BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer: The Family Option

By Lee Pang Seng

THE BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer is the natural progression from the 2 Series Active Tourer and its coming was only a matter of time. The need for a bigger MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) lies in its original design; to serve as a flexible family transporter, this time to pander the needs of a bigger family.

There is little doubt that BMW is continuing to expand at an accelerated pace on its new venture into front-wheel drive motoring and its higher competency in accommodating multi-purpose vehicle designs. The speed with which the 2 Series Gran Tourer had come about reflected the scope of development that was being undertaken, looking at perhaps other models in the small body dimension range as well.

While the 2 Series Active Tourer would appeal more to the younger family man as a lifestyle vehicle, the Gran Tourer would be more welcomed by the older set with a bigger family to move around. The 2 Series Gran Tourer comes with the option of a seven-seat capacity for countries that would want this while it would be offered in others as a five-seat MPV with a lot more room for family luggage and paraphernalia on a holiday drive.

The body dimensions said it all: the Gran Tourer runs on a longer wheelbase of 2780mm against the Active Tourer’s 2670mm, an increase of 110mm. Body-wise, the Gran Tourer is longer by 214mm at 4556mm and taller by 53mm at 1608mm. Both share the same body width of 1800mm. Likewise, they share the same wheel tracks, model for model, although the turning circle for the Gran Tourer is bigger at 11.7 metres (11.3) by virtue of its longer body.
Needless to say, that means the Gran Tourer is also a heavier vehicle having to carry more metal and other materials on board, with the kerb weight varying by 20kg to more than 100kg, depending on model variants. Another difference is that the bigger Gran Tourer has more resistance to the wind with a higher Cd (co-efficient of dynamics) factor of 0.28 against the Active Tourer’s 0.26, based on the 218i variant.

In styling, you would find it difficult to differentiate between the Active Tourer and Gran Tourer from the front. It is from the A-pillar onwards that the subtle differences come in, starting with the higher roofline. For the interior, it’s the rear passenger seat that is different; it is set 35mm higher than that in the Active Tourer so that there will be room for the feet of those sitting in the third row. Generally, BMW has intended the third row for kids although adults can be accommodated for short rides.

BMW has made the 2 Series Gran Tourer available with more model variants, five against three; this being two petrol and three diesel versions to two petrols and one diesel. However, this was at the time of the international media drive earlier in the year and the model mix could be varied according to market demand that would shape up along the way.

The international media drive for the Gran Tourer was held in Croatia, starting from the Zadar Airport after touchdown to the hotel, taking in a mix of highway and secondary low-land roads; the following day took us through the highlands from the hotel to the airport. We started with the 220i, the top petrol model with the undersquare 2.0-litre (1998cc) in-line four-cylinder engine. This is an all-alloy unit from the new engine family that features a close-deck crankcase, which is described as particularly rigid, and thermally joined cylinder liners with twin wire, arc-sprayed coating to reduce weight and friction.

Turbochargers are integrated in the exhaust manifold and there is liquid cooling for the manifold and aluminium turbine housing. The exhaust gases travel a short distance to drive the turbocharger making for a quicker response and the close-coupled location of the catalytic converter and electrically controlled boost pressure control valve, or wastegate, is said to have a positive impact on emissions discharged.

The long-stroke (94.6mm against 82.0mm bore) engine comes with BMW TwinPower turbo technology, twin scroll turbocharging and high precision direct injection to deliver 141kW (192hp) at 5000rpm and 280Nm torque that is available from 1250rpm. Our media car came with the eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with manual and EcoPro modes.
We noted the first difference when we opened the rear tailgate with a ‘kick under the bumper’ to stow our bags; there was a lot more room than that in the Active Tourer. As our Gran Tourer was a five-seater, the luggage space was huge at 645 litres; compare that to the Active Tourer’s 468 litres. On lowering the 40:20:40 seatrest progressively for the second row, this space can be expanded by almost threefold to 1905 litres.

There are also lots of allocated spaces here and there for drinks and little items like handphones, keys and wallets. Each of the four doors is designed to accommodate a 1.5-litre bottle and this should meet the family’s thirsty needs nicely. There are also compartments under the seats to put away toys, among other things, for the children.

Before we took off from the Zadar airport, we were given some friendly advice from the local constabulary; they gave us a short list of dos and don’ts – mainly no speeding, no drink and drive, and to adhere to speed limits for the many hamlets we were to drive through. According to our BMW host, some sections of the route were regularly monitored by the police.

With that in mind, we set off. The highway speed limit was 130km/h and the traffic density was very low (it was even lower than the roads in KL during the major festive holidays) but as we had discovered in Faro, Portugal last year, it didn’t mean there were no traffic cops around.

We decided to get a feel of the engine on initial acceleration, which with the low build-up of peak torque led to a nippy pace. The engine was idling along at about 2000rpm to cruise at 130km/h and when we had to overtake a slower vehicle, the Steptronic transmission did its job of downshifting effortlessly and the strong build-up of engine power made it all quick and easy.

What we found odd was the rather high wind noise from 110km/h onwards; it was not the typical BMW impression of quiet cruising and relatively low road rumble. There was a distinctly higher wind noise, mostly around the door mirrors and roof, which perked our curiosity. As these media cars were pre-production vehicles, they might not be 100-per cent spot-on but they were usually quite up to par.

We brought this to the attention of our BMW host when we handed them the 220i at the hotel and were later told that the particular Gran Tourer that we had was put through some rigorous off-road driving by the media in an earlier group although it was not an all-wheel drive model. As such, the doors were loosened at the hinges and had to be tightened again.

The Gran Tourer we had the following day was the 220d xDrive, which was a seven-seater and in a high trim and equipment level. This was powered by an in-line four-cylinder 2.0-litre (1995cc) diesel unit. Also undersquare (90mm stroke and 84mm bore) with a low compression of 16.5:1, it too boasts BMW TwinPower turbo technology but with variable geometry turbocharger and common rail direct injection. Its power is just as impressive with 140kW (190hp) at 4000rpm and there is a lot more torque of 400Nm coming in a bit later at 1750rpm.

We could immediately discern the difference; it ran as quietly as a Beemer should, even up to 180km/h. Although we were told to take our time during the 150-plus kilometre drive to the airport, we apparently took a lot longer than we should by wandering off the road a few times to take pictures and get a feel of the Gran Tourer. We made it to the airport with minutes to spare, grateful that the flight was a chartered one and the Zadar airport had a very low frequency in flights.

Although we took liberties to push the 220d where possible, we slowed down to the required speed limit for the many towns we came across in the winding hilly region. There was a section where there were four successive hairpins and the Gran Tourer 220d took them with fair gusto.

Body roll was well controlled and the Electric Power Steering was as good in directional feel and feedback as the ones in the BMW M3 and M4. With the torque and power being electronically regulated to the four wheels, the understeer was also not prominent and there was more of a four-wheel drift, rather than the usual front wheel scrubbing the road in a front-wheel drive.

BMW says the 2 Series Gran Tourer’s dynamic quality, like that of the Active Tourer, was fully researched and developed to be on par with the rear-wheel drive models. The focus was on the wide tracks, a reduced-friction steering system, a torsionally very stiff and lightweight body and a low centre of gravity.

The Gran Tourer is sprung in front by a single joint spring strut system that boasts lightweight (use of some aluminium) and very rigid components (high strength steel). Wishbones and a hollow variable gauge anti-roll bar is said to reduce unsprung masses. The drive shafts, like those in the Active Tourer, are sectioned to be ‘largely free of torque steer’ and to that we can say is true during our drives.

Of course, the rear suspension also played its part in the Gran Tourer’s overall dynamic character. There is a multi-link set-up comprising stiff control arms, hollow anti-roll bar, and separate springs and dampers to benefit the space functional concept. BMW says the front and rear dampers are decoupled from the body by using an elaborate three-way support mounts.

The model made available in Malaysia is the 2 Series Gran Tourer 220i and it carries a price of RM279,800 on the road without insurance but includes GST. It is an imported BMW and is introduced as a more upmarket model to the 2 Series Active Tourer.

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