From £22,9408
New all-wheel-drive version of BMW's premium compact MPV mixes in-town handiness with surprising off-road ability

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

5 December 2014

What is it?

BMW’s 2-series Active Tourer comes with the choice of both three-cylinder and four-cylinder engines, and now it also comes with the choice of front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. This is the all-wheel-drive model, hooked up to a punchy 188bhp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine.

BMW says the all-wheel drive system is based on the familiar Haldex clutch mechanism, which is mounted on the side of the gearbox and – when activated – sends power and torque to the rear wheels. 

However, the company says it has modified the standard-issue Haldex unit to incorporate what it calls an "efficient valve". This is, in effect, a spring-loaded valve, which helps to control the oil flow to the Haldex’s clutch plates. The speed at which oil can be released to flow between the clutch plates governs how quickly the clutch pack locks up and then diverts drive from the engine to the rear wheels. 

Even thought the latest, fifth-generation Haldex unit is by far the quickest-reacting version yet, BMW says its modification makes its version of this familiar all-wheel drive system is faster still. The Active Tourer's rear differential also has its own electronically controlled clutch pack, which has to be activated to get drive to the rear wheels.

The combination of these two high-speed clutch packs, say BMW engineers, marks the Active Tourer’s all-wheel drive system out from other, ostensibly similar 4x4 conversions of front-wheel-drive cars. BMW claims the all-wheel drive mode can kick in in just 0.1sec and it is active in most driving situations, rather than just in extreme conditions or after traction has been lost.

That means the xDrive Active Tourer will deploy four-wheel traction even on winding country roads, at motorway speeds and when cruising at lower speeds. As pointless as this sounds, splitting the engine’s effort between both axles should always pay dividends in terms of driving dynamics, even at lower speeds.

What's it like?

Pretty impressive. Firstly, since we last drove a diesel 2-series, it’s clear that successful work has been done on engine refinement. This unit was more refined than the lower-powered four-cylinder engine fitted in the 218d that Autocar drove last summer at the Active Tourer's launch.

At speed, there’s a fair amount of road noise on coarse surfaces, but the engine is more refined than that of either a Mercedes B-class or a Volkswagen Golf SV, and you won’t feel short-changed driving the BMW. And while we are comparing the BMW with the Mercedes, it could be argued that the former has a much more appealingly sporty interior design theme (though the latter is £1330 cheaper in 'Sport' spec).

Where the BMW completely flattens the all-wheel-drive B-class is on the road. Where the Mercedes stumbles and rolls, the BMW is quick and agile in its handling. 

Certainly, it feels far less traditionally front-drive nose-heavy than anything of a similar size and shape, and it has a decent turn of overtaking speed (helped, in Sport spec, by the paddle shifters, which make for very crisp downshifts).

The steering feels surprisingly positive and pointy on tight windy roads, which is presumably an added consequence of some drive being sent rearwards and helping ‘push’ the car around tighter bends. 

To test its off-road ability, we also tried the car on a local motocross circuit and were frankly amazed by the car’s ability to scale rubble and rock-strewn 40 per cent-inclined tracks without any wheel slip. Downhills were similarly within the car’s stride, even with one of the rear wheels dangling free in the air. 

All this is possible even without the added help of hill descent control or other off-road trickery and bodes well for the next X1, which is likely to use the same newly developed four-wheel drive system.

 

Should I buy one?

At a fiver under £30,000, the Sport-spec 220d xDrive Active Tourer is hardly a bargain, but there’s no doubt that this can be described as a true premium product.

From the stylish and well made interior to the way the 4x4 transmission does much to disguise the essential ‘front-driveness’ of the 2-series Active Tourer layout, this car is an intriguing proposition. 

Having said that, its main rival, the Mercedes B220 CDI 4Matic, is even pricer in AMG Line trim and nowhere near as complete a dynamic package, nor as capable if you do get possessed by the urge to take it off road.

What is really unexpected is the ability of this new all-wheel drive system when the going gets really rough. For a vehicle billed as an Active Tourer, it is a great pity that a version with a slightly raised ride height and underbody protection is not in the works. That really would be a segment-busting ‘white space’ vehicle.

BMW 220d xDrive Sport Active Tourer


 Price: £29,995; 0-62mph: 7.3sec; Top speed: 138mph; Economy: 61.4mpg (combined); CO2: 122g/km; Kerb weight: 1585kg; Engine: 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbodiesel; Power: 188bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 295lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox: 8-spd automatic

Join the debate

Comments
13

5 December 2014
... and cheaper trim. Hence lower price. This car's 4-wheel drive combination, could make excellent sense in N-Scandinavia, mountainous regions of N-Europe, and even Canada if it's offered in N-America. Certainly then not as a sporty vehicle, rather as s supremely practical family mobile with good security in icy conditions, as well as good traction in snow.

6 December 2014
Reading the description about the speed with which the 4wd responds to changing conditions, it sounds like BMW have caught up to where Subaru were 20 years ago - but they're both ahead of the other soft-roaders.

8 December 2014
Ruperts Trooper wrote:

Reading the description about the speed with which the 4wd responds to changing conditions, it sounds like BMW have caught up to where Subaru were 20 years ago - but they're both ahead of the other soft-roaders.

I suspect Subaru's AWD system will perform better than a Haldex system on anything slippery.

It does make a good comparison to the new Outback though. That car has much more space, a much higher level of standard family-friendly kit including reclining & heated rear seats, a proper AWD system, torque vectoring, hill decent and a decent amount of ride height. Though for Subaru it's a big step forward inside it's not at BMW's level & it won't have the performance from the diesel option. That being said, it will likely last a lot longer than the BMW.

8 December 2014
chandrew wrote:
Ruperts Trooper wrote:

Reading the description about the speed with which the 4wd responds to changing conditions, it sounds like BMW have caught up to where Subaru were 20 years ago - but they're both ahead of the other soft-roaders.

I suspect Subaru's AWD system will perform better than a Haldex system on anything slippery.

It does make a good comparison to the new Outback though..... Though for Subaru it's a big step forward inside it's not at BMW's level & it won't have the performance from the diesel option. That being said, it will likely last a lot longer than the BMW.

Yep the on paper performance figures are pretty vast. The problem for the Outback, which starts at exactly the same price as this BMW, is the fact it's alot slower (0-60) in 9.7 and it only averages 48mpg combined versus 61.4 (combined) that's alot of money over 3 years especially if you include the car tax difference as well. Mind you the BMW is pig ugly

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

8 December 2014
Surely this should be compared with the Aclass Merc, where obviously it would lose and therefore those in Autocar would lose face with their favourite manufacturer

what's life without imagination

8 December 2014
5wheels wrote:

Surely this should be compared with the Aclass Merc, where obviously it would lose and therefore those in Autocar would lose face with their favourite manufacturer

A class: Medium premium hatchback.
B class: 5 seat MPV thing
2 series AT: 5 seat MPV thing. I fail to see your point. The 1 series hatch is the rival for the A.

8 December 2014
The Mercedes A-Class is closer in size/spec/price to a BMW 1 Series (which is also available with xDrive)

8 December 2014
5wheels wrote:

Surely this should be compared with the Aclass Merc, where obviously it would lose and therefore those in Autocar would lose face with their favourite manufacturer

I think you missed the launch of the current generation A-Class a couple of years ago old bean. The new one is now just a hatchback that rivals the 1 Series and Audi A3.


8 December 2014
Has anyone actually seen a 2 series tourer on UK roads? It may prove popular in other parts of the world but I can see BMW UK quietly dropping this model. There are certainly a few B Class cars knocking around but I'm sure the popularity of those is as much to do with them suffering heavy depreciation. Wonder how many of them have 'Mercedes UK' as their 1st owner?

8 December 2014
My wife was thinking of buying an Active Tourer to replace her 1 Series but, because it was too big, has ordered a Mini Countryman All 4 instead. Have seen a couple on the road but you won't see many because, as our dealer explained to us, BMW are severely limiting supply - at least in its first year.

jhg

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