T W E N T Y
ONE YEAR on from the COTY-winning i3 EV, BMW is back with something arguably even more sacrile gious to ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ chanting loyalists – front-wheel drive.
Yet the 2 Series Active Tourer – sharing virtually nothing with its rear-drive coupe and convertible stablemates using the same numerical prefix, but plenty with the second-gen X1 and latest generation of Minis – brings something tangibly Bavarian, for good and for bad, to what is, let’s face it, a dull segment.
Targeting the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, the Active Tourer is a handsome, family-focused wagon with room for five on comfortable, multi-configurable high-mounted seats, offering greater cargo flexibility (if not capacity) than a 3 Series Touring, at a significantly lower starting price.
Inside, most people won’t even pick this BMW as FWD, and, blind-spot-inducing windscreen pillars apart, there’s nothing here to agitate traditionalists.
More interesting is the 2AT’s engine range, kicking off with the characterful 218i’s 100kW 1.5-litre turbo triple/six-speed auto nicked from the Mini. The others – a torquey 110kW 220d diesel, grunty 141kW 220i, and belting 170kW 225i – all switch to 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo power with eight-speed automatics.
Surprisingly, the smallest drivetrain delivers the biggest smiles, putting its limited power down through the front wheels with ambitious zeal, while light and quick steering, revealing minimal bodyroll, provides a broadly similar dynamic feel to regular BMWs. On the standard 17-inch wheels, the 218i’s ride is also the most compliant.
Furthermore, while the others provide usefully more shove right across the rev range (particularly the hot-hatch-esque 225i), their greater speed and mass in corners invariably leads to understeer, exaggerated by limited front-end traction, especially in the wet or on gravel. In such conditions, we found the ESC’s tuning far from subtle or ideal. Yes, torque steer is an issue. Yes, we’re talking about a BMW. No complaints about the brakes, though, which pulled up forcefully in torrential rain around Lang Lang.
We suggest avoiding the larger wheel/tyre combos, as the ride quality does degrade. The efficient 218i charmer is the pick of the 2AT range.
However, despite a generous level of kit that includes sat-nav, auto parking assist, rear camera, AEB, Lane Departure Warning, and even a powered tailgate, you’ll be sitting on vinyl in most variants – in cars that start from $44,400. Start perusing the extensive options catalogue and your 218i could soon soar towards $55K driveaway. We’re talking about a three-cylinder front-drive wagon priced against larger up-spec mainstream SUVs.
Invariably, expectation management is required here. With the famous propeller roundel comes an assumption of dynamic superiority – an unrealistic request from a boxy, practical, family wagon, no matter what the badge says. So it’s somewhat ironic, then, that traditionally ‘premium’ BMW pricing is what ultimately keeps its first frontdriver from progressing forward.
Type 5-door wagon, 5 seats Boot capacity 468 litres Weight 1360 – 1430kg
Layout front engine (east-west), FWD Engines 1499cc 3cyl turbo (100kW/220Nm) 1998cc 4cyl turbo (141kW/280Nm) 1998cc 4cyl turbo (170kW/350Nm) 1995cc 4cyl turbo-diesel (110kW/330Nm) Transmissions 6-speed automatic; 8-speed automatic
Tyres 205/55R17 – 225/45R18 ADR81 fuel consumption 4.2 – 6.1L/100km CO2 emissions 111 – 142g/km Collision mitigation .
Crash rating 5-star (Euro NCAP) Prices $44,400 – $54,900
Already available in models as varied as the Mini, 3 Series, X1, and i8, BMW’s all-new B38 three-cylinder family of petrol engines currently comes in two capacities – 1.2 and 1.5 litres – and features a single-scroll turbo, direct injection, Valvetronic, dual VANOS and a balancer shaft rotating at twice the crankshaft’s speed to help keep things smooth.
Much of the construction is aluminium, with magnesium also employed for lightness as well as improved thermal efficiency.