Just over a decade ago, BMW said it would not make a people mover because it could not come up with an MPV design that would fit the brand's image. It was also around the same time that the Bavarian company reiterated its rear- wheel-drive stance.
Well, folks who want a premium seven-seater that does not cost the moon will be glad BMW changed its mind.
The 216d Gran Tourer is a compact multi-seater that is essentially a stretched version of the front-wheel-driven Active Tourer.
It is available only as a 1.5-litre diesel, which is good news on several fronts. Firstly, its peak power of 116bhp allows it to be in COE Category A, and its low carbon emission earns it a $10,000 tax rebate. That translates to a list price of $172,800, which is attractive for a BMW because the other seven- seater with a blue-and-white emblem is the X5, which starts from $343,800.
Secondly, the diesel power plant endows the Gran Tourer with a spritely demeanour. Even though its stated century sprint is a decent but unremarkable 10.9 seconds, the car's enormous torque makes it thoroughly pleasurable at the wheel. Even with six persons onboard, the car is effortlessly responsive, meeting one of the top criteria of a BMW. And you can exploit this responsiveness too, thanks to its well-sorted steering and chassis. It is not the best-handling BMW by a long shot, but it is reasonably entertaining.
SPECS/BMW 216d GRAN TOURER (LUXURY)
Price: $172,800 with COE
Engine: 1,496cc 12-valve inline-3 turbodiesel
Transmission: Six-speed Steptronic with manual override
Power: 116bhp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 270Nm at 1,750rpm
0-100kmh: 10.9 seconds
Top speed: 192kmh
Fuel consumption: 4.4 litres/ 100km
Agent: Performance Motors
And finally, because of its inherent efficiency as a diesel, the driver can rev to his heart's content with little worry about fuel bills or CO2 emissions - which cannot be said for someone driving an X5. Being a front-wheel-drive helps in this respect too.
The Gran Tourer, being a BMW, is of course better equipped than other MPVs. It has keyless access and ignition, electric parking brakes, contactless tailgate function, BMW ConnectedDrive (which includes navigation, emergency call button, real-time traffic information and concierge services), lane departure warning, LED headlights, parking assistant and drive mode select.
Passengers will be happy with the flip-down height-adjustable picnic tables in the second row, a sizeable under-floor stowage area at the boot, rear aircon vents, panoramic glass roof (one-touch) and additional 12-volt outlets.
Together with its badge, they help position the Gran Tourer as a market leader among compact MPVs. Alas, its price is also market leading. A VW Touran Sport, for instance, costs almost $20,000 less. (The VW is also quicker and comes with one feature the 216d does not have: cruise control.)
For all its impressive features, the BMW MPV falls short in one quality - space. Despite its relatively long 2,780mm wheelbase, adult occupants in the second and third rows may not be comfortable on long journeys.
And while the driver has access to BMW-like briskness, he has to bear with higher-than-expected vibration and harshness levels. This is despite the engine having a balancer shaft. Insulation from road noise is also slightly below par.
But for those who prize dynamism highly in an MPV, there isn't anything that matches the Gran Tourer. Well, except maybe for the relatively austere Touran Sport.