Test Drive: BMW 225i Active Tourer image

One word of advice from the very beginning – if you’re a BMW purist that believes the blue-white logo has nothing in common with front wheel drive traction and the minivan segment, than this test drive has nothing for you. For the rest of us, mere “mortals”, the revolution is here – the largest premium automaker in the world has broken its last gentleman agreement.

We could indulge in endless economical motifs – for example the fact that it was another untapped segment and that BMW is trying to fend off the increasingly feisty rivals – Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Or the fact that the 2 Series Active Tourer and the 2 Series Gran Tourer (its larger, seven-seat sibling) make huge cost savings by utilizing the same front wheel drive platform as the one used in the Mini brand cars. Or that the upcoming 1 Series will also switch over to fwd and thus finally put a big gap between the company’s compact offerings (at least some of them) and the larger, traditionally rear-wheel drive powered models. But we won’t. Instead we’re pointing out two simple facts. Audi has recently said it won’t make competitors for the new minivan arrivals (meaning the 2 Series) any time soon and the fact that Mercedes has been successfully selling front wheel drive compacts since the controversial arrival of the first generation A Class back in 1997.

We do have to wonder how BMW plans to market two vastly different set of models bearing the same nameplate – the minivan Tourer series and the Coupe/Cabrio sporty siblings (not to mention the M Performance versions). But that would be for the marketing department to answer. So let’s focus on the car at hand the first BMW minivan and the first BMW with front engine and front wheel drive.

Design, Interior and Gadgets
Before turning utterly judgmental on the Active Tourer, I have to say the design and its odd proportions attracted a range of viewers, so without a doubt the car will not only have a polarizing effect, but also promote the brand even further. While the essential proportions are off any way you look at it – for a BMW model that is – the essential traits of the brand are still there. The design of the headlights follows current canon – though I myself remain a believer that the double rounded design remains the company’s best since the introduction of the surrounding daylight rings. So does the kidney grille or the aggressive-styled front bumper. Even the taillights could be instantly recognizable. The rest follows in the footsteps of the current B-Class, its main direct competitor. We got used to the A and B Class, so why not take the 2 Series Tourers for what they are – BMW models and here to stay. The general design and look of the exterior is close to compact minivan traits, so no surprises here. While thinking about the potential customers for the 2 Series Active Tourer, besides the obvious family-oriented buyers I also identified a more uncommon category – and stepping inside the cabin will show how that conclusion came to be.

Inside, the oddities remain – we have a BMW that succumbs to the well-known (but dreaded by many) cab-forward architecture: the windshield is huge and very angled to make that characteristic one-volume design that minivans have. That brings two things – unlike other BMW’s (even the smallish 1 Series), the Active Tourer will have a large area for the upper part of the dashboard, stretching to the base of the windshield – though the Germans have not exaggerated that part as much as other producers, keeping thus in balance the actual interior space. Secondly, the A pillar has been thinned at the base and a small triangular window is there to bring you enhanced vision when turning or parking. This design also makes the front door look decidedly ugly when open and seen from outside – but I would rather live with that then having the driver’s front view constantly impaired under certain circumstances.

The car’s height – which at 1,555 mm dwarfs a 1 Series (1,421 mm), for example – brings about the next interesting feature of the car. The dashboard is higher than usually for a BMW model, bringing about some welcomed design changes: we have a storage space between the climate commands and the array of buttons that control certain functions of the infotainment system and the center tunnel – which has stopped housing the transmission is narrower than usual, with the buttons that usually controlled he electronically adjustable powertrain and suspension setups now turned into an elongated switch. If you’ve driven any BMW model before the buttons, switches and functions inside the Active Tourer will be instantly familiar, but the fresh style sets the model apart in what became a rather uniform interior across the range. The 2 Series Active Tourer might be a compact offering, but all the interior (especially with the Luxury line) shows that BMW sparred no effort and any cost cutting – if present – had been done in other areas, invisible to the naked eye. Materials, trims, fittings and all the buttons and switches feel exactly the way the are supposed to feel in a car that has a price that immediately jumps out of the compact segment’s comfort zone.

The reviewed car was equipped with optional front seats that brought the entire range of adjustments we would have expected in an M Performance model – so if you have the bucks, never mind this is a minivan – the seats will have you enjoy the open road for years to come. Their sporty stance though wasn’t able to alleviate the fact that you’re riding very high, an asset for smaller drivers and women, but another area to complain if you’re a BMW purist. The latter will have no way of bad mouthing the rear area though – the 2 Series comes with ample room for knees, head (thanks to the tall body) and comes with an angle-adjustable back rest. Best of all, the middle seat will be usable because of the disappearance of the massive shaft tunnel, though the floor is still not entirely flat. Family adventurers will have more reasons to rejoice – the luggage area is German-style created, with a deep sense of practicality: double floor with hidden storage space, side pockets for small things and button-folding rear backrest for easy cargo expansion.

And now for that revelation about the other category of clients the 2 Series Active Tourer would befit: corporate buyers. Not those pricey top executives that can only be shuttled in limousines. The other 99 percent of corporate and fleet buyers that could seek a premium model, from a German brand, to offer both its luxury level and great back seat space. I’d say the Active Tourer nails them all on the spot, especially in the Luxury Line trim level.

Engine, Transmission and Handling
We took out for a spin not one, but two versions of the 2 Series Active Tourer. A family oriented diesel and the top of the pack 225i gasoline version. I took out the latter to see how the now-traditional 4 in line, direct injection turbo 2.0 liter engine marries with a minivan body. While initially many of us mourned the disappearance of the six-in line in favor of the newer and just as feisty 2-liter with turbocharging, I have to agree that engine would have been out of place in the Active Tourer. A turbocharged 4 cylinder is enough for a minivan, especially if it boasts 231 horsepower and 350 Nm at 1250 rpm. On second thought, the six in line, heavier, would have been better for the 225i, which tends to send that torque-steering effect to the steering wheel every time the driver pushes harder on the gas pedal. If it’s one thing that essentially ruins the whole process of accepting a front wheel drive BMW, than this is it. Fighting to keep the wheel pointing where you want might be safer than dealing with the back’s over steer, but it essentially renders mute years of dynamic driving promoted by the company – the asset that made it so desirable.

Other than that, the BMW gives you all of its usual goodies: variable sporty direction to enter that hairpin just the way you always wanted while the mother in law screams on the back seat, the face on the side window and the arms reaching to keep the kid in balance (though he’s in the child seat with isofix locks safely in place); performance control on the display to see how many Nm’s you spent trying to outrun the Renault Clio RS that sat next to you on the traffic light or the M Sport suspension that will be great if you lived in a city that has no tram lines, workers reshaping boulevards or generally anything with any asphalt difference. Fortunately it’s an optional feature – the suspension and the 18-inch alloy rims proved an unfortunate marriage when dealing with some late winter presents – pot holes. While the ride never becomes uncomfortable for the passengers (both front and back) the level of noise is significant when dealing with small, fragmented or crumbled zones in the asphalt.

There’s one optional you should always consider investing in: the Steptronic automatic transmission. It’s the well-known 8-speed gearbox that spans across the BMW range, proving not that the Germans were cheap in having a single automatic for the vast majority of models but rather its incredible versatility. The powertrain ensemble is one to dream of – a sporty tuned steering, a feisty turbocharged gasoline engine that delivers all of its torque force just like a diesel, a great automatic transmission and a suspension to match. Actually, if you forgot about the increased ride height and overall taller than usual G Spot (we’re talking about gravity here!), you could wield the 2 Series Active Tourer as a precision instrument, very close to the usual BMW experience, especially if you negotiated the turns the right way and exited the apex without dealing with the torque-steering phenomenon (it’s possible, but you do need some adjusting to do).

And when it comes to ride handling, the car’s limits are far beyond even BMW junkies would expect. Reaching 100 km/h in just 6,6 seconds goes a long way when saying you’re actually driving a minivan – but for the category having a sensible fuel economy is also important. Here the 225i doesn’t disappoint, with that great eight-speed transmission and a start/stop system bringing an average fuel consumption of 5,8 liters per 100 km. In real world conditions it’s not easily achievable, unless you temper your driver needs and use the Eco Pro mode. Naturally, the driver adjustable setup is also present, with the car morphing from a mileage oriented minivan that has a laggy response (which forgives your sudden dynamic desires in favor of a relaxed and linear driving style) in Eco Pro to the speed demon we always have on our shoulder in the Sport mode, which comes with enhanced accelerator pedal response, a sharper steering and the automatic gearbox staying always alert (among other goodies).

Likes/Dislikes
Pro: BMW traits remain present, interior space and careful use of materials, new design for dashboard, eight-speed automatic transmission, luggage compartment has aces up its sleeve.
Against: stiff and loud sport suspension when combined with M Sport 18 inch alloys, massive torque available from low revs brings the front-wheel drive characteristic torque steering phenomenon.

Price
Starting price – 214d Active Tourer – 27,900 EUR / 225i Active Tourer – 37,324
Tested Car – 225i Active Tourer Automatic w. installed options – 53,519 EUR

Engine: 2L turbo, gasoline, direct injection, intercooler (1,998 cc)
Power: 231 HP (170 kW) at 4,750-6,000 rpm
Torque: 350 Nm at 1,250 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Dimensions: length – 4,342 mm, width – 1,800 mm, height – 1,555 mm, wheelbase – 2,670 mm
Weight: 1,505 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 61L
Trunk Capacity: 468L / 1510L

0 – 100 km/h: 6,6s
Top Speed: 240 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 7,4L/100 km, highway – 4,9L/100 km, average – 5,8L/100 km

Rating: 3.9 / 5