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by Tim Beissmann

BMW has given the world its first look at its front-wheel drive future, revealing the BMW Concept Active Tourer ahead of its debut at this month’s 2012 Paris motor show.

The small car-sized BMW Concept Active Tourer rides on an all-new vehicle architecture, and for the first time in BMW’s history features a transversely mounted 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine that powers only the front wheels.

The Active Tourer is technically an all-wheel-drive concept, as its drivetrain incorporates an electric motor that turns the rear wheels, although the new front-wheel-drive platform and engine layout previews the configuration that will find its way into a number of new compact BMWs as well as the third-generation Mini Cooper range from 2014.

The BMW Concept Active Tourer is expected to preview the design of the upcoming BMW 1 Series Gran Turismo, which will follow in the footsteps of the BMW 5 Series GT and soon-to-be-released BMW 3 Series GT in offering a chunkier design and added interior space and versatility. The 1 Series GT will become Bavaria’s answer to the popular Mercedes-Benz B-Class compact MPV.

At 4350mm long, 1834mm wide, 1560mm tall and riding on a 2670mm wheelbase, the Active Tourer is 26mm longer, 69mm wider and 139mm taller than the current BMW 1 Series hatch, and is 20mm shorter between the wheels, while its front-wheel-drive layout promises to enhance cabin space.

The Concept Active Tourer is a plug-in hybrid and previews much of the technology that will be applied to the BMW i8 sports car from 2014.

The brand-new three-cylinder engine teams with the rear-mounted electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. The system produces a combined output in excess of 140kW, while the electric motor can send 200Nm of torque instantaneously to the rear wheels.

BMW says the Active Tourer can run in zero-emissions electric-only mode for more than 20km and estimates average fuel consumption less than 2.5 litres per 100km and average CO2 emissions below 60 grams per kilometre.

The concept’s impressive efficiency is matched by solid performance, with a sub-8.0-second 0-100km/h acceleration time and a top speed of approximately 200km/h.

The BMW Concept Active Tourer abandons the polarising bulbous styling of the 1 Series hatch for a broader, more mature look reminiscent of the brand’s larger and pricier models.

The minimalistic cabin sports a cockpit layout, incorporating a head-up display, large central screen and iDrive controller all directed towards the driver. The rest of the space is designed to enhance passenger comfort, with seatback-mounted screens for the rear passengers and a full-length panoramic glass roof adding to the sense of spaciousness.

The BMW Concept Active Tourer will debut at Paris on September 27.

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