Inigo S. Roces / Kelvin Christian Go, Inigo S. Roces | February 05, 2018 14:55
Not going gently
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
You’ve likely heard these lines before, whether referenced in “Game of Thrones,” the movie “Independence Day,” or quoted outright in the movie “Interstellar.” They’re lines from a famous poem of Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. The prose urges the reader to combat a quiet death, and live fiercely even against dire circumstances.
In many ways, BMW’s latest strange and niche creation, the 218i Gran Tourer, embodies this in a way that is yet to become apparent.
But first, let me tangent with an intro. Being the last single male in my little brood of bros, I’m often told by my married friends who are now starting families to enjoy singlehood and delay marriage as long as possible. Each time we meet, they complain of the newfound set of responsibilities, the need to give up childish hobbies and pursuits, and set aside pride in favor of the family.
This compromise is now becoming apparent in their developing ‘dadbods’, the multiplying pictures of their offspring, and their newfound willingness to carry their little princess’s pink Dora the Explorer backpack. Perhaps the most painful to see are the Facebook ads selling their precious project cars in favor of more family friendly SUVs and MPVs. The fires in their eyes, once blazing on track days, are slowly fading from their gaze.
The same nihilism is evident in this Gran Tourer (GT), BMW’s sequel to its much-maligned Active Tourer (AT). The two cars are based on Mini’s latest generation platform used in the Countryman and Clubman. The Gran Tourer further cements itself as the ultimate vehicle where masculinity goes to die with the addition of a 3rd row that was apparently not addressed by the Active Tourer. Now longer, bearing even more utility than its predecessor, while still spitting in the face of BMW tradition with its transverse engine and front-wheel drive layout, this is quite possibly the most surefire way to be shooed away from a BMW car club meet.
Despite the Mini underpinings, the 2-series GT still bears lots of BMW hallmarks. For one, despite the steeply angled hood, there’s still the trademark mild cowling. The distinct character lines of the current crop find themselves awkwardly translated onto its MPV style body. The window graphic even has its own Hoffmeister kink, although much larger and less subtle as if to say, “Hey, I’m still a BMW!” It’s rounded off by a cliff-faced rear and tail lights right out of a 5-series.
The nods continue inside with typical BMW trimmings like the sporty three spoke wheel, large twin dials in the instrument cluster, the start button with integrated stop-start, and brushed aluminum trim on the dashboard. Great pains have been taken to include everything you’d expect of a BMW. And from the inside, save for the large quarter windows, it almost does feel like a 1-series.
Thankfully, there are things it has improved upon from the AT. First of all, it now has a longer wheelbase. That wheelbase and its accompanying second row legroom can be further enjoyed with a second row that slides back and forth. The second row bench features a 40-20-40 split with a flat back with bars for which to hook straps onto. These can be folded to store bulky items with quick release latches near the rear door.
The third row seats can be pulled up easily, though with the high floor, will force those with the unfortunate luck of drawing these seats to assume the fetal position. Nonetheless, BMW engineers have also addressed their need for storage with well placed armrests, a coin tray and cupholders.
Finally, the very back of the cargo floor reveals a slot where the retractable tonneau cover can be stored when the third row seats are up. With the third row seats down, this cover slots neatly into place just behind the second row, and rolls out to hide any stuffed unicorns and baby seats and salvage whatever shred of male pride there is left.
Convenience and surprisingly good interior ergonomics aside, the Gran Tourer’s real saving grace is in its powertrain. Mock it if you must for its sacrilege of BMW brand identity, it at least delivers on the thrills. The 218i badge has no bearing as it is powered by a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine that gets jaws dropping for the wrong reasons. What’s easy to miss is the Frankensteining done to this humble little power plant to get it to produce 136 PS and 220 Nm of torque — TwinPower Turbo. This is paired with a 6-speed automatic with manual mode to drive the front wheels.
This is all kept aloft by a chassis that returns typical BMW firmness without being too jarring. It’s also surprisingly quite stable and grippy. The steering is also pretty precise.
Those last ingredients combine to produce a car that, though may be boring to look at, is the exact opposite to drive. It’s these dynamics that allow the reluctant father to cling to the last vestiges of manhood and rage, rage against the dying of testosterone. Plop it into sport mode, slide the stick into manual and the Gran Tourer turns into the track car once lost to OLX.
The engine happily revs to its 6,500 rpm limit, the electronic throttle seems almost analog in its responsiveness and the gear shifts quick and crisp like Hursts of yore. Throw it into a corner and the nose follows with cornering limits one expects of an M Coupe, not an MPV. Like the Active Tourer, the Gran Tourer can also be a hooligan at a moment’s notice. Just be sure to secure any loose items in the back.
Having to meet two seemingly contradictory criteria: its role as a conscientious family MPV, and a vehicle worthy of BMW’s reputation as a producer of exciting vehicles to drive, the Gran Tourer understandably compromises on both. For one, it only manages a paltry 7.5 km/L in heavy traffic, the third row is woefully unsuitable for adults, and its price tag of PhP 2,790,000 makes it an unlikely choice for a primary family vehicle. As for excitement, it certainly delivers, though there is much to be desired of its form factor.
I do salute the BMW engineer who took on the unfortunate task of designing this vehicle. There is that palpable rage, rage against going gently into that good MPV night. And for the reluctant fathers with quite a bit of family budget to spend on a kid friendly MPV, yet still yearn to blaze against the dying of the light, this is the car designed for your very specific quandary.