BMW fronts up with a u-turn

First Drive: BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

Make: BMW

Model: 2-Series Active Tourer

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: July 21, 2014

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 01:00


BMW’s new 2 Series Active Tourer represents a much-heralded u-turn for the Bavarian brand. After decades of dismissing rivals for their front-wheel drive models, claiming rear-wheel drive was the purist’s choice, the firm has had an about face.

In fact, BMW has managed three significant milestones with the introduction of its all-new compact MPV, the 2 Series Active Tourer. It’s the first BMW MPV and also the first BMW to utilise front-wheel drive along with having its engine mounted transversely, as opposed to BMW’s traditional inline layout. BMW has experience with designing front-wheel drive cars through its Mini range and the 2 Series Active Tourer is built on the new Mini’s architecture.

There will be two engines available initially to Irish motorists when the car goes on sale this September, one petrol and one diesel. The 218i SE (priced from €32,530) has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that produces 136hp and 220Nm of torque. This is the same engine that BMW has debuted recently in the new Mini. It’s an efficient unit and emits 115g/km of CO2, placing it in tax band A4, with an annual road tax of €200.

The 218d SE starts at €35,250 and is powered by a four-cylinder diesel engine developing 150hp and 330Nm of torque.

These two engines will be joined by new models in November, with the arrival of the 220i, 225i xDrive, 216d, 220d and 220d xDrive.

The 2 Series Active Tourer’s compact external dimensions are somewhat deceiving to the generous interior space on offer. There’s ample space for all occupants, with good head and legroom for rear-seat passengers who sit elevated on seats that slide forward and backwards to increase luggage space or legroom. They also recline, increasing comfort on long journeys.

The luggage compartment’s capacity can take 468 litres in volume, which can be increased to 1,510 litres with the rear seats folded down flat.

The 2 Series Active Tourer is available across four trim specifications, SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport. Like all BMWs, there is a host of optional equipment available across the range.

Our test car was equipped with a colour head-up display, which is available as part of the professional plus media package. The key driving information is displayed on a small screen that automatically rises from behind the driver’s instrument binnacle on start-up. Your speed, along with the current speed limit is displayed, as are directions when you’re using the navigation system on your route, which we found particularly helpful.

We drove two variants at the launch, first a 225i four-cylinder petrol model and then the 218d diesel. The 225i has a smooth refined power train and was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. We would envisage the 218i three-cylinder petrol engine will make up the majority of petrol sales in Ireland, and it will be ideally suited to city driving and also capable on motorways.

Our 218d test car had a six-speed manual transmission, with an eight-speed automatic transmission available optionally. There’s sufficient power on offer from this diesel engine, with plenty of mid-range torque available. It’s quiet too, as is the cabin, which is well insulated.

However, the manual gear change is too notchy and clunky for our tastes and we would prefer BMW’s automatic transmission, especially for commuting around town in traffic.

The driver’s seating position is surprisingly high, which adds to the feeling that you are driving a larger BMW crossover or even SUV models rather than a 2 Series.

However, the hefty front A-pillar tends to impede your vision in tight corners, something we discovered on the numerous hairpins along our test route in the Austrian Alps.

On a more positive note, unless you induce a fistful of throttle in the mid-corner causing the stability control to kick in, it’s not apparent that this is BMW’s first front-wheel drive car. It drives with competence as you would expect for a premium car and the front wheels cope admirably with steering and drive even in this rather high-set car. There is a tendency, however, for some bodyroll in the corners, which is not something we’ve come to expect from a Bavarian-branded car.

BMW’s engineers started development on the 2 Series Active Tourer five years ago and it’s clear that a lot of time has been spent on the front-wheel drive system. The firm is eager to persuade its loyal followers that power to the front wheels is not anathema to the brand. It’s going to be an uphill task, for the brand’s engineers and leaders spent many years dismissing front-wheel drive rivals from Audi and the like. This is a u-turn for the brand in many ways.

The finished product delivers on its tasks and is suitably armoured to compete with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Ford C-Max and Citroen’s versatile C4 Picasso.

Factfile: BMW 218d SE

Engine: 1,995cc four-cylinder diesel putting out 150hp at 4,000-6,200rpm and 330Nm at 1,750-2,750rpm with a six-speed manual transmission

Performance: 0-100km/h 8.9 seconds, max speed 208 km/h

Economy: Combined 4.1l/100km (68.9mpg)

Emissions: (Motor Tax) 109g/km (€190)

Specifications: Standard features on the SE model includes alloy wheels, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, 6.5” control display, automatic headlights and climate control

Rivals: Mercedes-Benz B 200 CDI 1.8 Diesel 136hp, €33,885 (motor tax €200); Ford C-Max Titanium 2.0 Diesel 115hp, €32,585; Citroen C4 Picasso Exclusive+ BlueHDi 150hp, €35,345 (motor tax €200)

Price: €35,250

Our rating: 3/5

Good, but not as polished as we’d expect from a BMW.