Take a prestige badge, add seven seats and eligibility for a Category A COE, and you have the BMW 216d Gran Tourer. You also have a formidable car for the Singapore market.
MUNICH, GERMANY — BMW is best known for its sporty sedans, so the idea of a compact MPV (or Multi Purpose Vehicle) with seven seats must be a strange one to fans of the brand. But that’s exactly what the 2 Series Gran Tourer is. Whatever the purists have to say about it, the good news for BMW is that in Singapore the affairs of the motor trade are ruled more by practicality than passion.
In fact, the 2 Series Gran Tourer (or 2GT, as it will inevitably be called by acronym-loving Singaporeans) is sitting pretty at the moment.
Mercedes-Benz has its B-Class, but that comes with only five seats. Volkswagen’s new Touran is a plausible rival, though it lacks the prestige badge and isn’t expected to be launched here until early 2016.
The 2 GT, in contrast, is already in Singapore undergoing homologation, and could go on sale by November.
That being so, someone who wants a relatively affordable MPV with a prestige badge and the ability to haul an extended family is more or less guaranteed to cast his eyes at the BMW.
What he’ll see isn’t exactly catwalk model material, for it’s nearly impossible to make a stout and upright seven-seater look sexy. The Gran Tourer’s body looks like the car may have had too much ice-cream for its own good, but its flanks have enough creases to keep it from looking slab-sided.
It’s from the rear that the Gran Tourer looks its most frumpy, but it does have the face of a BMW, so newcomers to the brand should find it acceptable.
That said, because the 2GT shares its underlying architecture with cars made by BMW’s Mini, the cabin layout does feel different from that of the German brand’s other cars.
Though there are familiar BMW items like the iDrive knob, most of the controls are placed more vertically. The drive mode selector that alters the engine and transmission between sporty and eco settings lives on the dashboard instead of by the transmission lever, for example.
It’s worth pointing out too that the engine powers the front wheels; that’s good for cabin space, but it’s a deviation from the rear-drive format that BMW was once so committed to that it called it “standard drive”.
In spite of this, the 2 Series GT is actually quite a bit of fun to throw around.
In Germany they gave us a 220i version to drive, though what will Singapore will be offered is a 216d, a 1.5-litre turbodiesel with 116 horsepower. The spec sheet says it’s unable to pull past 200km/h as eagerly as the 220i did on the autobahn, but the 216d should share our test car’s high-speed stability and its sharp steering.
For an MPV, it’s pleasantly wobble-free when you shuttle it through a series of bends, and it actually offers better steering feel than some of the mainstream BMW models.
Whatever it is, the 2 Series is noticeably more agile than the Mercedes B-Class, with better high-speed poise, and though the 216d version isn’t going to offer exciting performance in a straight line, it will at least feel sure-footed and reassuring to drive.
Sometimes the car’s thick A-pillar gets in the way of your view out, but you sit fairly high up in a 2 Series and can see pretty far up the road, so it’s a car nicely suited to dense urban traffic, too.
That said, if BMW is going to play the 216d Gran Tourer’s seven seats as a trump card, then the car should be assessed more on its practicality than its performance.
I’d definitely stamp the rearmost seats with “For occasional use only”. Climbing back there is the work of someone with the flexibility and suppleness of youth, and the lack of an air-con blower is bound to be a problem for long journeys.
Space-wise, the seating back there offers a remarkable amount of headroom, given how the 2GT isn’t a huge car, and the slidable middle seats let you dole out some extra kneeroom for people with Row 3 tickets.
It’s space for the feet that’s tight, and the seats are mounted low, so adults end up with a sort of knee-around-the-ears posture. Kids, if you have them, will find it much more habitable back there.
Regardless, it’s clear that the BMW is a mighty useful car. The boot space can grow from 550 litres to 1,820 litres when you drop the middle chairs, and that can be done with a simple button press.
BMW says it’s the only car in its class that can three child seats fitted side-by-side in the middle row, and the cabin is full of useful places for odds and ends.
If anything, it’s obvious that the 2GT it will be a serious threat to its own sibling, the five-seat 2 Series Active Tourer. In a package just 214mm longer and 53mm higher, it’s clearly a much more useful car, and in 216d form it’s available in the Category A end of the COE market. Seven seats, prestige badge, Cat A pricing? Those are the makings of a hit in Singapore.
As for its being a BMW, I’d say owning a 216d Gran Tourer is a bit like dating the ugliest Kardashian sister. It’s still fairly glam, and your pals will (probably) still envy you.
Overall though, I’m willing to wager that the BMW is by no means an answer to a question that nobody has asked.
Family cars are chosen by the joint heads of the household, particularly in Singapore where the prices (and thus, the stakes) are high.
You can imagine one half of a couple being drawn to the practicality of a seven-seat MPV while the other dreams of BMW ownership. The 2 Series Gran Tourer, at last, is a way for both parties not to be tugged in opposite directions, but towards BMW together.
NEED TO KNOW BMW 216d Gran Tourer
Engine 1,496cc in-line 3 turbodiesel
Power 116hp at 4,000rpm
Torque 270Nm at 1,750 to 2,250rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 192km/h
0-100km/h 10.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency* 4.3L/100km
Price To be announced
Available November 2015