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    The Shape of Things to Come We get behind the wheel of a 2 Series Active Tourer in the UK for the first time. Put your prejudices aside and step into the new front-wheel drive BMW mini-MPV. It’s actually really rather good Words: Bob Harper /// Photography: #BMW /// #BMW-218i-Active-Tourer-F45 /// #BMW-218i-Active-Tourer /// #BMW-218i-F45 /// #BMW-F45 /// #BMW-218d-Active-Tourer-F45 /// #BMW-218d-F45 /// #BMW-218d

    Having attended the UK media launch of the 2 Series Active Tourer I was actually feeling pretty upbeat about the car’s prospects. Despite reading our scribe’s positive thoughts on the car on its international launch it was with some trepidation that I approached the car as it is sometimes possible to get slightly carried away on the big media launches especially as time in the car can be a little limited and the type of roads you end up driving on can be pretty far removed from what we’re used to at home. I had some inevitable question marks over how the company’s first front-wheel drive vehicle would feel from the driver’s seat – I have nothing against frontwheel drive as a concept but for the car to feel like a BMW the company’s chassis engineers will have needed to have been pretty clever.

    On leaving the launch I remembered somewhat belatedly that we’re meant to be all social media these days so I posted a quick snap of the 2 Series Active Tourer to our Facebook page and was genuinely surprised at some of the comments the image generated. ‘A dark day for BMW and for driving in general,’ said one. ‘It's just another bloody Picasso. BMW has sold its soul,’ said another; the general consensus was that this wasn’t BMW’s finest hour.

    Several of the comments did seem to centre around the way the Active Tourer looks and I guess I would tend to agree with them; it’s not exactly a looker, although there aren’t really many machines in this class that you look at and think, ‘I really rather like that’. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and first and foremost this is a mini-MPV but does it have to look quite so bland? It is a little colour sensitive and the blue machine pictured here does look better than the silver car I posted to Facebook but at the end of the day it’s not a design you’re going to fall in love with. Couldn’t the car’s designers have been a little bit more avant-garde or quirky in their thinking? Put it this way, I thought I’d seen one parked up as I was driving to work the other day… turned out it was a Kia Ceed!

    But, hey, it’s not the first time we’ve had to judge a new BMW that’s never going to get past the first round of a beauty contest so instead of writing it off as rubbish on looks alone we need to dig a little deeper. Before we get onto driving let’s first immerse ourselves in the interior as, let’s face it, that’s the most important facet of a car in this class. Is the boot big enough? Does the interior offer flexible accommodation? Will the kids be comfy? As many parents will attest that last question is one of the most important as if the kids are happy in the back it will mean less complaints and on a long journey that makes a huge difference.

    When BMW took us for a walk around the car on the launch there was one particular stat that really hit home: it’s a scant few centimetres longer than a 1 Series yet offers the boot space of a 3 Series Touring and the rear legroom of a 7 Series. When you put it like that the benefits of front-wheel drive packaging really make themselves starkly felt. With this in mind we start off with the rear seats and even with the driver’s seat adjusted for someone six-foot tall there’s acres of space in the rear – perhaps not quite up to Skoda Superb levels but you would have thought that it must be a class-leading amount of space. Never mind the kids, fully-grown adults will be happy to while away the hours back here.

    In order to allow for maximum flexibility the rear seats move fore and aft to give less legroom and more luggage space or vice versa and the angle of the backrests can also be altered. You could be forgiven for thinking that the floor in the rear would be completely flat as there’s no need for a transmission tunnel but as there will be xDrive models that channel drive to the rear wheels as well there’s a little bit of a hump in the middle of the floor but it’s not too intrusive.

    At first the luggage space doesn’t look as voluminous as a 3 Series Touring and if you look at the stats that impression will be backed-up by the figures. The 2 Series Active Tourer has between 468- 1510 litres of capacity to the Touring’s 495-1500 litres, so with the seats all folded flat the Active Tourer wins; with all the seats in place the Touring shades it.

    There’s also the fact that a significant portion of the Active Tourer’s luggage capacity is to be found below the boot floor as there’s a very large compartment there – fine if you pack with soft bags but less so if you’re a hard shell suitcase kind of family. In fact, that under-floor compartment measures 70 litres so if you didn’t use it effectively the boot space drops to 398 litres or, to put it another way, it’s only just bigger than a 1 Series hatch. There are a couple of neat facets to the Active Tourer, though. The tailgate is electrically operated (an unusual feature for this class of car) which means you can open the boot from the key if you’re approaching the car with your hands full and secondly the rear seat backs fold flat at the pull of a toggle switch in the luggage compartment, which is a nice touch.

    If we move up to the front of the passenger compartment, though, there’s a fairly familiar BMW dash layout with a slightly different twist to some of the switchgear. The car uses the same ‘layering’ principles that BMW is so keen on at the moment and it does make for a fairly attractive look but the centre section of the dash looks slightly less integrated than the rest of the range as BMW has squeezed in a storage cubby-hole between the radio and the heating and air-con controls. The centre console area around the gear lever is a little smaller than on most BMWs and does look a little cluttered and as a result the Sport/Comfort/Eco Pro switch has been redesigned and placed in front of the gear lever which does initially look and feel a little odd. Having said that most owners will almost certainly leave it in the middle Comfort setting for 99 per cent of the time so it’s probably of little consequence.

    The driving position itself seems pretty good and there’s plenty of adjustment to the seats that will keep even the most oddly-shaped individuals comfortable. The Active Tourer offers plenty of storage space with large door bins and various cubby-holes although the one under the armrest isn’t covered which means its contents can be viewed from outside the car. As we’ve come to expect from launch press cars these examples have been kitted-out with a huge array of extras showing just what’s possible in way of personalisation so we’ve got the Navigation Plus package which also brings a Head-up display although this is of the type used on the MINI which means a screen popping up from the top of the dash binnacle rather than the information being projected onto the windscreen. It’s nowhere near as well resolved as the pukka system found on all other BMWs and on our test-drive we found that the information was projected in the same line of sight as where the wipers park and the trailing edge of the bonnet which made it harder to read, too.

    As most of us should now be aware, the Active Tourer is based on a stretched MINI platform and as a result it features a transverse engine driving the front wheels and, popping the bonnet, it does look somewhat incongruous to see this type of arrangement in an BMW. The two engines on offer for us to sample today are the 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol 218i and the four-cylinder 2.0-litre diesel in the 218d. As this is the first time we’ve had the chance to sample the new three-pot in a BMW it’s this car we spent most time in. Vital stats are: 136hp at 4400rpm, 162lb ft from 1250-4300rpm, 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds and a top speed of 127mph. The advantages of that three-cylinder become immediately apparent when you look at a combined economy figure of 57.6mpg and emissions of just 115g/km. Impressive on paper, but does this translate into a decent realworld driving experience?

    Our test route consists of a little bit of town work, some flowing country roads and a stint on the motorway so we have a variety of situations to try it on and when you’re pottering around normally it’s really rather good. The engine’s plenty responsive enough providing you stay away from the Eco Pro mode in which it feels a little bit like the car’s having to wade through glue. Obviously you’re not expecting rocket-ship performance but it feels peppy enough even on the motorway, although you do find yourself dropping down a cog if rapid acceleration into the outside lane is required. And you do wonder quite how it will feel when loaded to the gunwales with a family and all their kit. Using the gear lever isn’t a chore, though, as the gearbox itself is fine, even if it if does have an ever so slightly rubbery feel to its change quality. The ride’s fine at speed, and around town for that matter, and wind and road noise are perfectly acceptable, too. What’s less acceptable is the visibility in some directions. The A-pillar is pretty chunky as it splits into two at its base and despite the addition of another section of glass here it does create a bit of a blind spot, as does the chunky C-pillar at the back. It’s not disastrous but will take a little getting used to if you’re coming to the car from one with thinner pillars.

    When you start pushing on the back roads the limitations of the car’s performance do become apparent but it would be unfair to really mark the 218i down for this; if you want to travel faster buy one with a more powerful engine. Grip levels are pretty high, though, and the steering is fine despite putting the power down as well as doing directional changes but as is the way with an electrically-assisted setup it’s not full of feel. There’s not really enough power to worry about torque steer but in extremis you can just feel the steering wheel being tugged this way and that, as is typical of a front-wheel drive vehicle.

    The 218d uses the new B47 four-pot diesel and the new unit really is excellent. Headline stats are 150hp, 243lb ft of torque and a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds and while that might not sound hugely faster than the petrol version, on the road it feels significantly stronger, especially in the mid-range. It’s mightily refined, too – there’s still a bit of a diesel thrum if you sit at idle with the window open but bar that it’s much quieter and with less vibration than the old N47 that’s served so well in recent years.

    Our test car comes with the optional eight-speed automatic (the petrol makes do with a six-speeder if you opt for the auto) and it’s a very good combo. Where the 218i started to feel a little breathless and out of its comfort zone when extended the 218d feels much brisker when pushing on and while its no M235i you can imagine it serving enough delights when being driven without the family on board to satisfy the keen driver. The newfound verve reveals that as speeds rise it’s a very tidy handler and despite the raised body (you sit as high as you do in an X1) it can be thrown around without it losing composure.

    Typical front-wheel drive traits are there – it’ll tighten its line nicely in a corner with a little lift but at the same time lift-off oversteer is happily absent. Driven more sensibly and it’s quiet, composed, refined and pretty economical, too. Not quite sure if it’ll do anywhere near the claimed nigh-on 70mpg, but realistically 50 would be achievable so long as you’re not trying to extract the last drop of performance. Overall I was pretty impressed with the car, even if our Facebook followers were less than complimentary. I have to agree with them on the styling – I know most machines in this segment are designed to be bland but if Citroën can make an MPV look good (witness the C4 Picasso) then I’m disappointed that BMW has designed something so dull to look at.

    Despite this, that it will sell, and sell well, is a given. The interior really is excellent (even if I did have a couple of curmudgeonly moans) and offers a flexible environment that should suit even the most demanding family. The clincher will be the cost though: a 218d SE has an on-the-road price of £24,205 whereas a 318d Touring (with less legroom and less performance will set you back £28,975 – a saving of nearly £5k. It might be no oil painting but that makes the 2 Series Active Tourer stunning value for money.

    It’s a scant few centimetres longer than a 1 Series yet offers the boot space of a 3 Series Touring and the rear legroom of a 7 Series.

    TECH DATA BMW F45 2 Series Active Tourer: #BMW-218i & #BMW-218d

    218i SE 218d SE
    ENGINE: Three-cylinder, 12-valve turbo petrol Four-cylinder, 16-valve turbodiesel
    CAPACITY: 1499cc 1995cc
    MAX POWER: 136hp @ 4400rpm 150hp @ 4000rpm
    MAX TORQUE: 162lb ft @ 1250-4300rpm 243lb ft @ 1750-2500rpm
    0-62MPH: 9.2 seconds 8.9 seconds
    TOP SPEED: 127mph 129mph
    ECONOMY 57.6mpg 68.9mpg
    EMISSIONS: 115g/km 109g/km
    WEIGHT(EU): 1395kg 1450kg
    PRICE: £22,125 £24,205

    Interior is very flexible with rear seats that slide fore/aft and have adjustable backrests, too; boot space is excellent when the seats are folded flat. Sport/Eco Pro switch has been relocated and redesigned; transverse engine looks odd in a BMW; interior roomy and well designed; auto ’box really suits diesel engine.
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