Marina takes a closer look at the new BMW 2-series Active Tourer – arguably the most important BMW in recent years
Take a look around the car park at your marina. Chances are you’ll see a higher than average number of prestige car badges. The image of fast boats and fast cars goes hand in hand and BMW have a long history of producing sporty models that appeal to the more affluent end of the market.
The Active Tourer, however, is not a sports car – it’s not even a particularly fast car. From a company usually associated with words like performance, dynamics and driver-focused, at first glance BMW’s latest model to join the new 2-series range doesn’t look very exciting at all, but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that not only is the Active Tourer a great car in its own right, it’s probably the most important new launch from BMW in years.
Following the 2-series Coupé which arrived in early 2014, the Active Tourer is the Bavarian manufacturer’s answer to the Mercedes B-Class – a premium mid-sized MPV for drivers seeking that little bit more luxury from their five-seat family transport.
Offering more rear legroom than a 5-series and decent, if not quite class-leading, boot space, the Active Tourer is surprisingly spacious and, as you would rightly expect from BMW, beautifully put together.
With a steeply raked windscreen and the trademark kidney grille set lower than the headlights (a feature shared with the 2 and 4-Series Coupés), the 2-series Active Tourer retains that distinctive BMW style.
Short overhangs and a low-slung, sporty appearance all help to mask the fact that this new car is some 13cm taller than its Coupé brother. Yet despite its generous interior space the overall dimensions remain surprisingly compact, being only marginally longer and wider than a 1-series.
So, what makes the Active Tourer such a landmark car for BMW? The answer lies very much in the pursuit of space and practicality.
BMWs traditional front-engined, rear-wheel-drive format places certain restrictions on interior space, particularly in smaller models like the 1-series. In order to package the 2-series Active Tourer the designers and engineers were forced to take a more radical approach and, for the first time in BMW history, the Active Tourer is driven by its front wheels. A brave move from a brand that, in the past, has insisted that the ultimate driving experience only comes from rear-wheel-drive, but let’s not forget that BMW already has plenty of experience in the front-drive sector having produced the Mini since 2001.
It should come as no surprise, then, to find that the 2-series Active Tourer is actually based on a modified version of the new Mini platform and that the engines available at launch – a 1.5-litre 136bhp three cylinder turbo petrol and a 2-litre 148bhp turbo diesel – have both seen service in the Mini range powering the Cooper and the Cooper D.
Boot space is one of the main reasons for considering MPVs and the Active Tourer doesn’t disappoint. The main luggage compartment can be extended from 468 to 1,510 litres by folding the 40:20:40-split rear seat, which results in a flat loading floor. That same rear seat slides forwards and backwards offering more space to rear passengers or increased boot space as required.
The tailgate includes push-button powered opening and closing or a Smart-Opener function activated by a quick flick of the foot under the rear bumper – handy if you have your hands full after a day on the boat, or trip to the supermarket. Under the boot floor, which sits level with the low rear sill, is additional storage, although this is of limited use as the boot floor can’t be removed.
Up front there are small door pockets, additional space in the centre arm rest and a couple of handy little bays in the dash, but none of the clever under-floor or under seat storage offered by some of the competition.
The interior of the Active Tourer is everything we’ve come to expect from BMW with high-quality materials, fantastic seats and a well considered driving position.
Everything falls neatly to hand and the controls are precise, simple and clear.
The standard specification includes a single CD player with DAB digital radio and a 6.5 inch main display screen sitting high on the dash for ease of visibility to the driver and controlled by BMW’s well proven iDrive system or the multi-function sports leather steering wheel. The iDrive system also provides control of the optional Navigation Plus system fitted to our test car, which benefits from the addition of a full-colour head-up driver’s display, real-time traffic information and remote services.
The elevated seating position offers increased visibility ahead and the large windows provide a light and airy feel to the cabin. Unfortunately the large windscreen pillars can restrict your view a little, particularly when pulling out of junctions.
The seats are typically supportive and comfortable although they can be fiddly to adjust if you tend to swap drivers regularly – our review car was fitted with the Dakota leather interior and electric front seats with driver memory options, which proved easier to reconfigure quickly and are probably worth considering unless you’re the only driver.
So to the big question. Has switching the drive from rear-wheel to front been to the detriment of BMW’s driving dynamics? Clearly any MPV is going to struggle to match the handling of a low-slung saloon car, but the good news is the 2-series Active Tourer is surprisingly controlled and agile. Body roll is kept in check and the steering is well-weighted and provides great feedback – it’s certainly a BMW and belies its somewhat lofty weight bias.
The downside to the body control is the ride can be rather firm and over rough or badly damaged surfaces it can get a little harsh, transmitting some of the hits into the cabin.
Around town, the diminutive 1.5-litre turbo petrol fitted to our test car is smooth, perky and willing. At idle and slower speeds, it’s impressively quiet yet when pushed the distinctive throb of its three cylinders provides a nice soundtrack that all adds up to make the car feel sportier than it really is.
In recent years BMW have made a lot of noise about fuel efficiency and this new 1.5-litre engine is no exception. Providing 136bhp and 220nm of torque available from just 1,250rpm the three-cylinder unit produces only 115g/km of CO2 and a claimed combined figure of 57.6mpg – although we failed to achieve better than high 40s during our review, our test included a higher than average percentage of motorway miles.
Certainly around town the engine delivers impressive results and the addition of stop-start technology goes a long way to helping this.
At motorway speeds the 218i felt a little under powered. It would scurry along happily enough, but ask it to pick up the pace to pass lorries or fight it out in the fast lane and the immediacy enjoyed at lower speeds is strangely lacking.
In truth, the 218d is probably the better choice if your regular journeys include a lot of motorway miles. The increased torque provided by the four-cylinder diesel makes for a more relaxed, effortless drive at higher speeds and the impressive fuel efficiency will be a welcome bonus for higher mileage users. BMW claim a combined figure of 68.9mpg for the 218d and expect sales of the diesel to be higher than those of the 218i.
Although the market for MPVs is in decline, with many people moving to pseudo-4x4s, the concept remains as practical as it always has been. When it comes to moving bulky items, mattresses, rain covers and other marine kit, the need for space is paramount. In the past the choices for premium-quality MPVs has been very limited with the B Class sitting alone at the top of a market populated by the likes of Renaults Scenic, the Ford C-Max and VW Touran.
If you’re looking for a five-seat MPV that won’t look out of place parked next to a 5-series or Mercedes ML at your local marina the 2-series Active Tourer is just the ticket. Finally, a viable alternative to the Mercedes B-Class is now available.
And for those who are looking for even more space BMW have recently announced they will be building a larger seven-seat Gran Tourer, which will be in showrooms in September of this year. Proof of BMW’s commitment to the front-wheel drive change of direction.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer
0-62mph: 9.3 seconds
Top speed: 124mph
Fuel economy: 57.6mpg (combined)
Boot Capacity: 468 litres (extending to 1,510 litres)
Price: From £22,595 (as tested £31,105)