First Drive: BMW 2-Series Active Tourer

First Drive: BMW 2-Series Active Tourer

Bound by tradition? Certainly not BMW. Arguably to the dismay of purists, this is a brand that has experimented a great deal in the last decade or so.

Want an SUV-cum-coupé? Have an X4 or X6. Fancy a 3-Series but find the regular sedan too cramped? Look at the hatchback GT version. Nowadays you’ve got turbocharged M cars, fully electric models and hybrids too. It’s all stuff you would have never expected from the marque.

So it shouldn’t really surprise you that the new 2 Series Active Tourer is front-wheel drive and there are no six-cylinder engine choices available.

BMW 2 - IgnitionLIVE

Has BMW lost the plot?

Two words: market share. With the new model the company is looking to steal sales from the likes of Mercedes-Benz’s B-Class and Volkswagen’s Touran. The 2-Series Tourer is a practical, premium compact MPV that targets buyers who might never before have contemplated a BMW.

BMW 3 - IgnitionLIVE

But what about the X models?

If you consider that most – if not all – all-wheel drive SUVs in the BMW stable spend their lives in urban settings, the company’s business strategy regarding the Tourer begins to make sense. You still get that slightly elevated, commanding driving position – but with no pretence at off-road prowess. Plus there’s the virtue of space.

The model is billed as an authentic family companion. The rear berth is wide enough to accommodate bicycles or the Labrador. The seats can be configured in a variety of ways. There are windows everywhere contributing to a feeling of airiness in the cabin – also great for kids, who inevitably love to see where they’re going.

BMW 4 - IgnitionLIVE

Okay, but does it drive like a BMW?

Spin doctors would evade the question by responding that it drives like no BMW before. Here’s the thing: if you’re already in the brand, you’ll know how cars from the Bavarian automaker are supposed to behave. The 2-Series Active Tourer doesn’t feel as engaging or as spirited as a traditional BMW.

And don’t buy into the salesman’s pitch around how, even though it’s front-wheel drive, engineers have managed to mimic the brand’s trademark rear-drive, dynamic feel.

That said, the car is surefooted and confident. You could almost liken it to a slightly taller Volkswagen Golf. The straight-faced engineers in Munich might disagree, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

BMW 1 - IgnitionLIVE

And the performance?

There are four derivatives, first up is the 218i (100kW and 220Nm) with a 1,5-litre engine similar to that in the current Mini Cooper. Next is the 220i (141kW and 280Nm); followed by the 220d (140kW and 400Nm) and the 225i (170kW and 350Nm). At launch we sampled the 218i and 225i.

Despite the fact that it has only three cylinders – not typical of the BMW brand – the smallest displacement engine in the range is peppy enough. Moving up a notch, the four-cylinder 225i feels a little more familiar. The model is no slouch, dispatching the 0-100km/h sprint in 6,6 seconds against the 218i’s 9,2 seconds.

BMW 6 - IgnitionLIVE

But it’s priced like a BMW, right?

Absolutely! Things start off at R378 000 for the manual 218i – but that’s about R10 000 cheaper than the equivalent, entry-level Mercedes-Benz B-Class. The 220i starts at R401 000, and add R27 500 if you want the 220d. The 225i begins at R447 000. Like the rest of the models in the BMW range, you have a choice of various styling and trim lines, including the option of an M Sport package.

-Brenwin Naidu

For a more detailed assessment of the 2015 BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, get your copy of IgnitionLive in The Times and Sowetan newspapers next Thursday.