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Diehard BMW fans best find another sideboard to prop themselves against. Having only just got over the introduction of the front-wheel-drive, practicality-first 2 Series Active Tourer, here's the less driver-focused Gran Tourer version, which comes with seven seats as standard in the UK.

It gets the same front-drive layout and engines as the shorter, five-seat Active Tourer, which includes BMW’s three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol and diesel engines in the shape of the 218i, including its hybrid option, and 216d respectively. There is also an 187bhp 2.0-litre petrol and a series of 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel units which sits under the bonnet of the 218d and 220d. Our test car driven here is the range's most expensive offering, the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which comes exclusively with BMW's eight-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive.

BMW claims it's the only premium, four-wheel-drive, seven-seat compact MPV on sale and, depending what 'premium' means to you, it's right. However, if a badge isn't important to you, are classier versions of a larger MPV or a seven-seat 'proper' off-roader better value?

To cater for the wide spectrum who may want a seven-seater BMW-badged MPV, there is four trim levels to choose from each offering a decent level of equipment. The entry-level SE models include BMW's iDrive infotainment system, with a 6.5in screen, sat nav, DAB radio, and Bluetooth and USB interface. There is also dual-zone climate control, an automatic tailgate, rear parking sensors and automatic wipers and lights. 

Upgrade to the a Sport trimmed Gran Tourer and you'll find bigger alloys, front sports seats and interior LED lighting, while the Luxury models get a leather upholstery, and the range-topping M Sport versions get a sporty bodykit, suspension, detailing and 18in alloy wheels.

To ensure there's room for everyone, BMW has made the Gran Tourer 21cm longer and 5cm taller than the Active Tourer. The wheelbase is also 11cm longer, the result being that there's decent front space for tall adults and enough room for two more occupying the outer seats in the middle row, provided both parts of its 60/40 base configuration are slid as far back along their 13cm range as possible.  

Access to the middle row is good thanks to rear doors that open wide, but seating three adults across it will be as much of a squeeze as it is in the Active Tourer. The Gran Tourer is no wider inside and still lacks three individual middle row seats.

The sixth and seventh seats can be pulled up from the boot floor using one hand. Folding down and sliding forward an outside middle row seat creates good access to these rear chairs. However, as an adult, you won't want to be in them for long. Shoulder room is good, and the seat bases are individual but even for teenagers, head, leg and foot room is very tight indeed. 

That said, you can slide forward the middle row to free up kneeroom in the third row but as an adult, by the time you're happy, there's very little legroom left for the middle row passengers.

With the third row folded away flat there's a 560-litre boot benefiting from a wide opening, a low lip and a usefully square shape. The middle row seats can be folded 40/20/40 electronically using buttons on the boot walls. This is a standard feature and one that works well, increasing boot space to 1820 litres. The front passenger seat can also be folded flat to leave a 2.6m-long load bay.

For the driver there are the same large, split front pillars as in the Active Tourer, so forward visibility isn't great, but aside from some cheap-feeling switchgear - present in all BMWs - cabin quality is impressive.

BMW's 2.0-litre diesel engine has a job to do in this heaviest of Gran Tourers. It certainly doesn't feel as punchy as when screwed into a standard 2 Series. Even so, there's enough low-down torque to shift seven people, and over a wide enough band, to make it useful. 

Engine noise, accompanied by a slight buzz through the controls, gets steadily worse as the revs rise. Road noise isn't too bad but wind noise at speed is noticeable around the Gran Tourer's mirrors. The eight-speed automatic is slick between changes, though, and pulls from standstill more readily than a VAG-group DSG 'box. 

Being taller and heavier than an Active Tourer was never going to do wonders for the Gran Tourer's handling. The front-end urgency and steering precision is still there, but the larger body trailing behind isn't as happy to play ball when pushing hard. There's more body lean and more lateral effect on the front wheels as the rear ones swing into line.

Keep things sensible and the Gran Tourer will still be more entertaining along a winding road than the average seven-seat MPV, but there's less enjoyment to be had from exploring its limits than an Active Tourer. 

Our test car was fitted with optional adaptive dampers and selecting Sport to stiffen them does remove some of the body lean. Doing so also better ties down the body vertically, which has a tendency to bob about over undulating roads with changes of camber. Sharp imperfections and expansion joints are best dealt with in Comfort, however.

The 2 Series Gran Tourer looks expensive, especially in this guise, but the fact that it's so well equipped, of such high quality inside and features engines that are clean and frugal is compensation. The obvious cars to compare it to are expensive versions of Ford's seven-seat Grand C-Max and Renault's Grand Scenic, but BMW doesn't think these cars have the same buyers, and we're inclined to agree. 

There's no doubt its handling is competent for something with seven seats, but so is a Land Rover Discovery's, a vehicle that has more space for the sixth and seventh passengers and which can conquer far harsher terrain. If you genuinely need seven seats a Volkswagen Sharan is classy enough for most, and vastly more spacious and practical. Cheaper models further down the range are likely to make far more sense.

BMW 220d xDrive Gran Tourer

Price £32,005; Engine 4cyls, 1995cc, diesel; Power 187bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750rpm; 0-62mph 7.8sec; Top speed 135mph; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1640kg; Economy 57.6mpg (combined); CO2 129g/km, 23%

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