There is no doubt that the people at BMW know a hell of a lot more about the motor industry than I do, but sometimes I wonder if, for all their knowledge and ingenuity, motor companies sometimes overstep the mark and outguess themselves and their ambitions.
It is fair to say that there were gasps of horror and shock from traditionalists when BMW announced its first ever front-wheel drive car, the 2-Series Active Tourer, but the wisdom of the company’s move into the premium mini-MPV has seen that car become their third-best-selling model across Europe and any naysayers have been well and truly put in their box.
The move then to make a seven-seat version — the Gran Tourer as against the Active Tourer — seemed both plausible and sensible. Indeed I was really looking forward to driving it, having already discovered the pleasures of the Active Tourer and liking it.
And I liked the Gran Tourer too — a very fine car indeed — but I find it terribly difficult to get my head around a car which will compete for family buyers at a price — in the case of the version we tested, in excess of €50,000.
Beautifully made, with the sort of benchmark build quality you expect from BMW, eminently practical in its own right, coming with a top-drawer line-up of engines and engineered to provide exactly the right answers to the individual problems posed by an MPV, the 2-Series Gran Tourer is without a doubt a car with the answer to many families’ needs. But they’d want to be well-heeled families.
Notwithstanding the key BMW styling signatures which mark it out as a BMW — kidney grille among them — the engineering and design teams involved with this car will have found pretty quickly that making a compact MPV does not leave you with much room to manoeuvre in terms of the overall vehicle.
That is a fact which I found was underlined by a simple test.
If you frame a side view of the car just from the A-pillars through to the C-pillars — taking away the front and rear elements — it is practically impossible to differentiate the Gran Tourer from any one of its competitors.
Indeed, I tried doing this test with several innocent bystanders and not one of them could immediately identify the car as being made by the Munich concern.
In fact most thought it was a Ford C-Max.
Show them the whole picture, however, and there was an element of disbelief, a) that BMW made such a thing and b) that it looked so much like everything else in the segment.
The exterior look is one thing, but park yourself inside and — even with the upper level M Sport trim in place, as it was on the tester — you have no doubt that you’re in anything other than a BMW.
Build quality is nothing short of superb and the whole ergonomic package on offer here demonstrates just how much time, effort, and class BMW puts into its cars for the benefit of its customers.
By comparison with the Sports Tourer, the Gran Tourer is slightly wider, higher, and longer, and, given that the point of the exercise was to create a fully-fledged seven seater, these increased dimensions are hardly a surprise.
A fore/aft sliding middle seat section (which also has a backrest adjustment) allows for both greater or lesser legroom (depending on the need) and easier access to the two rearmost seats.
These latter seats are, like so many other cars in this genre, mainly intended for smallies, but you can get a teenager in there without too much fuss and their contended containment back there is aided greatly by additional power sockets to keep their electronic gadgets going.
The neat armrests are another attractive feature. The interior then provides users with an airy, comfortable, and practical space, while the driver has a high seating position and a cockpit-like space from which to operate.
With the back seats in use, boot space is compromised, but then that is the case for practically every other car of this nature, but you can use a variety of seating formations depending on what your needs are at any given time.
On the road, as with the Sports Tourer, the Gran Tourer has not lost much in the handling department as a result of the shift to front wheel drive propulsion. Indeed, having run the rule on the car over some of Ireland’s most testing roads, I can say that the majority of drivers will find the car to be nothing other than a well balanced, grippy and solid driving affair.
There’s no excessive body roll and only a faint hint of understeer if you’re a bit too aggressive on the load pedal.
The 218d M Sport tester came equipped with a two-litre turbodiesel engine which outputs a zesty 110 kW (150 bhp) at 4,000 rpm and 330 Nm of torque at 1,750 rpm, which in turn translates to a 9.5-second 0-100km/h time and a top speed of 205km/h.
On top of that, consumption over the combined cycle measures 4.4 l/100km (64.2 mpg), while CO2 emissions are 115 g/km.
A six-speed gearbox is standard, although an eight-speed auto can be specified, and it is as slick as you expect from BMW.
As a package then, the Gran Tourer is everything it should be and you’d have thought it was a job well done. And it is — as a design exercise. As a practical buying proposition though, it is not something which is going to appeal to a majority, simply on price.
For the sort of money being asked here, you could easily see people deciding to get into a much bigger Ford S-Max, for example. Sadly that means that the Gran Tourer, in Ireland anyway, is destined to be no more than a trophy second car for those that can afford one. That is a bit of a pity really, because it is a good car and one which will withstand favourable comparison with anything similar out there.
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