From £22,9407
The front-drive 2-series Active Tourer feels like a premium product and should perform well on city streets, but this 218d model isn't the pick of the range

Our Verdict

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer
The BMW 2-series Active Tourer goes up against the likes of the Volkswagen Golf SV and Ford C-Max

BMW dips its toe into front-wheel drive with an upmarket MPV

What is it?

More than twenty years after BMW built a series of experimental front-wheel-drive 3 Series models, the German premium brand has finally entered the automotive mainstream with the new front-drive 2 Series Active Tourer

It is firmly positioned as a premium product, but the 2 Series is also firmly planted in the biggest market sector in Europe, that of the ‘C-segment’ hatchback. 

BMW, like Mercedes and Audi, is also on a continuous expansion plan and it says it has indentified new trends including the dual habit of downsizing and more people living in cramped urban areas, as well as a distinct new market made up of affluent middle-class couples with a sporting bent.

The ‘semi-command’ driving position is also a big part of the Active Tourer’s make-up, BMW director Ian Robertson told Autocar.

He added that the Active Tourer is not evidence of the brand going downmarket, so much as it reaching down towards to top-end of the mainstream market and encouraging buyers to reach back up to a premium brand. Roberston also said that BMW expects about 70 per cent of Active Tourer buyers to be new to the brand. 

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.

On a practical level, the boot measures 468 litres, but I suspect that the now-ubiquitous false boot floor means that a chunk of that space is hidden away. The rear bench splits 40:20:40, which is useful and will work well with the optional folding passenger seat, which gives a load bay length of an impressive 2.4m. 

Rear legroom is quite generous, although the tightly drawn roofline and high sides make the rear of cabin somewhat enclosed. Up front there’s decent shoulder room with two full-size adults in the seats but it doesn’t feel quite as airy as the latest VW Group cars based on the MQB platform. 

BMW has clearly lavished money and time on the 2 Series Active Tourer’s dashboard and cabin and it has paid off handsomely. Aside from the overall structuring of the fascia – which is rather more sophisticated than anything offered by mainstream makers – it is also beautifully built. 

And this cockpit is exceedingly practical, too. The door bins are huge and the big cupholders in the centre console cleverly staggered. There’s also a huge space under the armrest and a very clever hidden compartment in the centre stack. Only the slightly cheap cover for the (optional) head-up display is anything less than exemplary.

The exterior styling is clean and professional, but it has arguably lost the cripsness and greater surface contrast in production that was so effective with the Active Tourer concept.

It also has an admirably slippy drag coefficient of just 0.26. Lighter metallic colours do it greater favours than the dark red of our test car.

Many buyers may well feel that the Active Tourer feels ‘sporty’ as a BMW should, but this kind of sporty doesn’t always translate well in front-drive cars, especially one with a raised driving position. In that, the 2 Series engineers may learn something from the way the new Mini Cooper models are tuned.

With that car, the engineers have achieving driving satisfaction through precision of the driving experience, rather than making the chassis a touch overly direct in its responses.

Should I buy one?

Even though the driving experience isn’t outstanding and there is question about this combination of diesel engine and manual 'box, that is not to write the Active Tourer off by any means. 

Specified as the 218i, with three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and six-speed automatic gearbox, virtually all of these refinement and drivability issues would be swept away, and without a great penalty in fuel economy. 

The Active Tourer is built to a premium standard, has a first-rate interior and is cleverly packaged for the city streets. The wide range of engines and transmissions (including three- and four-cylinder turbo petrols, six- and eight-speed automatic gearboxes and, later this year, four-wheel drive) among which will certainly be class-leading combinations. 

Indeed, the £22,1250, 136bhp three-pot, turbocharged, petrol engined 218i Active Tourer SE (which gets an automatic tailgate, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, sliding rear seat, Bluetooth and DAB) is only a few hundred pounds more than the diesel Ford and promises an average 57mpg. 

With the likely better residual values, the logic goes, the BMW 2 Series would be both cheaper to lease and better value than the Ford C-Max. It is competition the hard-pressed mainstream could well do without.

This 218d manual is not the best BMW can do, but the company’s first front-drive car is clearly only a sensible transmission and wheel and tyre specification from being among the best and is, in any case, a compelling offering against high-end mainstream rivals.

BMW 218d Active Tourer SE

Price £24,205; 0-62mph 8.9sec; Top speed 129mph; Economy 68.9mpg (combined); Co2 109g/km; Kerb weight 1375kg; Engine 4cyls, 1995cc, turbocharged diesel; Power 148bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 243lb ft at 1750-2750rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Join the debate

Comments
39

17 July 2014
Ugliest BMW I have ever seen. They are going to lose their desirability with models like this.

17 July 2014
Sorry but thats awful, I also suspect the price between it and the equivalent Ford, is far greater than they are making it out to be when you match them spec wise, and it also sounds as if the equivalent Ford will be more refined and better to drive. BMW - ultimate drivers car my arse..

17 July 2014
First the GT now this rubbish.... My god what is BMW up to...? You can see why there are more Mercs on the road - they look better...!

18 July 2014
"...so much as it reaching down towards the top-end of the mainstream market and encouraging buyers to reach back up to a premium brand....." But if they're reaching down and the buyers are reaching up to a higher point then surely they'll miss each other?

18 July 2014
I'd say that regarding looks and packaging, this car is already making the smaller rear-drive BMW models look obsolete. I don't think it will be long before BMW address any drivability shortcomings, so I'm sure this will become a winner.
But I still think many will be confused by BMW's decision to launch this all new car as just another 2-series model rather confusing. Surely it deserves some kind of separation from the existing range? Maybe the company is deeply concerned that customers will not take kindly to a front-wheel-drive layout, and isn't keen to promote this virtue?

18 July 2014
Ok, so the car driven here is a pre-production model, but expected a much better effort than this from BMW. They have a lot to do to make the production model good enough to be anywhere near class leading.

18 July 2014
This is a Kia Carens for pretentious folk.

18 July 2014
I've been looking at one of these. The concept of a smaller, premium car with loads of toys (active cruise, online functions, premium sound) + decent performance in the AWD version and a young family suits me perfectly. Too many manufacturers assume small family car means cheap. Well done BMW.

 

 

 

18 July 2014
It's not a thrilling looking vehicle, but it's not offensive and for people to call it the the ugliest BMW they've ever seen, I can only assume they have short memories. I'll ignore the engine as it wouldn't be my choice, and probably not the choice of many, all the smart people will want the 2 litre diesel and petrol engines. I like the interior too, it is visually far more stylish then the Ford and Golf dashboard (I find the Golf's to be very well built but visually so dull).

That said, I'm not sure it'll attract the younger people moving up, more I think it'll appeal to the older people downsizing. Right now my mum, in her mid 60's, is looking to replace her 325i with a slightly smaller car and this, with a 2 litre engine, would be perfect for her.

18 July 2014
twyford wrote:

It's not a thrilling looking vehicle, but it's not offensive and for people to call it the the ugliest BMW they've ever seen, I can only assume they have short memories. I'll ignore the engine as it wouldn't be my choice, and probably not the choice of many, all the smart people will want the 2 litre diesel and petrol engines. I like the interior too, it is visually far more stylish then the Ford and Golf dashboard (I find the Golf's to be very well built but visually so dull).

That said, I'm not sure it'll attract the younger people moving up, more I think it'll appeal to the older people downsizing. Right now my mum, in her mid 60's, is looking to replace her 325i with a slightly smaller car and this, with a 2 litre engine, would be perfect for her.

Maybe, though I'm worried that if the car is clearly suiting people who are retired BMW dealers might be salivating as a new wave of people with large deposits and who are often too proud to haggle and demand extras will walk through the showroom doors. There are better options such as the Skoda Roomster and Kia Venga available at nearly half the price.

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