What is it?
The BMW 225xe Active Tourer takes the fundamentals of the petrol-electric hybrid driveline layout first unveiled on the i8 sports car and turns it 180deg, creating an intriguing four-wheel-drive hatchback-cum-MPV capable of travelling up to 25 miles on electric power alone.
This allows the new five-seater to claim combined cycle fuel consumption of 141mpg and average CO2 emissions of just 46g/km on the controversial EU test cycle – figures that see it qualify for the UK government’s OLEV grant and mean it is exempt from congestion charges such as that in place in central London.
The new BMW is based around the front-wheel-drive 218i Active Tourer. However, some significant engineering changes have taken place to turn it into the four-wheel-drive 225xe Active Tourer, which is planned to go on sale in the UK in March at a price of £33,055.
While the i8 boasts electric drive on the front wheels, the imminently more practical 225xe employs electric drive on the rear wheels via a BMW-produced electric motor mounted within its rear axle assembly that delivers 87bhp and 122lb ft and provides drive via a fixed-ratio gearbox acting as a rear differential.
A similar change in configuration is reserved for the combustion engine. The turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol unit employed by the i8 sits in an east-west position behind the cabin and channels drive to the rear wheels, but the similar configured powerplant in the 225xe is mounted transversely up front and directs its reserves to the front wheels.
The petrol engine boasts the same tuning as that of the 218i Active Tourer, serving up 134bhp and 162lb ft on a reasonably wide band of revs between 1250 and 4300rpm. As on the i8, the moderate reserves are channelled through a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifts mounted on the steering wheel.
Altogether, there’s a combined system output of 221bhp and 284lb ft. It’s not the most powerful 2-Series Active Tourer model, though. That honor rests with the 225i, whose turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine makes 228bhp and 258lb ft.
Electrical energy used to run the electric motor is sourced from a 7.6kWh lithium ion battery mounted underneath the rear seat in the same space as the fuel tank is located in conventionally powered Active Tourers.
As a result, the fuel tank has been reduced in capacity by 15 litres to 36 litres. It’s now also made of steel rather than plastic and is pressurised to allow petrol to be stored safely over longer periods if the 225xe is used predominantly in electric mode. The rear seat has also been raised by 30mm to accommodate the battery, which uses the same cells as that employed by the new 330e.
Even so, boot capacity has been reduced by 70 litres to 400 litres owing to the packaging of the power electronics in the front section of the boot floor.
Aside from a flap integrated in the front left-hand wing, housing the socket for charging cable, the 225xe looks like any other 2-Series Active Tourer. Recharging time on regular mains electricity is claimed to take 3hr 15min, with an optional high-power wall box reducing this to 2hr 15min.
What's it like?
While we continue to harbour some reservations about the less than premium quality reflected by some of the interior fittings, this latest 2-Series Active Tourer model feels remarkably well engineered for something so inherently complex.
Far from being your typical front-wheel-drive hatchback, its ability to run in either front or rear-wheel drive, or a combination of both with a traction-enhancing torque vectoring function, provides it with convincing all-season qualities.
As in more conventional hybrid models introduced by BMW in recent times, the driver gets to choose between three different driving modes: Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Battery.
The former is the default mode, meaning the 225xe Active Tourer pulls away from standstill on electric power alone. At 1660kg, it’s certainly no lightweight. However, the instant torque provided by the rear-mounted electric motor to the rear wheels endows it with a good turn of speed away from the traffic lights.
A faint whine from the electric motor can be detected under load. Otherwise, the new BMW is nicely refined at typical urban speeds and, without interaction from the petrol engine, it is fully zero-emission compatible. Don’t expect to match the claimed 25 mile electric range too often, though. On anything but ultra-light throttle loads, the battery charge is quickly reduced.
Switching into Max eDrive calls up the full force of the electric motor, allowing you to hit a limited electric top speed of 78mph. When the state of charge of the battery drops below 20%, or on kickdown, the combustion engine fires to provide a combination of petrol-electric power and a considerable increase in performance.
The drive process is also altered, with the 225xe Active Tourer eschewing rear-wheel drive for four-wheel drive. Call up Save Battery, and it will even run in front-wheel drive as the electric motor is spared from the drive process to preserve the charge for use later in your journey.
Despite the complexity of the drivetrain, the dovetailing of the two drive systems is very impressive, providing the new BMW with urgent qualities in lower gears around town and an appealing loping gait in taller ratios out on the open road. BMW claims a 0-62mph time of 6.7sec and a top speed of 126mph.
Dynamically, the new BMW is quite convincing, displaying excellent body control and tenacious purchase, and given its tall stature it is particularly well tied down. You can whip it through corners at impressive speeds without any undue lurch or premature breakaway at the front end, all of which endows the 225xe with more inherently sporting qualities than the 218i on which it is based.
The traction benefits brought by the electric motor's ability to provide drive to the rear wheels really do endow the car with greater ability. And this fact is not lost on BMW, which is planning to use the hybrid system developed for the 225xe in an upcoming X1 xDrive25e LWB model.
Should I buy one?
At £33,055, the 225xe Active Tourer is priced £1310 above the 225i xDrive Active Tourer. This seems like a small premium for the added capability brought on by its contemporary petrol-electric drivetrain, including its ability to run in pure electric mode for worthwhile distances.
The real achievement, though, is that it manages to better its standard siblings without giving too much away in terms of overall practicality, which is not always the case with hybrid derivatives of existing models.
In a market full of choice, the new BMW stands out as an intriguing proposition for everyday transport.
BMW 225xe Active Tourer
Location Germany; On sale Now; Price £32,655 (after £2.5k grant) Engine 3 cyls, 1499cc, turbocharged, petrol, plus electric motor; Power 221bhp at 4400; Torque 310lb ft at 1250-3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd auto; Kerb weight 1735kg; 0-62mph 6.7sec; Top speed 126mph; Economy 141.2mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 46g/km, 5%