The most annoying car I’ve ever driven, because it was the most surprising
There’s only one thing better (or worse) than rent-a-car roulette and that is courtesy car roulette. I had a Mini at the time and took it to BMW for a service and to get the washer bottle & pump replaced. My car was going to be in for a few days and I needed to commute so they agreed to lend me another BMW group car.
The excitement was building, I couldn’t hand over the Mini fast enough. In the garage there were a few 320ds, 120is and a handful of 420/430 grand coupes - could any of these be the one? I ignored the service assistant’s small talk as I was eyeing up my next daily driver. My attention snapped back when he said the courtesy car was in the underground car park and somebody was brining it to me. So it wouldn’t be any of the aforementioned ones then? Pity.
I could hear an engine turning over and the all too familiar 4 cylinder diesel clatter so I was preparing for an 18d or 20d variant of some sort. I can live with that, they don’t idle brilliantly but one of the best diesels out there, even the 18d has a surprising amount of torque and about 150bhp.
Do you know what the secret to comedy is? Timing.
As whatever it was accelerated up the ramp the assistant leaned over and said it’s a 2-series. Oh yes! Nice svelte coupe body, great to drive and a good insight into what I could buy next after the Mini. At that point I was hoping they’d find head gasket failure on the Mini to keep it as long as possible.
As the car came into view though clearly the assistant had forgotten to finish his sentence - it was a 218d Grand Tourer………Silence. I responded back with a slightly sarcastic, “So the ultimate driving machine then?”
After that rollercoaster of excitement I was brought back to earth faster than a lead balloon. It wasn’t even the Active Tourer, oh no they had reserved the one car in the BMW group which was designed using a ruler, and goes against every single principle - it’s an MPV, front wheel drive and blessed with a silhouette making the original X3 look like a Pinninfarina masterpiece. Whilst filling out the insurance forms etc I was trying my best to be professional and hide the adolescent strop bursting out of my face. I got in and set off.
Ever since the 2-series Grand Tourer came out I hated it because I never got the point of it. If you want an MPV get something else why did BMW have to fall into that trap of fulfilling every niche. I drove it back to the office and then later drove home.
Something strange happened though as the frustration turned to fury. It wasn’t nearly half as bad as I expected - in fact it was good meaning I couldn’t rant about it and concede that I was wrong. Damn and blast. There was some of the BMW magic in there, you had to dig a little deeper but it was present. Bear with me here and I’ll run through my twisted logic.
The engine is tried and tested and a great power plant, it doesn’t need any more power and it’s got all the torque. The gearbox is incredibly smooth, once again the BMW drivetrain cohesiveness is all there. The seating position, although taller than usual still offers a good enough driving position. The rest of the dashboard is mostly 1-series and that’s fine in my view. It thankfully wasn’t an M sport so the ride was excellent - don’t forget I’m comparing this to a Mini Cooper S with run flats all round. Weirdly it does have Sport mode but this is totally useless so best to leave it in Comfort.
I found it to be a relaxing car to drive, a doddle to park due to the boxy proportions and most surprising of all? Not atrocious in the handling department. Yes it’s front wheel drive and as tall as a tower block, but those front wheels feel planted as you turn in. If you go mad it all falls apart however if you do want to push a tiny bit harder it does a good job of keeping it together.
There’s little understeer and the turn in is relatively sharp making it an easy car to make progress in. Any roll is also contained, and more there to tell you you’re being too flamboyant rather than overreacting to the slightest amount of speed in the corners. The real downside is the extra length over the ActiveTourer, meaning the rear can play hardball and impersonate a carriage on tow. It certainly doesn’t shrink in size when pushing on like BMW’s of old used to. Play within its constraints and you’ll be just fine.
I had it for three days before taking it back and jumping into the Mini. Normal service was now resumed and on fresh rubber the Cooper S was a weapon on fast twisty roads. Having said that the 218d surpassed my expectations and I found myself missing the supple ride and smooth auto box. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to hate a car and then proven wrong.
Looking for a BMW with a bit more space? Don’t want a used 3-series touring, 5-series touring, X3 or X5? Give the 2-series a try but make sure you save a bit for something special in your 2 car garage.