The new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is a lifestyle car aimed at the competitive MPV market and breaks BMW’s rule by being offered in front-wheel drive. The car is available in Luxury, Sport and M Sport specifications (the usual line up for BMW models) with Luxury offering a more sumptuous environment and the Sport and M Sport having more youthful styling. We tested the petrol engine 220i which delivers plenty of power and has the enjoyable pep and growl that is typical of a three-cylinder engine.
Review by Tim Anderson
BMW is looking to maximise sales in all areas of the car market. The brand is no longer the preserve of rear-wheel drive premium saloons but now includes the xDrive models offering four-wheel drive. The 2 Series Active Tourer goes further and brings a front-wheel drive model to the BMW family. Underpinned by the new MINI platform, the design brief for a spacious although not large MPV has forced BMW to adopt the front-wheel drive configuration. This offers practicality that has been long favoured by the volume manufacturers and ensures the cabin space of the 2 Series Active Tourer is maximised.
For purists, the fact that a BMW-badged car is front-wheel drive will be the main story here. However, in terms of engineering, the big news is not the drivetrain but the new petrol engines. Engine technology is moving forward and downsized petrol engines are appearing across a number of manufacturers’ ranges. BMW has launched the new 3-cylinder 1.5-litre engine in the confusingly named new 218i Active Tourer which we drove at the UK launch of the model. The British-built engine from BMW’s Hams Hall plant in the West Midlands is an excellent choice in this car.
The front-wheel drive architecture has been mainly developed for MINI products but works well in this model. An MPV is by definition about practicality and for this reason front-wheel drive is essential to maximise space. Although only slightly longer than a 1 Series, the 2 Series Active Tourer is an exercise in clever engineering to provide a roomy, flexible cabin for four adults. According to BMW, the rear legroom in this model is greater than that of a BMW 7 Series. As a mini MPV, the 2 Series Active Tourer is a premium product that combines the BMW design cues such as the kidney grills and the muscular body styling with a high driving position and flexibility with the seating. Any MPV is going to struggle to excite but BMW has done a good job on the brief with a sporty look and appealing design. The car is unmistakable as a BMW and is more dynamic than most of the competition although it certainly won’t turn heads when being driven down leafy suburbs.
When considering the driving characteristics of the Active Tourer, it’s important to remember that a comparison with a 3 Series saloon would be inappropriate. The car is intended as a competitor to the unpopular Mercedes B-Class and has to be a significant cut above volume models such as the Ford C-Max, VW Golf Plus and Toyota Verso. With this brief, the Active Tourer is a great success. The car is well made and has plenty of quality, soft touch materials in the cabin.
On the road, the car is capable of being thrown around without too much body roll. Under hard acceleration, the front tyres will scrub in a way that is not very BMW-like, but for normal driving the set up is fine. Seating is very comfortable and the car is equally well suited to both the school run and long journeys on holiday.
The new petrol engine in the 220i that we drove delivers plenty of power and has the enjoyable pep and growl that is typical of a three-cylinder engine. The twin turbo works to provide effortless and smooth power and this is definitely a contender for the best engine selection for this model. The four-cylinder diesel model is predictably a good option but the petrol engine beats it for this car and it’s likely to be a popular choice for choosers of the 2 Series.
The petrol car we drove had a 6-speed manual gearbox, which was disappointing. For some reason, the selection was vague with the wrong gear or no gear being selected at times. This may have been a fault but it was not up to the standard of the usually tight gearbox of a BMW. The diesel option was fitted with the optional 8-speed automatic which worked well but somehow gave the car the feel of a model that is likely to be chosen by older generations.
This leads to the question, who is the car aimed at? BMW stated the following three markets: 1. Small families, 2. Affluent empty nesters (retired people with cash to spend), 3. Professionals with kit to transport. The upright driving position will suit those who prefer this style of driving and this will, in the opinion of this reviewer, attract buyers from the second of BMW’s target markets. For the most part, BMW drivers will be more inclined to stick with the more upmarket BMW 3 Series Tourer to combine driving appeal with practicality.
The new petrol engine delivers official economy of 57.6mpg and emissions of 115g/km CO2. These are good results for a petrol engine. The 218d version offers slightly better efficiency of 68.9mpg and 109g/km CO2 emissions but at a premium price. For this car, the petrol is a preferred option unless the vehicle will be used for very high mileages.
The BMW 218i Active Tourer is available in Luxury, Sport and M Sport specifications. This is the usual line up for BMW models with Luxury offering a more sumptuous environment and the Sport and M Sport having more youthful styling. The standard specification on all vehicles includes a very flexible back seat arrangement that splits 60/40, folds flat and can be adjusted to increase legroom or boot space accordingly. Also all models come with an electric tailgate that helps to improve the loading of shopping or push chairs.
Many optional equipment packages can be added to enhance lighting, safety, practicality and entertainment. All of these come at a cost. Both the petrol and diesel test cars had £30k plus price tags although the range starts at £22,150.
The 2 Series Active Tourer is a car that breaks the rules. It is almost certainly the most premium offering in this segment with styling that does its best with the MPV brief, good driving dynamics, excellent build quality and a fantastic new engine. Technically, the 2 Series Active Tourer shares more with the MINI brand than it does with BMW and as a bridge between the two brands, it is ideal.
The Active Tourer shows that BMW obviously wants to increase market share and is delving into a new segment. The question for buyers is whether this model has enough appeal to attract buyers of the volume MPVs to pay more for the privilege of a BMW badge. Also, competition lies within, with vehicles such as the X1, X3 and 3 Series Tourer arguably more aspirational.