BMW may be a company famed for producing upmarket, sporty cars, but several of the brand's newest models – the 2 Series Active Tourer people carrier and seven-seater Gran Tourer – put the onus firmly on practicality over sportiness.
Most unusually of all, these both ditch the BMW trademark of sending power to the rear wheels in favour of front-wheel drive, which frees up more space in the cabin and boot. The 220d xDrive, however, adds four-wheel drive to the Active Tourer's talents, so does this make the car feel any more like a 'proper' BMW?
What is it?
The Active Tourer is BMW's practical, family-friendly five-seater MPV, which slots below the new full-size Gran Tourer people carrier. Thanks to the front-wheel drive setup BMW has freed up a large amount of space for passengers in the rear seats, along with a large boot, making the Active Tourer an appealing option on paper for those who want a machine that offers plenty of space in a compact package, and has an all-important premium badge on the bonnet.
What's under the bonnet?
The Active Tourer is available with engines ranging from frugal 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol and diesel units to rapid turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol and diesel versions, which come kitted out with four-wheel drive for added traction. Topping the range is the 225i xDrive – a potent petrol model that can sprint to 62mph in a rapid 6.3 seconds, while being capable of claimed economy of 43.5mpg in range-topping M Sport form.
What's the spec like?
All Active Tourers include 16-inch alloy wheels, electrically folding rear seats, which slide back and forth, Bluetooth, a digital radio, selectable driving modes, rear parking sensors and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers.
Sport models, meanwhile, add 17-inch wheels, unique trim inside and out and sports seats for driver and front passenger. Luxury cars receive leather upholstery and a set of different interior and exterior trim, with wood across the dashboard and LED ambient lighting.
Top-of-the-range M Sport cars, on the other hand, pack 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats and a bold body kit, along with sports suspension and body-hugging sports seats.
The Active Tourer lines up alongside the Mercedes B-Class and the VW Golf SV in the upmarket compact people carrier class. Both of these options focus more on comfort than the BMW, which offers sharper handling.
Other similarly sized five-seater MPVs include the stylish Citroen C4 Picasso and the fun-to-drive Ford C-Max, though these are likely to undercut the BMW in the showroom.
What's it like to drive?
With direct steering, agile enough handling, effective brakes and plenty of power, the Active Tourer still feels like a BMW. It may be several rungs below typical BMW saloons in the driver enjoyment stakes, but it is still a peg or two above the typical people carrier – especially as the four-wheel drive system fitted to our test car meant that you could use all of the car's power, even around tighter bends, without incident.
The diesel motor is also particularly refined, with very little engine noise making itself heard in the cabin, especially at speed, and little road or wind noise to boot. Throw in a responsive automatic gearbox, and the Active Tourer is relatively relaxing to drive.
However, the suspension is a little firm, failing to isolate passengers from bumps as well as other people carriers and it kicks up a huge amount of tyre noise, especially on rough Tarmac. We also found that the oversized front pillars made pulling out of junctions more tricky than it should be.
AOL Cars Verdict
The addition of four-wheel drive doesn't transform the Active Tourer, but it does mean that it shares a few more attributes with its sportier BMW stablemates. While keen drivers will value this, most buyers would be equally well served with the £1,500-odd cheaper and more economical front-wheel drive version.
As it stands, the Active Tourer xDrive maintains the standard car's high quality, comfortable and practical cabin, with plenty of room in the rear and a spacious boot. Some buyers may want a more comfortable ride with a little less tyre noise, however, in which case, the VW Golf SV and Mercedes B-Class might be more appealing options. The Active Tourer remains a strong option, though, for those after an upmarket but practical family car.
Model: BMW 220d xDrive Sport Active Tourer
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Power: 187bhp, 400Nm
Max speed: 139mph
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds