• The Supercar People Carrier #2016

    Behind the Wheel This month we sample the latest plug-in hybrid, the 225xe, and discover it’s rather good. BMW drops the i8’s drivetrain into the #BMW-2-Series #Active-Tourer for a new plug-in hybrid model and the resulting MPV is probably one of the most exciting ways to ferry the kids about. Words: Matt Robinson. Photography: BMW.

    BMW has been doing eco-motors for a lot longer than most. Back in 1983 it created an E28 525e, the ‘e’ standing for ‘eta’. Taking an M20 straight-six and fitting a different crank for a longer stroke, the 525e focused on fuel-saving over power. Obviously, this being the 1980s, we’re probably talking about the difference between 20mpg and 22mpg, but the point remains valid.

    However, it was in 2000 that the company really focused on improving its fleet-wide green credentials, with Munich working on the #EfficientDynamics (ED) suite of ecological technologies. By 2007, the first cars with ED standards were launched and today all BMWs use the measures. It was only a year later when the ActiveHybrids appeared, BMWs with mild electrification to eke out their fuel reserves. Clever and unobtrusive tech, indeed, but really a company with BMW’s engineering genius could do better. Cue the i-brand. Stunning the world with the i3 batteryelectric city car and the absolutely incredible i8 plugin hybrid ( #PHEV ) supercar, these two vehicles weren’t just vanity projects designed to show what electric heights BMW could scale: they also heralded the wider electrification of the mainstream range. The models subsequently chosen for #BMW-PHEV treatment show Munich’s crafty intelligence. First up was the mighty X5, a sales phenomenon and a vehicle that could only benefit from an official 85.6mpg and 77g/km of CO² emissions as the xDrive40e. Then BMW announced the gadget-laden 7 Series will be hybridised, although we won’t actually see the 740e (badge TBC) until later this year. Finally, the absolute essence of Munich, the 3 Series, was graced with the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrolelectric drivetrain of the X5, albeit slightly detuned for the 330e to 252hp and 310lb ft.

    We drove the 330e on the same launch event as this car, the 225xe Active Tourer, which completes a wave of four plug-in vehicles in the space of nine months. Clearly, #BMW felt that, for family buyers who liked the idea of a PHEV but were against an SUV like the X5, then the 2 Series MPV would be a more acceptable choice. What’s most intriguing is that the 225xe has the i8’s drivetrain… Oh, all right, that’s not strictly true; there are differences. For a start, it has been flipped through 180 degrees compared to the i8, so in the 225xe the petrol engine drives the front axle while the electric motor controls the rear; and, yes, that means the 2 Series PHEV can be a front-, rear- and ultimately four-wheel drive BMW, hence the ‘x’ in its model name.

    Furthermore, the 225xe doesn’t have the twospeed reduction gear for the electric motor, instead making do with a single-speed item like the i3, while the system’s overall output is scaled back from the i8’s 362hp/421lb ft muscle. Instead, the 1.5-litre turbocharged triple delivers 136hp and 162lb ft (it’s the engine from the MINI Cooper) while its electric motor adds 88hp and 122lb ft.

    Unlike other BMW PHEVs, here the overall peak numbers are the sum of their parts. With both motors the 225xe kicks out 224hp and 284lb ft – rudely healthy data for a compact MPV. Coupled to all-wheel drive traction and a kerb weight of 1660kg (heavy, but not ludicrously so), the 225xe is rapid: 0-62mph takes 6.7 seconds and the top speed is 126mph. And it feels every bit as punchy as that on the roads, the 2 Series dispatching questionable overtakes with ease. The three-pot motor is a gem, too, making a great noise in this application, if not quite up to the melody it makes in the i8.

    From the inside there’s little to distinguish that this is a Hybrid version of the 2 Series Active Tourer, although the underfloor boot space is less generous than in a conventionally-powered version.

    The fuel economy is pretty impressive, too, although it needs to be couched in terms of reality, rather than on-paper stats. The 141.2mpg economy with 46g/km CO² are figures attainable only by citybased users who spend maybe 80 or 90 per cent of their time commuting on electric power alone, with the odd weekend out-of-town jaunt. Use the petrol engine regularly and those figures will inevitably tumble. So let us give you both sides of the coin: on a 50-mile route, overall it returned 54.3mpg at an average of 28.9mph, which is excellent for a powerful, tall, petrol-drinking, four-wheel drive MPV like this, but just 38 per cent of its quoted average; however, for the first 12.5 miles of the trip, through some of Munich’s stickiest traffic, it majored on the electric motor and delivered an utterly remarkable 149.6mpg instead.

    If you do use the electric motor a lot (in the Max eDrive mode), then you have a range of 26 miles and a limited top speed of 78mph, slightly higher than other BMW PHEVs. It is, of course, so much quieter and smoother when whipping about town in zero-emissions running than any other 2 Series would be, so it’s a shame that the ride is overly firm and the tyres emit a loud rumble. We will concede the 225xe we drove was on winter rubber, so maybe it’ll be less noisey on regular tyres.

    Yet that stiff ride translates into the sort of handling that shames any comparable-sized MPV going. Based on front-wheel drive architecture it may be, but the 225xe is unquestionably a BMW in its dynamic makeup. Lift the throttle mid-bend and it will cleanly tuck its nose in as the tail goes light, while the steering is (by the standards of its rivals) great. The six-speed Steptronic automatic is flawless and the brakes – still required to do two jobs, namely harvesting kinetic energy and stopping the car – feel a little better modulated than those on the 330e. In short, while it might not be an i8 in a stovepipe hat, it feels like a little of the dihedral-doored sports car’s DNA has rubbed off onto the sensible Active Tourer.

    So it’s yet another hugely impressive PHEV from BMW, with the main two stumbling blocks being the ride and its price. If you can live with the former (and many will), the 225xe starts at £35,155 excluding the government’s £5000 plug-in car grant… which reduces to £2500 from 1 March. That means the 2 AT PHEV currently costs at least £30,155, rising to £32,655 in spring, compared to the 225i xDrive’s £32,010 ticket. That doesn’t exactly make this 2 Series Active Tourer cheap but it remains a practical, spacious family car that might just be the answer to rising fuel costs for many urbanites. And as it really has no direct rivals (go on, name another premium AWD electric MPV) then BMW’s long-running obsession with eco-vehicles looks like it is finally paying off handsomely.

    TECHNICAL DATA #BMW-225xe-Active-Tourer / #BMW-225xe / #BMW-225xe-F45 / #BMW-F45 / #BMW-225xe-Active-Tourer-F45 /

    ENGINE: 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol with synchronous electric motor, six-speed #Steptronic auto (petrol) plus reduction gear (electric), four-wheel drive

    MAX POWER: Petrol: 136hp @ 4400rpm; electric: 88hp @ 4000rpm; combined peak output 224hp

    MAX TORQUE: Petrol 162lb ft @ 1250-4300rpm; electric 122lb ft @ 0-3000rpm; combined peak output 284lb ft

    0-62MPH: 6.7 seconds

    TOP SPEED: 126mph

    ECONOMY: 141.2mpg

    EMISSIONS: 46g/km

    PRICE: From £30,155 including government’s £5000 grant (until March 1, see copy)