First Drive: BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is a premium MPV that takes the fight to Mercedes and Volkswagen, both of which offer small people carriers with family-friendly space and practicality, premium badges on the bonnet and upmarket interiors.

Mercedes' B-Class may now be long in the tooth, but the newly launched Golf SV is also gunning for exactly the same customers as the new BMW. BMW claims that where the Active Tourer beats rivals is with its overall blend of comfort, functionality, dynamics and style.

How the car really differs from other BMWs though, is that power goes to the front wheels rather than the rear - a first for the famously driver focused brand - in attempt to increase the car's interior space. BMW expects to sell a total of around 5,000 to 8,000 Active Tourers per year in the UK. More interesting though, is that it anticipates that 75 per cent of buyers will be new to the BMW brand.

What is it?

The Active Tourer is a people carrier - another BMW first - which is a similar length to the BMW 1-Series hatchback but has a bigger boot than the 3-Series Touring and more rear legroom than the 7-Series luxury saloon. The company claims that the Active Tourer provides a sporty driving experience – as with its rear-wheel drive siblings.

This practical machine has reclining and sliding rear seats, a boot with a large underfloor storage area, and an upmarket interior. Consequently, it will appeal to families with a few children, along with those who want a premium machine with added space in the cabin and boot.

It's currently offered only in front-wheel drive configuration, which frees up space in the cabin, though several xDrive four-wheel-drive models will also be introduced in the near future.

What's under the bonnet?

Two engines are available from launch: the 218d 2.0-litre diesel and the 218i 1.5-litre petrol. The diesel produces 148bhp and accelerates to 62mph in a sprightly 8.9 seconds, while combined fuel economy stands at 68.9mpg.

Though the petrol motor may be small, it is turbocharged, as with the diesel, giving it 134bhp. Claimed fuel consumption is strong at 58.9mpg, and the 218i requires 9.3 seconds to get to 62mph from a standstill.

Economy and performance figures compare well against rivals; the 218d is faster than the equivalent Golf SV and returns an extra 3mpg in manual form, while the Mercedes B200CDI is nearly 5mpg short of the BMW's economy figure and slower still. The more powerful automatic-only B220CDI is slightly faster than the BMW, though it stands 7.5mpg behind.

It's a similar story with the 2.0-litre diesel VW Golf SV, and though the equivalent petrol is a little quicker to 62mph than the BMW, economy is more than 7mpg down. Mercedes' petrol B180 doesn't stand up to comparison either, requiring 10.4 seconds to hit the 62mph mark while only capable of 47.9mpg.

Later in 2014 a more powerful petrol BMW 225i will be launched with xDrive four-wheel drive along with a 220i petrol and a less powerful 216d diesel.

What's the spec like?

The Active Tourer is available in four specifications: SE, Sport, Luxury and M Sport. Even the entry-level version receives lots of equipment, though prices are correspondingly high.

All levels include a handy automatically opening tailgate, dual-zone air conditioning, rear parking sensors and three-piece folding rear seats which slide in two parts for increased legroom or boot space. Also standard is a digital radio along with automatic lights and wipers and an 'Emergency Call' system which alerts the emergency services in the event of a crash.

Sport models gain 17-inch alloy wheels, supportive sports seats, black gloss trim and LED ambient lighting for a £1,250 premium. Luxury models feature leather upholstery, chrome exterior trim and wood interior trim for a £2,000 cost over SE models.

M Sport models will weigh in at £3,000 more than SE versions and add a unique body kit, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats, gloss exterior trim and aluminium interior trim along with firmer sports suspension.

Any rivals?

The key upmarket rivals for the Active Tourer are the established Mercedes B-Class and the recently launched VW Golf SV. Both have high quality interiors with a premium feel, though the BMW places much more emphasis on providing an engaging driving experience.

BMW also considers Citroen's striking C4 Picasso a potential rival, along with stylish estates, including the larger Honda Civic Tourer. Several less upmarket people carriers and medium hatchbacks could also be considered rivals, including the Ford C-Max and Vauxhall Zafira Tourer, and the Volvo V40 and Ford Focus.

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

What's it like to drive?

The 218i and 218d that we drove felt subtly different. Where the diesel had very heavy steering and a firm ride, the petrol had slightly lighter helm and a bit more compliance in its suspension.

Bumps on the road are noticeable - and audible - in both cars, with the setup feeling particularly firm for a family car. Drivers who place comfort above all else will find a smoother ride in other models, though you do get good handling in exchange.

Both engines are refined at speed. Where the petrol thrums smoothly away when you work it hard the diesel becomes a little gruff at higher engine speeds, though mostly it's pretty hushed. Get up to motorway speeds and you do have a fair amount of noise from the tyres on rougher surfaces and a little wind noise, however.

The diesel pulls well from low revs making for easy overtaking and good response on the motorway. The petrol is punchy enough too with a good spread of power and eager acceleration. The optional sports seats are very snug and hold you tight around bends. In both models the brake pedal needs a hefty prod to stop the car, thanks to slow initial response.

The manual gearbox in the petrol could be a little slicker, though the 'sport automatic' gearbox in our diesel test car was both smooth to change and responsive when you wanted it to shift down a gear.

The AOL Cars Verdict

The Active Tourer is a mixed bag for BMW. Here is an upmarket – and suitably pricey – car which offers a very large boot and cabin with lots of family-friendly features, all within a compact, easy-to-park body.

The interior feels plush and well built, the engines offer strong economy and performance and the car takes corners with aplomb. However, the one major flaw that could put off buyers is the firm, sometimes harsh ride.

While the car handles better than most family buyers will notice, the ride is obviously firm – to driver and passengers alike. The car feels overtly sporting thanks to the ride and heavy steering, but it isn't particularly fun to drive, meaning that there is little benefit to the reduced comfort which results from the suspension setup.

Consequently, this is a car which potential buyers will certainly want to try before they buy. If the ride doesn't bother you though, its interior space, practicality and upmarket feel make the Active Tourer worth a look.

The Knowledge

Model: 218d Active Tourer Luxury (Sport automatic)
Price: £27,110
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel
Power: 148bhp
Max Speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
MPG: 68.9mpg
Emissions: 109g/km