Of Lofty Ambitions: Driving the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. I cannot recall a car from BMW’s modern history which will ever have as difficult an introduction into the Bavarian manufacturer’s stable and as big an uphill climb into the hearts and minds (if ever) of BMW’s faithful following. The reason is simple, the driven wheels are not where they traditional should be and as such, the 2 Series Active Tourer is an abomination of everything we hold dear towards the marque. Which is good because BMW’s target market with this car lies not with traditional BMW buyers nor fans of the marque but drivers with small families or couples who might never have thought of buying a BMW previously.

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Truth be told, this car is important. It is very important. This car’s MINI-derived platform will in most likelihood, be the basis of the future 1-Series, X1 and some say, even a new compact Z-roadster. So those with rear-wheel drive 1’s, hold onto your cars tightly as the future of BMW’s smallest cars looks set to be propelled by the front wheels. Sadness for the enthusiasts but if projected sales of these cars bring added funding to cars like the M235i or a future Z4M, our sadness might be a tad premature.

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Market research has also seemingly concluded that the majority of those who buy into such small compact cars do not really care or at the extremes even know about the handling characteristics of having cars driven by the rear wheels and for most part, place interior room as a higher priority to sliding about sideways. Which leads to what we now have in front of us, a car driven by market research, built for newcomers to the marque don’t quite mind that the driven wheels are up front and who above all, value practicality on top of everything else.

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This is BMW’s answer to Mercedes’ B-Class and at first glance they even look the same. Just swap over the front ends and not many will be able to tell them apart. As a tall MPV-esque vehicle (taller than the X1), it doesn’t look too bad and manages to carry off some dynamic styling cues quite well, but the small wheels do it no favors and once the twin kidneys and propeller logos go on, expectations are raised up to another level and to be polite, i can only say the 2 Series Active Tourer looks, different. Somehow you also begin to wonder if BMW badged this as a 2-Series just to give it some added street-cred. Remember back when BMW mentioned even-numbered cars were reserved for the “Sporty-Coupe” models?

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Personally i’m not a fan of how it looks but my partner warmed up to it after a few days. During the time i had the car, it did seem to strangely resonate better with the non-BMW faithful with a number of heads turned towards the car than away from it. Some i reckon out of curiosity while others seem to genuinely like it, with a gentleman in a Mercedes giving the thumbs up and another asking about the car while i was taking some pictures.

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Pulling open the doors and climbing inside does present a much more pleasant sight for the eyes, with so much glass all around, the interior space feels airy and spacious with the amount of headroom in the Active Tourer being probably the most you can get on a BMW that is on currently on sale. It is also the only BMW you can buy now with those little windows just below the A-pillars, not too sure what the advantages for those would be, parking perhaps?

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The general controls and layouts on the Active Tourer have also been given a redesign, either to set this car apart from other BMWs or more likely, to accommodate and work with the new drivetrain layout.

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The steering wheel for the Active Tourer also gets a new refreshed look but the large amount of plastics might look a little bit out of place. Satnav is standard with the iDrive controls placed alongside the shifter rather than behind it. Unfortunately, the central armrest does get in the way of the iDrive controls and more importantly, the gear lever, making it a little uncomfortable if one were to manually select cogs in the rare event of selecting Sport-M mode.

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Elsewhere there is some lovely stitched leather surrounding the occupants although i am not too sure about the faux-wood effect panels. Overall the interior designers have done a good job to make the interior space look and feel refreshing while ensuring that the ergonomics are still spot on even though controls now generally feel a little more upright. Space up ahead for the driver and front passenger remain ample and although the seats which look and do feel somewhat un-BMW like, being slightly narrower than on other cars we’ve grown accustomed to, are still comfortable enough for pottering around town in.

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Out in the back, the rear bench seats can easily accommodate 3 adults seated abreast with legroom nicely catered for with an almost flat floor. Headroom for those seated behind is generous. Storage space in the cabin is easily catered for with a number of cubby holes and small compartments to drop little knick knacks into.

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BMW’s clever kick-to-open tailgate function makes an appearance on the Active Tourer and will probably a Godsend for busy parents who have to juggle the shopping bags, prams and the occasional crying toddler. Just give the space below the rear bumper a kicking-motion and watch as the tailgate rises up to reveal a nicely sized flat 468-litres of boot space. Large enough to fit a couple of prams or we reckon, even a bicycle.

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For those needing extra storage area can either lift the boot floor to reveal a small secret compartment area or choose to fold the seats down electrically using some nifty buttons along the sides. Bringing the seats up however requires some manual work.

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Now that we’ve gotten most of the practicalities out of the way, let’s explore something a little closer to our petrol-lined hearts. How does the 2 Series Active Tourer drive? The badge might say 218i but what lies underneath the short bonnet is no 1.8, but rather a 1.5 litre turbocharged unit lifted from the new MINI Cooper. Power ratings come in with 136 horses and 220Nm of torque. Not very exciting figures and unfortunately for those in Singapore, those extra 6 horses consigns this car to COE category B. Our test car’s engine had a slight roughness on startup, and when called upon to set loose all its horses, the Active Tourer will vocally complain about being treated so harshly while hitting 100km/h in 9.2 seconds. Which might not sound like much of an achievement but coming from a 1.5, is pretty decent. It just doesn’t seem to enjoy doing it very often. The engine does get a tad rough when pushed, so it’s best to let it settle into a cruise lower down the rev range which is how i suspect new owners to be driving it.

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And even though most buyers of these types of cars will not be bothered with this bit, dynamically, the 2 Series Active Tourer manages to cope with most of what the engine has to give. It rides decently and copes with most bumps and it manages to tuck itself tidily into most corners and bends without much drama. The only issue is that this lack of drama in the bends also continues into the rest of your drive, and even though the car is up to the challenge when the handling card is pulled, you just don’t really feel like even having a go. I guess what i meant to say is, it isn’t fun. But it rides well and gives a comfortable journey to those inside and for a car in this segment, that is what matters most.

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On a personal stand point, i do not really like the Active Tourer. BUT, i understand the reasons for such a car and i am sure its practicality, ride qualities and nice array of options fitted as standard will allow it to sell well. For others, there’s always the option of buying the 1 Series or X1 before they go front-wheel drive.

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