Last year BMW launched its first front-wheel-drive model, the 2 Series Active Tourer five-seat MPV. Now it's following it up with this even more practical version, the seven-seat 2 Series Gran Tourer.
It gets the same front end, and the same efficient petrol and diesel engines as the smaller Active Tourer, but every model comes with two extra seats that pop up from its boot floor. We're testing the front-wheel-drive 20i petrol and 18i petrol models, along with the front-wheel drive 16d diesel and all-wheel-drive 20d diesel.
BMW's claim that the 2 Series Gran Tourer is the only premium, seven-seat compact MPV available with all-wheel drive is correct - but is it a solution to a problem that doesn't exist?
For instance, if seating seven is a priority, is there more sense in buying a larger, similarly priced MPV instead or, if you need go-anywhere ability, would a seven-seat SUV be a better choice?
Even with that claim, the company is targetting small numbers, with just 4000 units expected to sell this year.
What is the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer like inside?
To ensure there's room for everyone, BMW has made the Gran Tourer 21cm longer than the Active Tourer and 5cm taller. Included in those additional 21cm is 11cm of extra length between the front and rear wheels.
As a result, the Gran Tourer has a decent amount of front space for tall adults, and room enough for two more in the outside seats of the middle row, provided both parts of its 60/40 base configuration are slid as far back along their 13cm range as possible.
Access to the middle row is good, thanks to rear doors that open wide. However, seating three adults across it will be as much of a squeeze as it is in the Active Tourer. The Gran Tourer is no wider inside and still lacks three individual rear seats.
The sixth and seventh seats can be pulled up from the boot floor using one hand. Folding down and sliding forward an outside middle row seat gives good access to the third row. However, you won't want to be in there for long as an adult. Shoulder room is good, and the seat bases are individual, but even for teenagers head, leg and foot room is very tight.
That said, you can slide forward the middle row to free up knee room in the third row but as an adult, by the time you're happy, there's very little space left for middle-row passengers.
With the third row folded away flat and the middle row slid right back, there's a 560-litre boot that has a wide opening, a flush boot lip and a usefully square shape. Sliding the middle row forwards increases boot space to 720 litres, but decreases legroom.
The middle row seats are folded electronically almost flat 40/20/40 using buttons on the boot walls. This is a standard feature and one that works well, increasing boot space with all seats down to 1820 litres. The front passenger seat can also be folded flat to leave a 2.6m-long load bay.
The Gran Tourer has the same large split front pillars as the Active Tourer so, from the driver's perspective, front three-quarter visibility isn't great at junctions. On the flipside, our car's electronic driver's seat adjustment and manual steering wheel adjustment were very good. Aside from some cheap-feeling switchgear, cabin quality was impressive, too.
Our car was also fitted with BMW's optional Professional iDrive system, which continues to be one of the best on the market. Its bright screen, intuitive on-screen menus and the simple rotary controller make it a joy to use on the move.
Standard equipment is very generous. DAB radio, sat-nav, Bluetooth, climate control, an electronic tailgate, alloy wheels and city braking technology can be found on every car.
What is the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer like to drive?
The 20d diesel doesn't feel as punchy as it does in other BMW cars but even when the car is fully laden, it produces enough torque low-down that the automatic gearbox doesn't have to change down too many gears.
With less weight to shift, and slightly more power at its top end, the 2.0i petrol feels more spritely, although with less torque to call on the gearbox is more eager to change down in search of higher revs. The petrol is easily the more refined, though, staying quieter when worked hard and sending less vibration back through the controls.
The 18i, meanwhile, feels very refined for a three-cylinder engine and pulls the considerable weight of the Gran Tourer very well. It's quiet, but punchy when needed. Likewise, the three-cylinder 16d diesel is refined and smooth, but can feel over-stretched when faced with extended inclines. For the extra power and stability that it brings, the 20d in Xdrive form is about as good as it gets.
Otherwise, road noise is largely kept outside - though on smaller 17-inch alloy wheels it is noticeable at speed - and the eight-speed automatic is slick between changes. The only disturbance is some wind noise at speed around the Gran Tourer's mirrors.
We tried multiple suspension set-ups: the Gran Tourer's standard set-up and another version with optional adaptive dampers, both of them riding on 18in alloy wheels. The standard suspension keeps the body in better check in tight turns, but the trade-off is a sharp ride over broken roads.
Stiffening the adaptive dampers in Sport mode brings similar results, but there's still more body lean in bends than with the standard suspension. Slackening them off in Comfort mode improves initial bump absorption but allows the body to move about more through bends, and over undulating roads and camber changes.
Ultimately, the Gran Tourer's steering feels just as precise and its front-end as agile as the Active Tourer's - light to the touch but weighting up quickly in the corners - but you're always aware that the body following it is taller and heavier. At sensible speeds along winding roads, it's better than most seven-seaters, but there's no doubt it starts to feel out of its depth sooner than the smaller five-seater.
Should I buy one?
The Gran Tourer looks expensive, especially in the versions we've driven so far, but the fact that it's of high quality inside and very well equipped, and its engines are competitively clean and frugal, work in its favour. The fact that space in the third row is poor does not.
Its most obvious rivals are expensive versions of Ford's Grand C-Max and Renault's Grand Scenic, but BMW doesn't think these cars attract the same buyers, and we agree. As a result, the BMW seems a bit of a niche, and ultimately you need a very specific set of requirements for it to make sense.
If you're looking for seven seats and all-wheel drive, the xDrive Gran Tourer is priced alongside cars such as the Land Rover Discovery Sport. That car has similar space for seven people, a high-quality cabin and is far better off-road.
Similarly, if seven seats is a priority - and so is a 'premium' feel - large MPVs such as the Volkswagen Sharan can be specced to a level classy enough for most, while offering considerably more space and practicality.
What Car? says...
BMW 220i Gran Tourer
Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
Price from £27,490
Torque 207lb ft
0-62mph 7.9 seconds
Top speed 139mph
Fuel economy 44.8mpg
BMW 220d xDrive Gran Tourer
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £32,005
Torque 295lb ft
0-62mph 7.8 seconds
Top speed 135mph
Fuel economy 57.6mpg
BMW 218i Gran Tourer
Engine size 1.5-litre petrol
Price from £26,175
Torque 162lb ft
0-62mph 9.5 seconds
Top speed 126mph
Fuel economy 52.3mpg
BMW 216d Gran Tourer
Engine size 1.5-litre diesel
Price from £26,360
Torque 199lb ft
0-62mph 11.1 seconds
Top speed 119mph
Fuel economy 68.8mpg