You might find the idea of a front wheel drive BMW almost as odd as the idea of a BMW MPV. The Munich maker's 2 Series Active Tourer model combines both of these things. June Neary tries it..
Will It Suit Me?
BMW is reaching into the mainstream with this 2 Series Active Tourer, a reasonably spacious and quite affordable family five-seater. MINI underpinnings see this as the brand's first front driven model and it's certainly a classier, more interesting alternative to a conventional Scenic-style compact MPV. I thought I'd try one.
The 2 Series Active Tourer sits on a lengthened version of the same platform used by the MINI Hatch 5-Door and as such, is significantly shorter than, say, BMW's own 3 Series Touring estate model, yet can swallow just as much luggage. It doesn't seek the kind of SUV-style buyer courted by a BMW X1 crossover, yet sits its driver 10mm higher off the ground. And there's room underneath for the kind of optional 4WD system that 1 Series buyers aren't allowed to have. My favourite stat though, relates to rear seat space. You get more with this car than you would in a huge Executive -class BMW 5 Series Touring estate. As my family found, there's pretty much the same kind of luggage room too. Such are the benefits of BMW's decision with this model to switch to front wheel drive. Forget the comparisons though. What matters is that this luggage bay is big enough to be everyday-usable. So bulky items like baby buggies that you might struggle to get into some of BMW's other compact five-door family cars - say something like a 1 Series - will here fit in quite easily. There are lashing points and bag hooks on either side of the luggage bay, plus an optional 'extended storage' pack offers attachments like a load net to help keep things in place should you get a bit carried away on the journey back from the supermarket. Valuables are better housed in this concealed space below the floor, the folding top concealing a handy multi-function tray.
Behind the Wheel
BMW's refusal to build an MPV has long been linked to its refusal to add its famous badge to a front wheel drive car. Sure, the brand could have built a rear-driven People Carrier, but it wouldn't have been very space-efficient. This layout simply doesn't lend itself to exemplary practicality. What it lends itself to is exemplary driving dynamics and any BMW lacking this with power scrabbling away from the front wouldn't really be a proper BMW. Such was the market perception prior to the launch of this model. I've always thought that to be a rather simplistic perspective - one that assuming that all front-driven cars are dull to drive. Have a go in any current generation MINI and you'll discover that simply isn't true. All of which prompted BMW's development engineers to wonder what they could create if they were to put their own spin on MINI underpinnings and MINI engineware. Using a stretched version of that same MINI platform, they could at last create the space-efficient front-driven quality compact five-seat people carrier they knew there was a ready market for. So the 2 Series Active Tourer was born. With all of that in mind, on the move I was expecting this car to be far more MINI-like than most of the time it actually is. The Munich men have intentionally dumbed the responses of this 2 Series model down a little, mindful perhaps that a Cooper-style 'go kart-like' feel is less appealing to BMW buyers - and might be even less well received in the MPV segment. That said, this Active Tourer still represents a firmer-riding and more driver-orientated choice than many Scenic or C-MAX-style buyers will be used to, whatever the choice made of settings from the standard 'Drive Performance Control' system, the rocker switch for which you'll find down by the gearstick. Under the bonnet, the range begins with the same 1.5-litre three cylinder petrol and diesel units you'll find in a MINI powering the most affordable 136bhp 218i and 116bhp 216d Active Tourer derivatives. I tried the variant that will probably account for the majority of sales of this car, the 218d. Under the bonnet here, there's a larger, more conventional four cylinder powerplant offering 150bhp. If you need more, there's the alternative of a 190bhp 220d variant with the option of 4WD.
Value For Money
Expect to pay somewhere in the £22,000 to £32,000 bracket for your 2 Series Active Tourer, depending on the spec and model you choose. To put those figures into perspective within the BMW line-up, they see this car pitched at a premium of around £1,800 over the company's five-door 1 Series model - which seems fair enough given that this Active Tourer is better equipped and about 30% larger inside. Big enough in fact to offer almost exactly the same levels of cabin cargo space you'd get from the kind of BMW 3 Series Touring model that could easily cost you £4,000 to £5,000 more. If you need more space in this car, there's the option of finding an £1,800 model-for-model premium to get the seven-seat Gran Tourer version.
Could I Live With One?
I think BMW's appealing spin on ordinary family motoring will probably attract a ready audience. People who probably never thought they'd be buying from this Munich maker. They won't be getting 'the ultimate driving machine' because that's not what they need. Getting instead what may very well be 'the ultimate small people carrier' will suit them very well indeed.