BMWBLOG goes to Austria to test drive the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, BMW’s first front-wheel drive.
The first BMW with front-wheel drive, the first BMW-Van and the first BMW with a three-cylinder engine as the sole powertrain under the hood – like no other car the new Active Tourer shows how much the Bayerisch Motor Werke company has changed in the last few years. We were among the first to drive the new kid on the block which will start selling in Germany this summer starting at 27 000 euro.
Not often BMW has gone against the tide when entering a car segment where it never before was present. But precisely when most of the car manufacturers are migrating from the less than thrilling MPVish/people carrier to the more sexy SUV/crossovers territory here we have the Bavarian car make creating a buzz with the Active Tourer, a new Mini platform compact front wheel driven 5 seater.
Do they know something that the others don´t and that will stop the decreasing sales of MPVs worldwide and mainly in Europe? Well, according to Frank Niederländer, Head of Product Managament of the Lower Model Range at BMW “there is a customer for this type of vehicle that BMW was never able to win… someone who wants a more functional interior and a compact exterior, but that is also willing to pay for the brand image, the overall quality and remarkable driving dynamics”. In other words, Mercedes B Class and VW Golf Sportsvan have something to worry about.
From a design perspective the Active Tourer is not exactly exciting (even if looks are a personal matter) and will have a hard time to generate the same aspirational effect achieved by pretty much anything that carries a BMW low. Yes the traditional kidney radiator grille is there but then the understated rear and the profile lacking personality don´t really help to give the car the strong identity and charisma BMWs are loved for.
It may well be the case that part of the lack of character derives from the front-drive architecture used here, which generates different overall proportions. But then again it was a key factor for the Bavarian brand to be able to use the just launched Mini structure, thus benefiting from the the inherent synergy savings when penning the business plans for both vehicles and also as a means to make the most of the interior space/trunk volume in a vehicle that is just 4.3 meters long (and the engine transversal position helps this cause).
We enter the Active Tourer cabin to applaud the overall quality of materials, finishes and storage solutions for small objects as well as the possibility to slide the rear seats (in two asymmetrical parts) 13 cm forward or backwards depending on if you want to amplify legroom or focus on luggage capacity. As expected it is also possible to fold the back of the rear seats (manually by using a handle on the side of the outer rear seats or electrically via two dedicated buttons in the trunk) in case you want to take your bike, surfboard or other bulky objects with you that may or may not be associated “active life ” this new BMW is supposed to be fit. As it is becoming more and more common, the tailgate can be optionally electrically operated by means of a button or through a smart “open-sesame-when-you-up-circle-your-foot-under-the-rear-bumper-zone system).
The rear seats should preferably be used by two occupants who will appreciate a higher than the front seats seating position and also the overall roominess (both head and legroom), while an occasional rear center passenger will always have to deal with the floor tunnel between his feet and a narrower seat altogether.
From the driver´s seat it doesn’t take long to identify the Mini presence like in the head-up display system (information is projected onto a instrument panel top mounted glass and not on the windscreen), or the profusion of buttons in the central dash area and even in some of the buttons around the roof illumination zone. The driving position is quite high (11.6 cm higher than on a 1 Series and 3 cm higher than on an X1 which, in fact, will be presented this year also with this same front wheel drive architecture), as it befits a minivan, thus providing a privileged road view. Just like in any other BMW the dashboard is slightly offset in the driver´s direction and finding the most adequate position behind the steering wheel is easy thanks to the driver´s seat and the steering column several adjustment possibilities.
THE POWER AND DRIVING EXPERIENCE
BMW had two four cylinder engines available during the international media drive in Austria where we were among the first to drive the Active Tourer; the 2-liter diesel with 150 hp under the boot of the 218d and the 225i carrying a more promising 231 hp 2 liter unit. Both state of the art direct injection, high pressure or common rail, variable distribution, close to 500 c.c. per cylinder displacement, stop/start system… you name it…
The 218d showed might and willingness to respond just above 1500 rpm, setting up an overall relaxed driving context as it will be the case in most situations, preferably in Eco or Comfort modes from the Driving Experience (which only acts on throttle and steering response if you have a manual stick to shift as it was the case… but in fact it takes the optional automatic transmission to clearly feel the car´s mood really changing). If it is a more bipolar personality you want than it is better to tick the adaptive damping from the options menu which will allow you to impact more dramatically on the Active Tourer, making it more stable during cornering and also generating an overall more engaging driving experience. Or course switching to Sport mode will also make you feel more directly the road surface and most irregularities on the asphalt will be passed on to your body in a more sensible manner.
The 218d we drove was equipped beefed up tires (225/45 R18) surely wider and lower than the ones featured as standard (205/60 R16) and that undoubtedly played a role in the quite positive assessment of the handling attributes of the Active Tourer as we returned from this first drive experience around the Tyrolean mountains in Austria. The standard tire equipment will clearly allow for more body roll and that will presumably make the car feel slightly less compliant to what the BMW genes are so this is an option we would highly recommend.
The other possibility is to go for the M Sport that brings the car 10 mm closer to the ground, making driving also more engaging as it was the case in the 225i petrol engine we also had a chance to sample in the twisty but rather crowded Austrian mountain roads. Again this top of the range petrol unit corroborated the idea that the chassis development team was quite successful in the tricky mission of mitigating understeer as it is quite normal in a front wheel driven car and even to give it a bit of rear wheel driven character despite the less favorable weight distribution figures (60%-40% in the 218d and 58%-42% in the 225i quite different from the close to 50-50 partition German engineers are so keen to have) Klaus Huber, head of the chassis development, told us a very thorough job has been done with the very complex dampers to that the car would feel stable while allowing it to “step” on the road in a refined rather than merely stiff way: “The Mini is a kart, but here we wanted a refined ride, even if with a sporty feel to it.”
It is only natural that the 225i delivers a much more impressive performance envelop, as shown by the acceleration figures (240 km/h and 6,6 seconds from notch to 100 km/h). Mid-range torque is generous and allows you to easily regain pace in any gear you are using not only due to the twin scroll turbo merits but also thanks to the excellent 8 speed automatic transmission which is matched to this engine as standard. The steering wheel mounted shift paddles are the ginger on top of this tasty cake. The only exception to the overall convincing performance is the engine´s initial response, which feels more “laggy” than the 1250 fully available 350 Nm torque as stated in the tech sheet suggests.
The 218d responds in a more satisfying way from just above idle to the 2000 rpm engine speed. The new 6 speed manual gearbox deserves a clear “thumb´s up” for being fast and silent to shift back and forth and the gear ratios were put in place to make the best possible use of torque between 1600 and 4000 rpm, ending with a taller 6th gear for emissions/consumption purposes, since notwithstanding the use of aluminum in the bonnet and some chassis elements, the Active Tourer is not exactly a light car.
Putting together a rather understated exterior design and a glamour-less car segment is not exactly a promising recipe, but BMW says there are customers to conquer and it will try do to so with people looking at compact people carriers such as the Mercedes B Class or the VW Sportvan. BMW´s first venture into the world of front wheel driven cars has t be labeled as positive, in part courtesy of 10 years of intensive work developing the Mini range, which has “lended” the platform to the Active Tourer. Interior roominess, luggage capacity, cabin functionality and overall quality also deserved to be praised in this premium compact MV which has been priced as such.
At the end of 2014 arrive versions 220i, 220d and 216d, plus the Active Tourer xDrive (4×4) of the most powerful engines (220d and 225Â). In international alignment there are versions of Advantage, Sport Line, Luxury Line and M Sport trim, the range should be relatively close in Portugal. Anyway, standard equipment on the logo version entdada incluik already some interesting items: control with iDrive infotainment command center console and color monitor system 6.5 “, leather steering wheel, Professional radio, Bluetooth, system warning of impending collision with braking function in the city, rain sensor, headlight sensor, among others.
The direction of Active Tourer has a very good performance that will satisfy most users (the same hardware address of the new Mini, but with a different sofware, but in the same direct and precise steering from 2.6 turns to butt ). However, the discerning will get some more feeling sporty driving (in this model than it is in essence) if they choose to equip ctive Tourer with Servotronic steering (variable assistance according to speed) or even the sports system variable you can vary the steering ratio depending on steering angle of the wheels, thereby reducing the effort on the steering wheel in parking maneuvers, while the cakes at high speeds in a straight line.
It’s not official yet, but we know that is almost certain to launch a 7-seater version, which will primarily addressed to the North American market. Moreover, Active Tourer (who manufacture in Leipzig, Germany) will also be marketed in China.