BMW 218i Active Tourer

Not the Ultimate front-Driving Machine

JAMES WHITBOURN

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

FRONT-wheel drive brings unique packaging benefits.

Who knew? Well, everyone since BMC made the revelation with the Morris Mini-Minor in 1959.

If confronting a famous reardrive believerís first front-drive effort isnít disturbing enough, the base modelís engine may be Ė a Mini-sourced 1.5-litre threecylinder turbo that helps make the base Active Tourer one of Munichís weirdest cars yet.

The 218i springs to life with a pleasant purr, though itís not a particularly premium sound.

Peak torque (220Nm) arrives at 1250rpm, belying the capacity and cylinder count, and carries through until 4300rpm, just short of the 100kW power peak.

Despite delivering its outputs at low revs, the triple spins without harshness or excessive intrusion.

The distant snarl is almost reminiscent of the brandís sixes, though the 9.2sec 0-100km/h time sure isnít. Economy of 5.2L/100km is a valid trade-off.

The stylised shoebox delivers rear headroom in spades, and rear leg- and foot-room are ample. Itís a pity about the transmission tunnel hump (to accommodate all-wheel drive, which isnít coming to Oz) and A-pillar blind spots.

But does it bring some BMW poise to the segment? Bodyroll is always more pronounced when youíre seated up high, so the fact that little is felt in Munichís first mini-MPV holds promise.

The $54,900 225i, with its standard variable steering, is fluid and agreeable, the steering itself slick and well weighted. Primary ride quality is decent on the standard adaptive dampers, but secondary ride is busy on 18-inch Bridgestone Potenza run-flats.

Bumps are blotted on back roads, but the little niggles never go away, whether in Comfort or the distinctly tautened Sport mode.

With the flagship as the reference point, the 218-badged variants Ė lacking fancy steering and clever damping but riding on optional 18-inch hoops Ė do the job with decidedly less dynamic polish. The low-speed niggles multiply, and primary ride quality is less absorbent. The front end is coaxed into corners whereas the variable-steer variant is guided.

The diesel, with 50kg more in the nose, suffers most.

The Active Tourerís dynamics fail to match the promise, or the badge. We could almost let it slide in this quiet, spacious and well equipped compact, but ride quality is crucial, so weíd suggest sticking with the standard 17s to maximise comfort.

There are countless ways to spend $45K on a small SUV or compact premium car, but in this corner of the market the 2 Series Active Tourer has only one direct rival Ė the Mercedes B-Class Ė and that car isnít perfect, either. g n

PLUS & MINUS

Low-speed ride quality; modest performance; frumpy styling Packaging; agreeable dynamics on smooth roads with optional dampers

Fully loaded

EVERY variant is loaded, with a powered tailgate, sat-nav, sliding rear bench seat with push-button powered folding backrest, high-beam assist, BMWís Connected Drive system, self-parking, speedlimiter cruise and brake energy regeneration. A fourth variant, the $51K turbo-four 220i, will have joined the line-up by now, and a cosmetic M-Sport pack will be available from Q2.