What is it?
BMW’s first-ever front-driver, the 2-series Active Tourer has arrived onto British roads, signalling our first opportunity to sample the new premium hatchback in three-cylinder petrol and right-hand drive form.
The 218i represents the bottom rung of the Active Tourer model ladder for now, with prices on entry-trim SE-spec cars starting from just a smidge over £22k. And in most important ways, it’s a much smarter buy than the diesel-fuelled 218d that company drivers might instinctively gravitate towards.
What's it like?
Emitting just 115g/km of CO2, the 218i attracts company car tax at a lower rate than the 218d anyway – but even if it didn’t, it’d be worth paying a premium for the petrol version’s balance of performance flexibility, refinement and economy.
Earlier tests in the 218d picked it up for disappointing mechanical refinement in particular, but the 218i is quiet at idle and at cruising crankspeeds, sending the gentlest of three-cylinder shimmies into the cabin and through the gearlever under load.
Low-end torque is balanced against higher-range power in a perfectly linear compromise, with the engine producing enough acceleration between 3000- and 5000rpm to feel quietly athletic.
The petrol version doesn’t suffer the same notchiness of shift quality of the standard six-speed manual gearbox that we found in the diesel, either. This is still a BMW, mind - and BMWs tend to have springy, mechanical levers by preference.
Real-world economy should be expected to be around 45mpg, with the diesel capable of just over 50-to-the-gallon in identical circumstances.
Ride and handling is certainly good enough that Munich needn’t worry about denting its dynamic reputation with its first foray into what it would once have dismissed as ‘non-standard’ drive – but it’s not without flaws.
Even with ‘Comfort’ mode selected on the Drive Performance Control and electronic damper control optioned, our test car rode quietly but firmly, and jostled cabin occupants over poorer surfaces. You wouldn’t call the result luxurious - though it’s preferable to the more crashy, abrupt ride of a Mercedes B-class.
The steering is well-paced and precise, but starts off heavy just off-centre and gets heavler as you add lock. ‘Hefty’ was evidently considered a synonym for ‘sporty’ during the tuning process where, in a fairly tall but otherwise compact car, fluent and delicate would have been better targets.
Even so, the 2-series Active Tourer handles well, rolling slightly but progressively and gripping soundly at both axles. You wouldn’t call it fun – but in this class, that’s not a big criticism.
Should I buy one?
Not if you want a truly distinguishing driving experience in your front-drive pseudo-MPV – because we suspect that won’t be one of the key selling points of the 2-series Active Tourer.
As ever from BMW though, this car has myriad other attractions – material quality, intelligently packaged practicality, generous equipment levels and low costs-of-ownership being just a few.
BMW 218i Sport Active Tourer
Price £23,375; 0-62mph 9.2sec; Top speed 127mph; Economy 57.6mpg; CO2 115g/km; Kerbweight 1395kg; Engine 3cyls, 1499cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 134bhp at 4400-6000rpm; Torque 162lb ft at 1250-4300rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual