What is it?
BMW's new compact front-wheel-drive MPV in entry-level diesel form - the 216d Active Tourer.
It shares its 1.5-litre, 114bhp and 199 lb ft three-cylinder diesel engine with the Mini Cooper D, in this case mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. This is a downsized engine and an ample-feeling one when fitted to the 1130kg Mini, but here it's hauling 1440kg.
The Active Tourer looks compact on the outside but it's a roomy MPV with all the versatility features needed in this segment, even if some are available only as optional extras. Among the most relevant ones is the folding front passenger seatback, which allows 2.4m-long loads to be carried.
The rear seat can be folded 40/20/40 (with electric remote release catches as an option), while it can also slide forward 130mm and have its backrests adjustable for angle. All of this increases the luggage capacity from 420 litres, or alternatively makes for more kneeroom for those using the back seats. There are 70 litres of storage space under the boot floor, and some quite generous smaller storage cubbies around the cabin.
What's it like?
The Active Tourer's cabin is very well built, with first-class materials used extensively and fitted consistently well. Ergonomics are also excellent, with a user-friendly iDrive rotary knob to command the centrally mounted large screen.
The driving position is higher than that of a 1-series and closer to an X1's, but a higher roof line makes it even easier to get into and out of each of the five seats. The rear middle seat is narrower than the other four and has some tunnel intrusion, but there's room enough for a family of four to travel with comfort.
The driver will find a very well positioned steering wheel that's fully adjustable, and an easy-to-reach manual gearlever. You might expect plenty of noise from a three-pot diesel engine, but that is not the case. Noise insulation is very effective and there are no significant vibrations through the rev band. Everything feels and sounds quite refined at idle - before you put your foot down.
There’s very noticeable turbo lag under 1800rpm and this, combined with very long gear ratios, makes the 216d quite truculent to drive at low speeds. BMW evidently wanted to pursue strong fuel economy with this car, quoting 74.3mpg and 99g/km on the combined cycle. But there’s a price to pay in terms of engine response, especially in Eco Pro mode.
The other two options are Comfort and Sport, there being no Individual configurable mode here which would have been welcomed. Unless you really want to save as much fuel as possible, it’s better to switch to Comfort or, even better, to Sport mode, where pedal response is a little better. Sport mode's heavier steering feels misplaced on an economy MPV, though, with the electrically assisted steering being heavy enough in the other modes.
The 216d has decent visibility and good low-speed ride comfort. It's very stable at motorway speeds, even if it demands some unexpected downshifts to fifth or even fourth gear (with electronic rev matching) to deal easily with inclines. It drives through corners with efficiency and some driver involvement, but there's not enough punch on offer to make the most of the game handling.