 premium over the Active Tourer.
How different is the BMW 2-series Gran Tourer from the Active?
To make space for the extra seats, it’s longer – by 11cm in the wheelbase and 10cm in the rear overhang – though still relatively compact overall. It’s slightly shorter than a 3-series Touring, for example. The roofline’s been raised by 5cm at the rear too, to clear some headroom for third-row passengers.
Engine line-up is the same mix of three- and four-cylinder petrols and diesels found in the Active Tourer. Thriftiest is the 1.5-litre triple-cylinder 216d, with a claimed 68.9mpg average and 108g/km CO2. Range-topper is the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 187bhp 220d xDrive, capable of dipping under eight seconds from 0-62mph.
Like the Active Tourer, the Gran is front-wheel-drive, but the 220d engine is available only with ‘xDrive’ four-wheel drive. While a powerful four-wheel-drive seven-seater might seem like the most niche of offerings, BMW actually predicts this particular variant to be the best seller of the range.
Let’s talk practicality. How good is the Gran Tourer at the whole MPV thing?
The middle row of seats isn’t divided into three separate sliding chairs as in some MPVs, but the lower bench does split into two individually sliding sections, and the backrests into three fold-down segments. Three Isofix child seats can sit side by side in the middle row, with a fourth in the front passenger seat.
On the back of the front seats there are fold-down plastic picnic tables, which seemed A) worryingly fragile and B) ideal bongo drums for kids to serenade the driver with. They’re removable, and can be replaced with tablet holders as an option so bongos can be swapped for an iPad broadcasting Peppa Pig instead if preferred.
With the final pair of chairs up, there’s space behind for maybe two smallish bags; with them down, a decent 560-litre boot – enough for a competitive supermarket sweep, or a boxed washing machine, according to BMW. Both rows folded flat, there’s 1820 litres – or two washing machine boxes.
Problem is, when the seats are folded they leave various crevices and hollows large enough so be prepared to spend some time at the end of a journey retrieving stray small bits of shopping and luggage from under the seats.
A folding front passenger seat is an option, enabling a total load length of 2.4m, handy for skirting boards or other DIY detritus. Before you get too impressed though, bear in mind that Renault claims a 2.3m load length for the Twingo with its front seat folded.
How easy is it to get in the rearmost seats?
About as difficult as most seven-seat MPVs, i.e. very. It can be done, though. We did go for an experimental drive in a 218i with seven adult occupants on-board and though each row had to be positioned with a little less legroom than ideal, it wasn’t a completely tortuous experience.
Ride quality in the final row is entirely tolerable, but road noise is quite intrusive given that you’re sat right next to the rear wheelarches. Headroom’s reasonable for average-sized adults, helped by scalloped sections in the roof above.
The Active Tourer’s pretty decent to drive. What’s this bigger, heavier one like?
Similarly good. Settle into the supportive driver’s seat and from the first turn of the direct, accurate steering, you get the impression that the Gran Tourer has been designed by people who want you to enjoy driving it, at least a little bit.
Body control is tidy, handling and stability impressive and, importantly, safe. Part of the trade-off for a car that’s more agile than a people carrier really should be, though, is a ride that’s a touch firm. All the cars available at launch were fitted with the optional electronically controlled adaptive dampers (even if 75% of Gran Tourers sold won’t be). Even with the dampers set to Comfort mode, we found the ride a little more choppy than you might hope on uneven roads. Then again, some people argue a slightly firmer ride is less likely to aggravate travel sickness than a smooth-riding, but wallowy car, and it’s fair trade for the Tourer’s nimbleness.
We tried three engines – the 216d, 218i and range-topping 220d xDrive. The entry-level diesel 216d was commendably quiet and smooth, especially for a three-cylinder engine, but struggled from low revs and wasn’t the most flexible of engines. The typical torque bounty of most diesel engines seemed absent, and steep hills became quite a struggle even with just two occupants on board.
The three-cylinder 218i petrol also needed to be worked quite hard, but was quieter still, highlighting the Tourer’s impressive noise insulation. It’s more flexible than the 216d, and coped better than you’d think with seven adults on board.
While the 220d xDrive is the priciest of Gran Tourers (starting from more than £32,000), it’s also the nicest to drive. The engine’s generous 295lb ft swell of torque makes building speed a fuss-free, relaxing process, the standard eight-speed automatic transmission (there’s no manual option for the 220d) is smooth and unobtrusive as it goes about its business, and the four-wheel drive system provides impressive traction, and lifts the Tourer’s towing limit past the two-tonne mark. Price notwithstanding, it’s the one to go for.
Its relatively compact dimensions don’t make the Gran Tourer the most spacious seven-seater in the world. Nor is it the cheapest – all in, the optioned-up 220d xDrive M Sport we drove veered close to £40k. Absurd money for an MPV, whichever way you slice it. But it does at least feel expensive, and handles better than any other seven-seater I’ve driven. It may be a car that will be bought by some purely for badge snobbery reasons, but it’s one good enough for them to convincingly pretend otherwise.