March 29, 2016 @ 05:05 PM

Review: BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer – could this really be BMW’s answer for the whole family?

In a very bold move, BMW creates a proper vehicle for the family. Are they going soft?


Unremarkable, or at least that what’s this drive was supposed to be. Just look at this car, no, vehicle, the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer. Of all the box-on-four-wheels that BMW could have designed, engineered and blow minds, they’ve gone to create a family van. So how much better can an MPV drive in spite it having the blue-black-white roundel tacked to its bonnet? After all, it is a five-seater MPV that moms and dads can use the space at the back to put belongings or, depending on the country and spec, unfolds two extra seats with less space to put belongings. In other words, BMW has gone and done a sensible family vehicle.

And why not. In recent years, the vehicles that were belched out of Munich were reimaginations of their current lineup and its variations. This resulted with curious mishmashes that either fit into micro-niches or slice out a new one; the Gran Turismo and Gran Coupe are prime examples. Not all are eyebrow-raising mind you, the Active Tourer is a perfect example of a perfectly sensible car designed to offer families a more spacious form of mobility that a four-door coupe or a sedan can ever offer.

But we know the real reason why the 2 Active Tourer was made: to disrupt the segment that’s long-held dominance by the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.

The introduction of the 2 Series Active Tourer also shattered BMW’s endearing heritage of exclusively producing rear-wheel drive cars — the new branch of the 2 Series’ branch is front-wheel driven. This also means that without any rear differential to factor into the drawing, a more practical boot space can be offered. Add more acreage to the rear and you have the 2 Series Gran Tourer, and that’s also absolutely sensible.

Initial impressions from early adopters (read: BMW staff) are positive, most quipping that this is the vehicle that they have been wanting. One of them even mentioned that another child would be welcomed into his family very soon and if not for the Gran Tourer, he would have to have to walk into a Volkswagen dealership to buy a Touran. Oh, the humanity. So I can imagine a brand loyal with a growing family would be overjoyed that this MPV exists. I also imagine that the 2 Gran Tourer will inevitably be the wife-slash-family car; the husband gets to drive the most exciting BMW to work. Having said that, after spending more than a few corners with the 2 Gran Tourer, the husband might just swap the arrangement.

Before I continue, let me properly introduce BMW’s latest. To be completely honest, the 2 Gran Tourer looks chunky. The snout looks as if the 2 Series Coupe has put on many kilos with any leftover weight tucked proportionately around the vehicle. The final dimensions are such — 4556mm long, 1800mm wide and 1608mm high; the wheelbase is 2780mm long. In spite of its size, the 2 Gran Tourer engineered from lightweight, high-tensile and ultra-high-tensile multi-phase  steel and components that give the MPV a stiff body and a low weight of 1495kg, or 1570kg if the third row is installed.

You’ll sit tall in the driver’s seat, the high roofline affords plenty of space to add height to the driving position. Perched, you’ll see that the large windows offer better vision out of the vehicle. It also creates an airy ambience that’s prevalent in the car. Unless you’re seated at the back where the second row serves up plenty of legroom.
 
Now you may not have noticed but there is a multitude of storage options all around you. Apart from the usual glove box, compartments in the centre console and the armrest, there are also storage spaces under the front and second-row seats. Even the third row has space for bottles or other tall cylindrical items. 1.5-litre bottles also find a home in the door panels; all four doors have the capacity to accommodate such containers. Bigger things go to the back, the available space starts from 645 litres and can be extended up to 805 litres, depending on how the front or back the rear seats are and if the 2 Gran Tourer is optioned with the third-row seats. Dismiss all seats and the interior gives up 1905 litres of space to take along with you. At present, there are two versions of the Gran Tourer available for test — the petrol-powered four-cylinder 220i and the diesel-engined 220d xDrive. In total, there are five versions of the 2 Gran Tourer; the three-cylinder 218i, 218d and three-cylinder 216d making up the entire range. Come second-half of the year, BMW plans to release the front-wheel drive 220d and 216i versions into the wild.

More relevant to us Malaysians, there’s a higher possibility that the 220i Gran Tourer will arrive on our shores first. The 220i will have front wheel-drive receiving 192bhp and 280Nm of torque fed by the eight-speed automatic. The 220i will turn over a low fuel consumption; rated at 6.1l/100km. The low drag coefficient of Cd 0.28 aids in bringing down the figures by channeling air over its aerodynamically optimised body panels. On-demand control air flaps behind the kidney grilles and in the lower cooling air intake also adds up to the low drag value. Although this variant wears the more aggressive M Sport bumper, and other M Sport paraphernalia, the acceleration is anything but furious, yet nevertheless, complete its 7.6 seconds 0-100kph sprint with little effort. At speeds, the 220i feels especially stable and more importantly, resistant to the strong winds that keep assaulting the MPV’s flanks on a particularly windy Croatian highway.

Throughout the drive from the airport to the hotel, the 220i did not display any signs of unwanted body movement, not even when there are multiple off-camber angles that ambushed on a straight road. I never took the 220i to speeds that would earn me a speeding ticket, but fast enough to know that the body doesn’t lean at an unpleasant angle when pacing around the corners.

The performance of the 220i isn’t as all surprising. It drives as how any sedan-body BMW would, with the exception of the eventual body dynamics that follows tall vehicles. Yes, the 220i may be a good MPV to keep your Ringgits for, but I remain unconvinced.

Today, the situation is vastly different. Today, I learned that the time-to-destination displayed on the GPS isn’t really the destination but a waypoint. And after an hour and 45 minutes worth of driving, I am nowhere near the airport. The plane leaves Zadar in an hour and I can’t tell how far I am to the airport, nor can I spare the time to reset the GPS. So today will be a fast day, no time to take in the sights of Croatia’s backlands. Having stopped earlier for photographs, I know the views are breathtaking.

The only thing that’s taking my breath away now is how fast this 2 Gran Tourer can go. I’m no longer in the 220i but in the diesel-powered 220d xDrive sans the M Sport kit and all the sports gear that comes along with the package. You’d appreciate the sedate looks more simply for the fact that it does not make you seem like you're overcompensating. Cue Vellfire. Looks aside, the 220d does have the numbers that would put many an MPV to shame.
 
The 2.0-litre diesel produces 190bhp and 400Nm of torque — more than some similarly-engined SUV and 4x4 trucks — more than enough distribute power to all four wheels and put forward motion into the 1640kg MPV. The rapid-fire gear changes of the eight-speed automatic give the MPV a 0-100kph time of 7.6 seconds; it feels faster. With that said, this isn't why the 220d is changing my mind.

The real game-changer here is the xDrive. The system adds a layer of driving refinement that’s absent in other MPVs, even in the 220i. Coupled with a rigid chassis and a taut suspension, you don’t really need to scrub off too much speed going into a sweeping bend. While the steering does let you forget that you’re behind the wheel of an MPV, it doesn’t let you forget that it is a BMW that you’re driving. All the handling hallmarks the German carmaker is renowned for are all here. Feed the wheel a little and the MPV quickly changes track, and subsequently overtaking slower traffic fluently. Having all-wheel drive capability adds that high-speed cornering stability previously felt on the Golf R. Ultimately, it is the tall body and the subsequent load transfer between port and starboard. After all, I am driving a five-plus-two-seater MPV and not a hot hatch.

So this is BMW entering a segment that’s heavily contested and then renovate a floor above to it can own the luxury room all to itself. Is it a welcomed move? Right now the easiest thing to do is to pen a ballad of how BMW has sold its motoring soul for more profit. Let’s not go down that road. For the many who own a BMW and want to stay loyal to the brand, the 2 Gran Tourer is somewhat of a lifesaver and it won’t take a whole lot of convincing to get them on board. But what about the rest, would it be as easy to convince the other potential MPV buyers to give the 2 Gran Tourer a go? After spending a few hours speeding in it, the answer would be: probably yes.
 
CHRIS NG

Spec:
 
BMW 220i Gran Tourer
Engine: 1998cc, inline-4, BMW TwinPower Turbo, twin-scroll turbocharger, direct petrol injection, 192bhp @  5000rpm, 280Nm @ 1250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Steptronic transmission, front-wheel drive
Performance: 7.6s 0-100kph, 222kph, 6.1-5.9l/100km, 142-137g/km
Weight: 1570kg
 
BMW 220d xDrive Gran Tourer
Engine: 1995cc, inline-4, BMW TwinPower Turbo, variable-geometry turbocharger, common rail direct injection, 190bhp @  4000rpm, 400Nm @ 1750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed Steptronic transmission, all-wheel drive xDrive
Performance: 7.6s 0-100kph, 218kph, 5.1-4.9l/100km, 133-128g/km
Weight: 1640kg
 

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