It’s hard to imagine a BMW that doesn’t have a direct connection from the engine to the rear wheels. Then again, not too long ago it would’ve been hard to imagine a BMW that was a mixture of a hatch and a people-mover.
But as the first front-wheel-drive BMW MPV, the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer breaks all sorts of conventions, for all the right reasons.
Before we get started on the car itself, it’s important to know where it came from and why. The battle to outdo each other rages between BMW and Mercedes-Benz. BMW did the X6, which no one thought would work (including Mercedes), which then ate some humble pie and created the Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe. In the reverse order, Mercedes-Benz made the B-Class, and BMW followed with the 2 Series Active Tourer.
If you’re wondering why the car shares the 2 Series badge with the coupe and convertible versions of the 1 Series, we have no answer for you. BMW most likely just ran out of numbers. It’s an odd naming structure now, but it does signify that the next generation of both the 1 Series hatch and 2 Series coupe and convertible (as well as the X1 SUV) will also be front-wheel drive, which won’t make this Active Tourer stand out as much.
All the technicalities aside, at the end of the day it’s meant to be a practical minivan and regardless of which end the power goes to, the 2 Series Active Tourer is not all about dynamic performance.
Taking a BMW 2 Series Active Tourer as our long-term car was a natural fit. We had previously spent five months with the (pre-updated) Mercedes-Benz B-Class and were well aware of the luxury MPV brief. Our test car was the base model BMW 218i Active Tourer, priced from $44,400 plus on-road costs (not including options).
With our family of five, which includes my wife and I, our two boys (almost four and almost one) plus our au pair, whatever car we are going to get in as a family is always going to be a little full. Which is why a practical but city-friendly minivan fits the bill so well.
The 2 Series’ interior is its best bit. In this tester’s opinion it actually looks and feel better than a current (pre-updated) 3 Series. The switchgear is classy, the standard 6.5-inch standard infotainment system with satellite navigation with iDrive is the easiest to use in the business. Connecting our iPhones and streaming both music and phone calls is a non-issue, however the USB charger in the centre console is a slow charger (trickle charger designed primarily for connectivity not charging), which in today’s world can be rather frustrating.
If you chose a lighter interior colour as with our test car – an optional ($1000) Luxury Line trim that brings beige leather and light wood trim – it balances out the dark highlights nicely.
Of course, having a light interior with kids is also risky but ours has managed to deal with all that our two boys can throw at it. Food, dirty shoes and worse, it all just wipes off. The Sensatec upholstery may not be real leather but that has its benefits also.
We found the front seats a little uncomfortable for long drives. The 2 Series Active Tourer shares a few things with BMW's front-wheel drive Mini products, and it appears that the seats are also better suited to a Mini. There’s just not enough cushioning, which is ok for short city drives (or if you’re a small person) but can be problematic if you intend to spend hours inside at a time.
With two ISOFIX child seats in the back, one a standard forward facing and the other a rear-facing bulky capsule, there isn’t all that much room in between, but my wife does tend to survive back there when she needs to. It’s not ideal, but it’s doable.
An area where we found it more practical than the B-Class was the way the rear seats fold down 40:20:40 (as opposes to 60:40 in the Merc), so you can have the two child seats in place, fold down the middle seat and carry long thin items (like IKEA flat packs) without any hassles.
We easily store our large pram and the weekly groceries in the boot (though we removed the luggage cover almost immediately to get the pram to fit) and so far we haven’t had any storage issues even with everyone on board.
The interior is our favourite bit of the 2 Series Active Tourer, though that doesn’t seem to reflect to the exterior. From the outside the 2 Series Active Tourer is a peculiar looking vehicle. It borrows elements of the 1 Series hatch and 2 Series coupe and convertible and somehow tries to marry that to the body style of a mini van. It looks odd and arguably falls short in the styling department to the B-Class.
Thankfully then, it’s mostly a great car otherwise. Our 218i is powered by a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. This same engine will soon make its way into the 118i (replacing the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo).
With 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque, it moves its 1360kg kerb weight with enough enthusiasm to not feel sluggish (0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds), but its optimum power delivery is pretty high up on the rev range (4500-6000rpm) so at times you feel like you’re waiting for the revs to build up (and the turbo to properly kick in) before things get really moving.
The gearbox is smooth once you get going though we found on the odd occasion it does jerk a tad at slow speeds.
Behind the wheel the 218i Active Tourer is not exactly what we’d call a dynamically interesting car. It’s a minivan, after all. Nonetheless, it feels very competent and not lacking compared to the B200.
The suspension setup is a little on the firm side, but for regular city driving on decent roads you will hardly notice it. The steering can feel a tad heavy too, which is nice if it was a sportier car, but we’re not sure it’s well placed in the MPV.
In terms of safety, the base model 218i gets all the regular active safety features, such as traction and stability control plus six airbags, but also adds lane departure warning, approach control warning, pedestrian warning and light city automatic braking function to avoid those low-speed traffic-induced rear-endings. It can also park itself, which is handy.
From a safety star rating perspective, ANCAP gave the 2 Series Active Tourer 32.34 points out of 37, which only netted it four stars out of five. Strange, because the BMW scores five out of five in the equivalent European test (which ANCAP uses the data for as the car has not been crash tested locally).
In fact, if the 2 Series Active Tourer was tested by ANCAP again using 2015 rules, it would score five. Which makes it even more confusing. Countering that though, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class scored a near perfect 36.78 out of 37 in the same series of tests.
Overall though, we’ve come to really like the BMW 218i Active Tourer. Would we pick it over the equivalent B-Class? It’s hard to say. My wife loves the styling of the Mercedes-Benz, but I prefer the slightly more dynamic nature of the 218i and the iDrive system instead of the over-complicated COMAND.
That's the thing about having a car on a long-term loan. We have a few more months to argue about who’s right. Stay tuned for more developments.