BMW’s adventure in the land of front-wheel drive vehicles has brought forward only two cars so far: the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer. While the engineers are forced to do the will of the bean counters we’re still hoping that these two will remain the only Munich-made models that send the power to the wrong wheels.
Unfortunately, we’re fighting a losing battle as the Germans have offered hints that more FWD vehicles might be in store, with the first one to show up being the 1 Series Sedan for the Chinese market. Whether that will happen or not, we don’t know but we decided to take a closer look at what the 2 Series Gran Tourer has to offer after having driven its smaller brother, the Active Tourer.
The reason why we decided to approach this BMW 218d Gran Tourer was the sales figures it and its Active Tourer sibling have posted since their launch in Germany. At the moment, these two are the best-selling models in their homeland, closely following the Mercedes-Benz B-Class which was previously unchallenged in its segment.
Yes, I know it sounds peculiar but, as it turns out, Germans are not the adrenaline-thirsty, driving enthusiasts we thought them to be, unrestricted Autobahns and all. As a matter of fact, knowing some German folks personally, I’ve come to understand that they are actually extremely pragmatic and practical people that value comfort more than anything. Since that’s the case, we may very well have an explanation why the Gran Tourer is doing so well in the land of Porsches, AMGs and M cars.
Compared to its Active Tourer brother, the GT is considerably bigger. You can notice the difference in size as soon as you lay your eyes on one: the tall greenhouse and elongated roof letting you know that there’s plenty of room inside. Other than sheer size, the two look extremely similar on the outside. The front end has the same kidney grilles between the sleek headlights while the rear end replicates the tail lamps of the Active Tourer on a bigger scale. Having them side by side, you’ll easily set them apart. Look at them separately and you might be in a bit of trouble getting them right.
And while the two are not identical on the outside, they are on the inside. The dashboard of the 2 Series Gran Tourer is the same as on every other UKL-built model with the BMW badge. You’ll find the same design on the Active Tourer and the BMW X1, these being the only ones using the new modular FWD platform so far.
The steering wheel, instrument cluster, HVAC controls and gearshift lever are all the same. And all of them are sitting extremely low, giving you the impression of space and letting a lot of light into the cabin. A special mention has to go to the steering wheel as it does look great, a big improvement over even some more expensive models currently found in the range.
Since this is supposed to be one of BMW’s first MPVs and its main purpose is to offer space and modularity for its passengers, the 2 Series Grand Tourer takes advantage of every extra millimeter compared to the Active Tourer. The wheelbase has been extended by 11 cm (4.3 inches) while overall, the GT is 22 centimeters longer (8.6 inches). Chip in the extra headroom thanks to an increase in height of 5 centimeters (2 inches) and you get the picture.
If I said that the Active Tourer offers plenty of space, even for those more pretentious of your friends, the Gran Tourer takes things to another level. Even with the optional panoramic roof we on our tester, there’s plenty of headroom inside. One interesting trick the engineers employed was to mount the seats higher and higher as you go towards the back of the car.
The second row was mounted higher than the seats up front while the ones in the third row are even higher, to allow everyone to get a glimpse of the huge windshield up front and avoid getting car sick on the way to soccer practice. Speaking of which, the two extra seats in the back are the ones that make the biggest difference between the two 2 Series MPVs.
And yes, you can actually use those rear seats, even if you’re an adult. Of course, you’d have be 5’5’’ at most and you’ll have to be pretty slim to fit in there, but it is possible to use them. Heck, BMW even made sure to install cup holders back there, for some added convenience. Gaining access to them is tricky but the second row of seats slides forward and can have its back rests reclined so that you can get easier access, at the pull of a lever.
The 40:20:40 folding seats will also come in handy if you want to carry large volumes of luggage or whatever else you may want to transport. As a matter of fact, if you plan on carrying long items, the passenger seat can be folded, allowing you to fit things up to 2.4-meters (226 inches) in length inside the car. However, if you want to test out the practical side of this car with passengers on board, you’ll have to decide how many people you want to take along. With all seven seats up, the boot leaves you with 145 liters, maybe allowing you to fit two small cases back there. Maybe.
Fold the last two seats and the boot can hold up to 560 liters of stuff, more than inside the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, for example. Furthermore, if you slide the second row of seats forward, you get 720 liters of space, leaving even the Volkswagen Touran, with its 695 liters, behind in terms of room. Folding the seats altogether opens up a cavernous 1,820 liters which can be used for a variety of items.
There are also plenty of storage spaces throughout the cabin too. Up front, the door panels have huge pockets that can hold even 2-liter bottles of water, for example, while under the center armrest there’s a big storage bin as well, for various items. The same applies in the back regarding the door panels and there are clever storage spaces everywhere in there as well.
So far we established that this car is practical. But how about the promise BMW made that it will also be a fun model to drive, even with front-wheel drive? Well, this is the one area where the 2 Series Gran Tourer can’t hold up to its promise. The UKL platform is a great starting point but not even BMW could bend the laws of physics so much as to turn this tall MPV into a star on the road. The biggest issue comes from the strengths this car has.
Those extra 22 centimeters in length and 5 centimeters in height have their say. The tall greenhouse means the center of gravity has shifted upwards and that’s never good for the handling of a car. Sure, you won’t tip over and we even have video proof of that but you won’t be having the time of your life inside the Gran Tourer either. Furthermore, the six-speed Aisin-sourced automatic gearboxes the cars come with are not on par with the ZF ones we’ve been getting used to. They are far from terrible but lack the refinement and the precision the ZF units have, even in 8-speed guise.
The engines, on the other hand, are typical BMW and are the highlights of the car. Our tester was the 218d model, fitted with a 2-liter B47 4-cylinder diesel engine making 150 HP and 330 Nm (243 lb-ft) of torque hooked up to an Aisin 8-speed gearbox. Initially, for the size of the thing, I thought it wasn’t going to be enough but this jewel of an engine proved me wrong. Not only that but over the weekend I spent driving it, it also proved to be quite frugal, a full tank of diesel allowing me to travel for up to about 500 miles (800 km).
So, say you want to go on the best driving road in the world. Say, the same road, has some breathtaking views and can fill your lungs with some of the cleanest air in the world. What car do you choose for such an endeavor? In my view, you have two choices. The obvious one is an M car, probably a GT the likes of the M6 Convertible or M6 Gran Coupe. With it, you can carve serpentines like no other and enjoy life at 180 BPM. But what if you also want to share these moments with more than 3 people? What if you want to take as many of your friends with you or you have a big family? The 2 Series Gran Tourer might actually be the solution.
That’s what I did as I called up six friends and invited them to spend a weekend in the Carpathian Mountains on the Transfagarasan highway. Of course, my group included two short people that were able to fit in those two seats in the back. As I said, in order to travel comfortably in there, you’d have to be around 5’5” at most. Luckily, nobody complained about lack of room during the whole 500 mile trip and that was a surprise to me as I did expect some of them to start asking for breaks more often than not.
Even so, with altitudes varying drastically and driving with seven people on board, the 218d Gran Tourer managed to post an average fuel consumption of 6.2 l/100 km (38 mpg) which absolutely blew my mind. However, without all the extra cargo, the car also showed as low as 5.4 l/100 km (43.5 mpg) on the highway, at a constant speed of 68 mph (110 km/h). Around town that figure went up to 7.4 l/100 km (31.8 mpg).
Speaking of which, you really need to acknowledge the size of the 2 Series Gran Tourer while navigating through narrow European roads. Luckily, the car is easy to drive and doesn’t give you the impression that it’s this big but you do notice occasionally. What also works in your favor are the big windows on all sides, offering great visibility all around.
On the highway, the Gran Tourer hugs the road extremely well. The high seating position of the driver and the wide windscreen offer a commanding view of the road, and you do feel as if you’re driving a van, which is rather peculiar every time you look down at the badge on the steering wheel. However, this is one of the most comfortable cars I ever took for long trips. What made things even better were the standard seats that offered great lateral support as well as just the right amount of padding, being not too soft or too harsh but just right. I was able to cover up to 500 km (300 miles) in one sitting without feeling tired. Furthermore, the atmosphere inside is serene with wind noise being blocked impeccably while the adaptive dampers made sure we were feeling as if we were riding on a magic carpet, on 17” wheels.
On twisty mountain roads, in terms of driving dynamics, you’d stop short from calling the Grand Tourer a BMW. Sure, it may be the best in its class in this particular area but it leaves a lot to be desired. The front wheels make the most out of the situation every time and the engine/gearbox duo are quite capable. But the sheer size of the thing and the tall center of gravity will make you drop any desire of dial things up over 7 or 8/10ths.
So, the Gran Tourer is not a driver’s car, but that’s ok, especially if you adjust your expectations before you get it. Sure, this won’t appeal to those hardcore BMW fans of old, that probably have shrines in their bedrooms of the E30 M3 but it’s not even aimed at those people. This is, by excellence, the first MPV offering from BMW and it was bound to be less than what people expected.
It’s an exercise that will allow the Germans to learn and perfect the recipe along the way. However, for a premium MPV it does its job wonderfully and it shows why it is the best-selling model the Bavarians have in store right now as soon as you try to understand it. It’s comfortable, reliable, frugal and spacious, all the attributes customers wanting a people carrier are looking for.
The 2 Series Gran Tourer doesn’t appeal to those in love with RWD but instead, it’s trying to get new customers to the BMW brand and it’s extremely successful in doing so. As far as a choice between it and its smaller brother, the Active Tourer goes, if you plan on going practical, spend some extra bucks and do it right, getting the bigger one of the two.