Family guy(ing): Driving the BMW U06 218i Active Tourer M Sport

Produced since 2014, and to the chagrin of every hardcore traditionalist BMW “fan”, the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer twins were a pretty quirky and strange addition (some might say, experiment) to our (my) favourite German marque’s range of cars.

A friendly and compact front-wheel-drive MPV created to introduce new customers to the brand with a focus on space and usability without sacrificing (too much of ) BMW’s underlying foundation of good drivability and dynamics by using a platform shared not only with the BMW 1-series. X1 and X2, but also the Mini Countryman and Clubman.

And (to the chagrin of every hardcore traditionalist BMW “fan” once again) it must have succeeded because new for 2022, the 2-Series Active Tourer is now back, slightly less quirky, slightly more sporty, but still as friendly and usable.

First off though, the bad news. In line with BMW’s efforts to streamline their product offering, there will, sadly, no longer be a 7-seater Gran Tourer variant. While this might come as somewhat of a shocker to many of us due to its popularity on our roads, the Gran Tourer’s sales success in Singapore didn’t quite translate to many other parts of the world, hence its sad departure from BMW’s newly updated stable.

That said, the new 2-Series Active Tourer (seen here in 218i M Sport form) also marks a departure from its predecessor’s more “entry-level” aesthetics and interior.

Outwardly, the new car has sharper edges and cleaner lines, aided by a set of flush door handles, a more heavily raked windscreen and an equally heavily redesigned frontal section with a very prominent kidney grille flanked by a slimmer pair of LED lights to create a more purposeful and broader stance.

Side by side with the older car, the differences in character and attitude are much more obvious with the new car losing much of the older model’s more tamed exterior in favour of modern bold surfaces.

On our test car’s M Sport trim package, this slightly more aggressive outlook is further enhanced with more sculpted front and rear bumpers and large black trim pieces to mimic air intakes and outlets.

While it is still honestly not a car you buy based on appearances alone, this M Sport package is well worth the slight premium as it does help to inject a healthy dose of youthfulness into the car’s overall character.

Inside, the shift upmarket continues with a cabin that improves on the outgoing model in almost every area with the iX-Esque iDrive curved screens now making an appearance and an overzealously designed M steering wheel that even though feels great, does look a little comical in such a class of vehicle.

Those curved screens running BMW operating system 8 don’t just look good, they also contain within them this car’s host of high-tech features like the now ubiquitous BMW intelligent personal assistant, parking assistant and BMW’s Live Cockpit Plus navigation system.

Elsewhere, much more supportive sport seats (with a fantastic massage function for the driver) are now available and the heavily used plastic surfaces from before have now given way to soft-touch materials with well pieced together trim pieces to help round off the much more premium-feeling airy interior.

Interestingly, there are still some quirks to be found inside like the wide swath of air vents along the entire dashboard, the extra-large wireless phone charging pad with an integrated locking mechanism and a floating centre console that now houses the drivetrain controls.

Unfortunately, there is also a slight cause for concern here because, for reasons unfathomable, BMW has opted to remove the physical iDrive controller on the Active Tourer whilst still keeping a small selection of buttons.

While the latest iDrive UI is theoretically still fully operational using just the touchscreen, the actual practice of having to do so is quite cumbersome and counterintuitive, requiring a bit of thought to progress through the screens and some functions effectively hobbled.

On the move, trying to adjust anything else other than the climate temperature becomes even more challenging as some of the on-screen icons and buttons are just too small to be accurately reached.

Whilst, not a deal-breaker, I do hope that either the control knob will make a return, or an update comes to create a different user experience for cars that come without the controller.

That aside, interior room is as roomy as before with plenty of space all around and added versatility to the rear with adjustable seats that can slide forward and aft.

When it comes to the practicalities of cargo storage, the 2-Series Active Tourer can easily accommodate those trips to Ikea with a healthy boot capacity of 470 litres expandable to a generous 1,455 litres with the seats folded away.

Should you require it, an additional storage bin is also available underneath the boot floor to hide away your precious belongings.

On the move, progress is sufficient rather than swift, with the turbocharged 1.5litre 3-cylinder power unit spinning up a modest 134 horsepowers and 230Nm of torque. While not in the contention to win any century sprint contest, the Active Tourer’s tidy 230Nm of pulling power does allow it to neatly navigate through most slow-moving traffic with little fuss.

Ride-wise, the Active Tourer brings with it BMW’s classic underlying stiffness that smoothens itself out as you bring it up to speed, bringing about a strong level of stability as you start venturing into “enthusiastic” speeds.

Into the bends, the Active Tourer is surprisingly willing to play as it turns in well even if the steering feels a little uncommunicative.

While it might feel slightly out of character to be attacking corners in a “family” hauler, the Active Tourer is quick to show you that while still cuddly, it is still ultimately a BMW.

There are quite a lot of positives to this brand-new 2-Series Active Tourer. A decent drive, plenty of space, great versatility and a premium cabin adorned with high tech gadgetry, all fit for a family looking to enter (or remain in) the world of BMW motoring.

But the discontinuation of the Gran Tourer variant was an unfortunate decision. Because without this 3rd row of seats, it has lost its rather unique selling point and now has to compete not just with similar rivals from other manufacturers but even with cars from BMW’s own fleet.

Like the similarly priced, slightly less versatile but much more exciting Mini Clubman S or the smaller but no less premium-feeling BMW 116i hatchback that’s a tad easier on the wallet.

And then there’s the incoming BMW X1 and iX1. BMW’s brand new baby SUV that’ll come with as much space and versatility as the Active Tourer but wrapped up in a great-looking new body that I reckon will be well worth the slight premium and wait.

Ultimately, it will all boil down to what you want and what you need in a car and if the 2-Series Active Tourer ticks all the right buttons for you and your family, It’s well worth a look.

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