Emptying the benches: BMW's back row on call
Two extra seats are small but useful
Long gone are the days when two tiny seats in the third row of a people carrier were of much use to our family. But I'm not that far removed to forget how big a blessing they'd have been when all of us were aboard.
That is, I'm sure, the reasoning behind BMW's decision to take a perfectly good compact 5-seater people carrier, the 2-series Active Tourer, and add a bit of length to make it a 7-seater Gran Tourer for €3,000 or so more.
The extra two seats are small and encroach significantly on luggage space (an impossible combination to work out even in larger MPVs). But they, like the rugby substitutes sprung from the bench at critical junctures in a game, can save the day. The third-row adds capacity when it's your turn to transport your children and those of your neighbours/friends to ballet or piano lessons. They are more occasional than regular, I feel.
I think it is important, on that basis, that you manage your expectations here. Of course you can slot the tots in there every day on the creche-and-school run, but it's tight.
As part of my review exercise I worked the seats as if I needed to have them occupied. I wouldn't say they are the easiest to conjure. There was too much pulling and dragging to get the second row out of my way first. It was all a bit cramped. But this is a small frame and the positive side of it all is you get carrying capacity, however compromised, on a small footprint.
I just wouldn't fancy having to wriggle two bad-humoured children in on a wet morning - but it can be done.
Going through the motions made me a little sad on the one hand, and relieved on the other. Memories, good and bad, of packing up for journeys, long and short.
BMW have come late to the people carrier idea and there are those who wonder if there is a future for this sort of car, considering the extensive success and flexibility of the Crossover.
The thinking behind it is, I imagine, the appeal it represents to families who want to embellish the practical with the posh. They get that with this, though it is not blemish-free.
For the record the 'Gran' is 4,556mm long, 1,800mm wide and 1,612mm tall. The longer wheelbase (2,780mm) yields the valuable interior space that makes the third row feasible.
Overall it is 214mm longer and 53mm higher than the 'basic' 2-series. Like its smaller sibling, it has front-wheel-drive while the engines are fitted sideways (transversely like in the MINI) rather than straight out.
You do win big time on space when the third row is folded flat. That gives decent boot room rather than an overgrown ledge when all three are engaged,
Even though it looks long, lean and relatively low, when you sit in there is plenty of space up front thanks to the higher roofline.
The second row can take three child seats which, with the two in the back row means you get five - and that is a huge attraction for young families.
You can also slide the second row forwards by 130mm to beef up the luggage capacity. Or, as is more likely to be the case, slide them back to give second-row teenagers more leg and knee room. The back-rest is also adjustable. And you can split/fold seats. The big tailgate opened up easily and if you had a boot you'd have no bother putting stuff in or dragging it out.
However, I was a bit disappointed in the drive. The engine in the 218d Gran Tourer on test was a 2-litre 4cyl diesel with plenty of power. But I felt the steering heavy and I'd like more pliancy in the suspension: too solid and sharp over any moderate road blemish. I noticed a lot of road and tyre noise in the cabin as well. I had to turn up the radio over coarse surfaces even on motorways. Disappointing. In fairness, I don't think it would be seen as a major flaw - or even detectable - in a car full of children.
Overall, it's a good package considering the physical limitations within which it works. Having two extra seats will be viewed as well worth the extra money as a back-up.
Like good subs at a critical time, they also serve who only sit and wait.
Facts & figures
BMW 2-series Gran Tourer; 218d M Sport (2-litre, diesel, 150bhp, 119g/km, €200 road tax). Price from €43,110. Range starts at €35,940 for 218i SE (123g/km €270 road tax).
Standard spec includes 16-ins alloys, Bluetooth, 6.5ins colour display, electronic parking brake, auto wipers/headlights, collision warning/city braking, two-zone air con, rear park distance control, front fogs. Sport adds 17ins alloys, sports seats, etc. Luxury adds chrome trim, interior wood strips, leather. M Sport has an M Aerodynamics package, leather sports seats, 18ins alloys. Options include panoramic sunroof, Head-Up display.
My side of the road
I'm often struck by how easily people are either caught by or escape the law. Going into town the other evening, I noticed a couple of cars pulled over by gardaí at the UCD under-pass - no doubt for speeding. Two hundred metres further on, a couple of brats in a souped-up Civic mesmerised us with blatant under-taking, tailgating and switching lanes at speed, with absolute disregard for anyone else. I'm not condoning speeding; I just wish there was a better way of catching other law-breakers as easily.