MPVs are not traditionally the preferred option for the Sri Lankan family. They will either have a seven seat SUV, or maybe a van. You may see a smattering of Honda Fit Shuttles and Toyota Prius Alphas but these are more the exception than the rule for those with large families. However, Prestige Automobile (Pvt) Ltd has taken a bold step in bringing down BMW’s latest 2-series in 7-seat Gran Tourer form. Will it be a hit? Let’s find out what makes it tick...
The brochure section for the Gran Tourer proclaims “Because Fathers are Men too”. Versatility shows its athletic side. Unlike the 225Xe iPerformance Active Tourer tested in the November 2017 issue, the Gran Tourer takes on a more family oriented role in the 2-series portfolio. It boasts 7 seats and a longer, taller body as a result. It does not come in iPerformance spec (that’s the petrol-electric, all-wheel-drive variant), but can be gotten with all-wheel-drive xDrive specification, and the most powerful 225i variant packs a 231bhp TwinPower turbo four-pot, while the most docile 216i packs a mere 102bhp from a 3-cylinder TwinPower turbo engine. We are driving the next one from the bottom, the 218i in front-drive guise.
Trying to make a 7-seater not look like the quintessential “minivan mom” transport is not easy. Yet, BMW have managed it quite well here. Parked next to its stablemate the 225xe iPerformance Active Tourer, you immediately notice the longer and taller roofline, but on its own the 218i Gran Tourer gives away little to say that it can seat seven humans. It’s only 212mm longer and 55mm taller than the five-seat Active Tourer. The rear lights are the same as the Active Tourer, and look more proportioned here on the longer and taller body. Our test car is adorned in Mineral Grey Metallic paintwork which is almost blue from certain angles and lightings, and sits on 16-inch double-spoke STYLE 473 alloy rims wrapped in 205-section tyres. Exterior customization options are vast and you can add more chrome, different wheel styles and more.
Mechanicals & Technology
The 218i Gran Tourer packs the same 1.5 litre 3 cylinder TwinPower turbo engine that can be found in several BMW and Mini models (including the Mini Clubman we tested in August 2017 and the Countryman plug-in hybrid that packs the same powertrain as the 225Xe iPerformance). It outputs 136bhp between 4,400 and 6,000rpm, and 163 lb ft of twist between 1,250 and 4,300rpm. A six-speed manual is the default option, but for our automatic-loving market the offering is the six-speed Steptronic with Sports mode. Manual selection of ratios is via the gear lever; no paddles here.
Braking is via discs all round and there are a variety of technologies installed, such as BMW’s Performance Control which controls engine and braking power to individual wheels to enhance cornering performance, and the Driving Experience Control which allows switching between Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro modes, that adjust throttle response and gear shifting points.
Getting comfortable was no trouble at all and soon I was off on my way. First observations were that the low-rev nippiness I found in the Mini Clubman that uses the same engine in the same state of tune was replaced by a more leisurely gathering of speed in the 218i Gran Tourer, unless you are willing to rev it into the higher ranges in which case you get decent shove all the way up to 6,500rpm, but you sense the natural change-up point is nearer 6,000rpm. The engine needs revs to make the Gran Tourer move and you need to satiate that need if you want to get speed. Nevertheless, it got up into the three figures without fuss (claimed 9.5 seconds, and it feels about right) and makes an inoffensive sound too.
The ride is comfort oriented and soaks up bumps, potholes and the notorious ‘bridge humps’ on the Japan-Lanka Friendship Road without unsettling the occupants or the car. Grandma (or mother-in-law) will not be jostled about in any manner that would elicit comments. However, if you hustle the 218i Gran Tourer round some bends in an enthusiastic fashion you will see some healthy body roll. This lets you know that attacking the twisties is not the Gran Tourer’s natural environment. Adopt a smooth rather than exuberant driving style and you can cover ground at a decent clip without un-ruffling any feathers.
The brakes work strongly and grip progressively without any hint of snatch or hesitance, but need a healthy push from your leg. It’s nothing untoward, but noticeable if you are coming from a Japanese car straight into the Gran Tourer. The steering is an electrically-assisted rack and has the typical European ‘heft’, but devoid of any feedback as is the case with most EPS systems.
Interior & Living with It
The 218i Gran Tourer is well-specced on the inside, our test vehicle came with the Black Dakota Leather interior trim. Toys wise, it’s got the usual suspects including dual-zone climate control with second row vents, multimedia system (includes CD player) with iDrive control, automatic headlamps, automatic wipers, electric windows and mirrors, electric parking brake and electric front seats. The gauge cluster is analog (no digital main dials at the lower end of the BMW spectrum) and very clear to read. Having seen BMWs from the 1970s to current era, its amazing as how that font hasn’t changed very much and yet doesn’t look old-fashioned at all!
In an era of digital screens that present a myriad of data (and may soon be able to show you the driver’s biometrics), it was nice to see BMW persisting with the analog “litres per 100km” needle and see it swinging around as we drove. Oh, there are two 12v power sockets for charging your devices which seems about par for a seven-seat vehicle. Coming to the audio system, the sound quality is decent so your music will come through clear and punchy. The media screen is of the widescreen and ‘floating design’ variant, and is suitably clear and glare-free.
The second row is very similar to that on the 225xe that we tested which means you get decent leg, head and shoulder room, even if a person well over 6 feet is driving and has put the seat all the way back. Your legs will then touch the seat in front, but you will not be squashed. The rear seats fold 40-20-40 to give more versatility in different load configurations. The boot space (with the third row up) is 560 litres, which is 160 more than the Active Tourer, and a direct result of the extra length. Moving to the third row, it is strictly for kids only. I tried to get in from various angles and had to concede defeat. Average-sized adults will just not fit here, hence why I mentioned “seven humans” in the Exterior section. This is strictly a “5+2” vehicle, where you banish the youngest and smallest (and usually noisiest) kids as far as possible from the driver.
You get at least six airbags here (including those inside the front seats) ABS, Dynamic Stability Control and a whole lot of technologies to keep you right side up and right way forwards as much as possible. LED headlights with cornering lights are also present. Traffic Jam assist is an option that controls the speed of the car in dense traffic situations, and a preconditioning of the brakes when the car detects an impending sudden brake application. The safety package is identical to the 225xe, basically.
Fuel Economy and Price
BMW literature claims that you should get around 14 km/l under urban, and 20km/l under rural conditions for the 7-seater Gran Tourer. Of course, this does not really apply to our chaotic traffic conditions so it’s a pretty safe bet around 8 km/l in Colombo can be expected with reasonable driving. Expressway driving will yield better results, closer to 15 or 16 km/l. The price starts at 15 million which is a lot for a small people carrier, but it’s primarily due to our brilliant taxation structure that tends to place higher taxes on better built, more technologically advanced and safer cars, than those with the structural integrity of a paper bag which enjoy lesser tax burdens. You can’t thus compare this car with any Indian, Korean or Japanese alternatives. The 218i Gran Tourer has to be looked at in the context of similar European vehicles. In terms of peace of mind, you get the full five-year or 100,000 kilometre agent warranty on the vehicle, and Prestige have recently upgraded their workshop to an impressive spec, in light of there now being many i3s and a smattering of i8s on the roads too.
The 218i Gran Tourer is a vehicle that sits in a unique space. It’s neither a medium-sized hatch, nor is it a full-sized MPV. But, if you are a person who has small kids and the need to transport the in-laws as well, head right down to Prestige and give the 218i a try. The cachet of that BMW badge on the nose and tail will bring you further cred at the school/office carpark too. If you want this with more performance it may be prudent to check out the higher-engined options, or if you can ditch the rear two seats and sacrifice some boot space, the 225Xe is an attractive proposition too. In an ideal Sri Lanka, where vehicles are taxed in a more realistic manner I can quite see the 218i Gran Tourer being a great option as an airport taxi or tourism shuttle too!
BMW 218i Gran Tourer
1.5L 3-cylinder, 12 valve
136bhp @ 4,400-6,000rpm
163lb ft @ 1,250-4,300rpm
Manual mode on gearlever
Front wheel drive
Suspension – Double Wishbone
Brakes – Ventilated Disc
Tyres – 205/50R16
Suspension – Multi Link
Tyres – 205/50R16
Length 4,556 mm
Kerb Weight – 1,500kg
Fuel Tank – 51L
Boot Space – 560L