At first glance, the BMW 220i Gran Tourer (GT) looks about the size of a mainstream multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) like the Proton Exora. But it is actually a little shorter, narrower and lower, but with a longer wheelbase. Compared to the more compact 2 Series Active Tourer (AT), the GT is longer, and taller while retaining the same width and adding more pounds.
The GT looks like an MPV and drives like one, so what’s the significance here?
Like the 5-seat AT, the GT that followed is BMW’s first MPV and is able to seat 7. Based on the AT, it’s also a front-wheel drive BMW, a marque built upon rear-wheel drive “sheer driving pleasure”.
For the longest time, people knew BMW for making luxury sports sedans followed by SUVs. It takes some getting used to find out that of late it’s also a maker of something as un-sexy as a people lugger.
But hold on. Keep an open mind; the GT is actually not a bad looking MPV though descriptors like “sleek beauty” or “blistering speeds” are inappropriate in this case. It’s because BMW wanted to make an MPV that it had to resort to front-wheel drive so as to open up more interior space.
With the 2 Series premium MPVs, BMW is catering to the family man, the AT being for the guy with a small family and the GT geared for the other guy with a bigger family. It would be a shame to use the vehicle for anything but to transport lots of people at one go. And if the fella wants a sporty low rider, BMW hopes to lock him in to the diverse line-up it has concocted over the years.
The GT is the sort of car that would fit right in when mobilised on a group trip to Cherating or the school run. At a pinch, it could also be deployed to that favourite furniture store across town to load up on delightful Burmese artifacts. Add the allure of the blue and white roundel and it gives a posh sheen to the entire carriage.
The GT strikes a friendly demeanour in a midsize package with a face that’s instantly recognisable, and featuring chrome elements that draw the eye immediately. LED headlights including LED daytime driving lights and cornering lights set the tone up front.
Riding on 17-inch alloy wheels, the GT has enough sculpted lines across the bonnet and sides to keep the sheetmetal interesting. Although some people have said the rear looks bland or dowdy, we say it’s quite all right in keeping with the MPV persona.
It’s the interior that shows off how MPV-ish this Bimmer is. Space is the defining term for such vehicle type, and on that count, the GT scores well. There’s abundant storage space and nook and crannies for water bottles and other gear. Front door pockets can accept 1.5-litre water bottles.
Standard luggage area is 645 litres and can be enlarged to 1,905 litres with mid and third-row seats folded down. A low lip and a wide opening affords easy access to the storage area.
Ensuring maximum variability is the standard-fitted fore-aft sliding rear bench - with a 40:20:40-split backrest that folds down at the press of a button. If ever there’s a need to, BMW says five child seats can be fitted in the back rows.
As expected, the best seats are in the first two rows. Last-row seats, which pop up from the boot floor, are tolerable only for short hops. The seats are thinly padded so they are not the most comfortable place to be, even for small children, made worst by lack of air-conditioning vents, which however are present in second row. It’s also not easy to enter or exit from the back seats even though the mid-row is slidable on rails. The saving grace is there’s good headroom from the front to the rear of the cabin.
Aside from space advantage, the high driving position allows the driver to see further ahead. All switchgear are easily accessible. Showing off the premium ambience is a dashboard featuring contrast stitching and glossy wood panelling that run into the doors, coupled with chrome detailing around air vents. In addition, the centre console’s colour theme matches that of the leather upholstery.
Unlike the sedans, the drive mode selector is located on the dash below the climate controls, not on the centre console near the gearshifter. Standard kit includes iDrive, navigation with 6.5-inch infotainment screen, rear-view camera, dynamic stability control, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control and contactless tailgate opening.
On the whole, fit and finish are on par with BMW quality standards.
With the GT, BMW wants to show how far it can take practicality in this form factor.
That’s not to insinuate it’s a sluggard. The MPV is able to charge up to 100kph in a respectable 7.6s and dials in a top speed of 221kph, thanks to a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine making 192hp and 280Nm. That amount of torque is available from a lowly 1,250rpm, and is directed to the front wheels via an 8-speed Steptronic transmission.
It’s a brisk drive, with a cabin affording a relatively quiet and comfortable setting, eroded somewhat by noise from the run-flats and wind around the thick A-pillars and mirrors as the car gathers pace.
It conducts itself well at full load with typical firmness in the ride to ensure a composed drive.
In city settings, it’s easy to navigate around belligerent kapcai riders and drivers while manoeuvring the vehicle into lanes and tight turns.
Flip to Sport mode, and you get to see the GT’s real potential on roads less trafficked. There’s good acceleration and the steering is precise and well-weighted. It tackles corners without hesitation and body wobble is restrained. Brakes work effectively to bring the car quickly to a halt.
Giving the GT some semblance of agility is a torque vectoring system called Performance Control that minimises understeer by passing power between the left and right front wheels to stabilise the vehicle and help increase traction and lateral acceleration. But being a tallish vehicle, the GT is not going to match the corner-carving abilities of a low-slung BMW such as the 2 Series Coupe. That is simply not its forte.
A car is always a work in progress. BMW’s first crack at the MPV market shows it has got most things right but there’s room to improve.
For one, voice input to the navigation system was unwieldy – it either calls up the wrong address or didn’t understand what was said. And we believe we were speaking perfect, unaccented English, not Manglish. In keeping with BMW refinements, it would be good to have the auto start/stop action be less noticeable when waking up the engine. Having air-cond vents and more comfortable seats in the last row are also not too much to ask.
If you want a 7-seat people carrier, there are a number of able and cheaper alternatives in the market. The RM280,000 GT is for the individual who needs all that space — and a posh badge and/or snob appeal to go with it.
The mildly entertaining driving dynamics is a point in its favour.