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.