SÖLDEN, Austria – Among the handful of things I thought I’d never see in my lifetime, was a front-wheel driven BMW. Of course, the BMW Group revived the Mini brand at the turn of the century and have significant experience in that field… But to think of the iconic roundel on a car that sends drive to its front wheels was once unfathomable.
Until now, because as I write this, I’m staring at the 2 Series Active Tourer – a model that represents a major first for BMW. Just how is the Munich-based manufacturer going to maintain its reputation for providing customers with the engaging dynamics we’ve come to expect from the brand?
I’m very glad to report that my short stint behind the wheel yielded a favourable impression of the 2 Series Active Tourer. What I was disappointed about however, was not being handed the key fob to the range-topping 225i – instead I found myself behind the wheel of the only other derivative on the international launch of the Active Tourer: a 218d.
The 218d is powered by a 2,0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine that produces 110 kW and 330 N.m of torque – figures that are not exactly humdrum. When leaving the confines of the Innsbruck airport parking facility at the wheel of BMW’s newcomer, I was immediately impressed with the powertrain’s refinement and the strong NVH suppression in the ActiveTourer’s cabin. There was an abundance of torque on tap at urban speeds (even in the higher ratios), while the six-speed manual gearbox and clutch felt very similar to that of entry-level BMWs currently on sale back home – slightly notchy, but mechanically satisfying.
And do you know what? There’s plenty of feedback coming through the steering wheel – albeit through a system that’s electrically assisted. Pushing onto the A12 heading out of the city, the 218d never lacked grunt. At freeway speeds, all that was really needed for overtaking was flexing my right foot, though sometimes, with my foot against the firewall and progress not being sufficient, a quick downshift to the fifth ratio did the trick.
With heavy rain interrupting the European summer, the conditions didn’t allow for too much dynamic driving as the launch convoy took to B-roads to get to our destination, Sölden. The twisty sections of the 186 were very tempting, and the flawless asphalt increased my confidence – only to be nipped by plenty of slow-moving vehicles and strict speed limits. With showers still abundant, I turned my attention to how quiet the cabin was and how well the 218d was riding on the 225/45 rubber that wrapped its 18-inch alloys. Considering that these wheels are likely to be optional when the 2 Series Active Tourer makes its South African debut, so I’m confident that a set of 17-inchers with a thicker sidewall will be impressive back home – and more suited to local conditions…
But what else does it do?
The 2 Series Active Tourer is geared toward individuals who need the room to properly transport the tools required for their outdoor activities or even those who prefer the room available in the likes of the X Series vehicles, but not the high-riding feeling. BMW claims a standard bootspace of 468 litres, access to which (if your hands are full) can be had by kicking softly under the rear bumper – an action that tells the ECU to open the electrically assisted tailgate. If that’s not enough, then electronic releases in the boot drop the rear backrests in a 40:20:40 split to free up to 1 510 litres of utility room.
The 218d I drove was fitted with black cloth upholstery, contrasted by red stitching and detailing on the facia and seats. The former is topped by a massive 8,8-inch infotainment screen, while the driver also gets a head-up display to relay the most vital of information. Overall, the perceived quality is high. There’s plenty of room aft of the front seats, even for taller adults – something that is helped by the rear seats being able to slide.
BMW knows how crucial this model is, not just in terms of volume – but also for the firm’s reputation. For the most part, I think they’ve hit the nail on the head. Sadly, the vehicle I drove is not headed to SA. The local launch will see the three-cylinder 218i, 220i, 220d and 225i. If priced keenly, they should take market share away from the likes of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class. Over to you, BMW!
Read the full impression of BMW’s new 2 Series Active Tourer in the October issue of CAR.