The upshot is that the Active Tourer is small enough to park, big enough to carry your expensive mountain bike and priced – in the 218d SE form we drove in Austria – only about £3000 more than the equivalent diesel Ford C-Max Titanium.
To put the car in context, the newest BMW is 4323mm long, making it a touch longer than the 4255mm VW Golf Mk7 and at 1800mm wide, within 1mm of the VW. The BMW’s height of 1555mm is noticeably taller than the 1452mm Golf. The Active Tourer is also very similarly sized to the Mercedes B-Class, which is probably its closest direct rival.
Under the skin is the longer and wider version of BMW’s UKL1 front-drive architecture, which also underpins the new Mini. The Active Tourer’s structure includes the use of expensive ‘tailored blanks’ in its construction and the front and rear suspension systems are also impressively sophisticated.
BMW says the front end of the Active Tourer is ‘exceptionally stiff’ thanks to the high-strength steel subframe and front wishbones. The front struts swivel on aluminium bearings and the anti-roll bar is hollow with variable wall thicknesses. At the rear, the company’s distinctive multi-link rear axle is one feature that BMW would never re-consider.
The new ‘single pinion’ electric steering system is claimed to offer ‘very low friction’ because the servo unit and steering gear are combined into a single component. Even so, BMW doesn’t overclaim for its first front-drive model, saying the set-up is ‘largely torque-steer-free’.
What's it like?
In truth, this 218d test car – which we drove on the roads around Innsbruck, Austria – came up short in a number of areas. The first failing came apparent from the moment we rolled down the road. At lower speeds, a rush of road noise was being transmitted up through the car’s front structure from the front wheels. That said, the test car rolled on 225/45 R18s, which is a somewhat aggressive tyre.
Also surprising was the diesel engine’s relative lack of refinement. Fitted to the new Mini, this four-cylinder unit is smooth and hushed. In the nose of the 2 Series, it is no more than acceptable at best.
The other failing with this particular model was the gearshift. While the stick is sportingly short and short-throw, its action across the gate is surprisingly notchy. The detent between first and reverse – which are next to each other – was also awkward and it needed a very firm shove to get it into reverse gear.
Finally, this Active Tourer’s high-speed refinement is not all it could be. At motorway speeds, the swirl of wind noise around the windscreen pillars and roof rails was unexpected.
On the road, the car is fundamentally sound but perhaps lacks the fluidity of the best front-drive rivals.
It handles neatly and is easy to place in corners. The steering is weighty and quite pointy in an attempt to give the car a traditional BMW flavour, and it’s none the worse for that. In ‘Sports’ mode, however, the steering is probably overweighted, especially at lower speeds.
The Active Tourer’s ride was fine on Austria’s roads, even on relatively low-profile tyres. Overall, it is tuned to feel quite direct and involving for the driver, though trying to make its first front-drive car ‘feel like a BMW’ may have resulted in a compromised result.