BMW 2 Series Active Tourer overview
MPVs are a dying breed, but BMW is at least having one more go at making the most efficient of all cars - in a cabin-space-per-energy-input kind of way - by releasing a second generation of the 2 Series Active Tourer. It's effectively a taller version of the 1 Series hatchback, using the same front-wheel-drive platform and, while it's not wildly different in styling terms from the old version, you can't help but notice the new, big-grille nose and the faint similarities to the all-electric BMW iX SUV in the look of the sides and in the slim brake lights. It also pinches the big, curved dash display from the iX, so it feels more modern inside.
However, in a world obsessed with (a) SUVs and (b) personal image, how will a compact, egg-shaped BMW MPV fare?
The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer model range
The first, and possibly most important thing to note here is that the long-wheelbase, seven-seat version of the Active Tourer - called the Gran Tourer - has been dropped, so this time around the practical 2 Series comes in just a single body style, with just five seats.
The range kicks off with the 170hp petrol 220i in Sport form, with a price tag of €43,182. Sport models come as standard with LED headlights, a powered tailgate, the big, curved dash display with BMW's eighth-generation iDrive software, two-zone climate control, a leather steering wheel, selectable driving modes, 17-inch alloys, parking sensors, a reversing camera and radar-guided cruise control. All models also now come with a standard-fit eight-speed automatic gearbox.
You can upgrade to a 218hp 223i for €47,060 or a 150hp 218d diesel for €44,787.
Next up is the Luxury trim, which costs €45,723 for the 220i. Luxury models include Vernasca leather trim and open-pore Eucalyptus wood veneer, 18-inch alloys and a technology connected pack that includes adaptive LED headlights. A 223i in Luxury spec costs €49,622 while the 218d costs €47,287.
The top of the range for now is the M Sport model, which costs €48,718 in 220i form. Standard M Sport spec includes 18-inch bi-colour alloys, an M Sport styling kit, 'Shadowline' black trim for the exterior in place of chrome, heated front seats and sportier suspension. A 223i M Sport costs €52,245 while the 218d M Sport - our test car - costs €49,828.
The 2 Series Active Tourer's emissions currently run from a low of 125g/km for this 218d to a high of 137g/km for the 223i. That will change, dramatically, when the new pair of plug-in hybrid models - the 225e and 230e - come on line. Those have CO2 emissions as low as 14g/km and electric ranges of up to 92km.
In the meantime, BMW Ireland is currently offering the 2 Series Active Tourer with a 4.9 per cent APR PCP plan, and monthly repayments of €566. Check out bmw.ie for the latest offers.
The BMW 218d Active Tourer interior
An MPV lives or dies by the spaciousness and cleverness of its interior, and in the 2 Series Active Tourer's case the news is a touch mixed.
Let's start with the good stuff. The big, curved dash display lifted from the iX SUV is brilliant, and the software that runs it is impressively slick. Yes, the menu system can be a little baffling at times (especially when you're trying to work out how to change the instrument panel display without accidentally resetting the trip computer), but a few minutes spent, quietly, without driving anywhere, learning the ins and outs will pay dividends. There is a sense that some of the graphics look a little bit too spangly, and that they might look slightly too much like what you'd see on the screen of an expensive Samsung fridge, but for the most part this is an all-digital cabin that works well.
Is the lack of physical controls awkward? At times, yes and as always, we'd much rather have physical switches for some major functions, but what unquestionably works well is the plinth in front of the driver's armrest that holds the toggle switch for the automatic gear selector, the nicely knurled stereo volume control and the driving mode selector switch. This all looks and feels great, although the chunky arm on which it sits means that access to the lower storage area is a bit tricky. You get two USB-C sockets up front, though, along with a vertical wireless charging pad that has a neat little clip to hold your phone firmly in place (there's wireless Apple CarPlay to go with that, of course). There are two decent-sized cup-holders and some very roomy door bins too, as well as a 12-volt socket.
In the back, the 2 Series Active Tourer is a little less successful. It's not that it's cramped, it's just that it's not all that roomy. Nonetheless, there's significantly more space than you'd get in a BMW 1 Series hatchback, and there are USB-C sockets mounted low down near the air vents. The view out is pretty good too, thanks to generous side glass. It's just not that roomy, is all. It's adequate for tall passengers, but no more than that, and space in the centre-rear seat is pretty narrow so having three people sat across the back is going to be pretty cramped. You do get ISOFIX anchors in the outer two seats, as expected.
At least the boot is good. In this 218d, the boot stretches to 470 litres if you slide those back seats forward on their 13cm runners. The seat backs split and fold in 40:20:40 formation, which is useful, although there's no lever in the boot to flip them down. You do get a 12-volt socket though, and if you do fold those back seats, there's a very useful 1,455 litres of total volume. It is annoying that the parcel shelf won't fit under the boot floor when you need to fold the seats down, though. It ends up having to be left at home.
The BMW 218d Active Tourer driving experience
We know, we know - no-one really wants a diesel engine anymore. But hear us out - this one's a gem. For a start, it's spectacularly economical. On average, including motorway, urban and country road driving we averaged 4.8 litres per 100km. That's bang on what BMW quotes for the car. That's without trying, with the air conditioning going and cruising at 120km/h on the motorway. With a bit of effort, we might have squeezed better out of it. Given how ridiculously expensive diesel is right now, it's very reassuring to sit in after brimming the tank and see a distance-to-empty number of 1,100km on the dashboard.
In handling terms, the 218d is way more direct and agile than many will expect it to be. Of course, any BMW comes with the expectation of it being 'the ultimate driving machine' but even then, the way this 218d reacts to steering inputs feels pretty sharp and pointy. It's certainly good fun to drive, but you suspect that BMW has kind of missed its family-friendly mark with this specific model, because the ride quality is stiff. You'll feel that most especially around town, where the big 18-inch wheels drop firmly into every crevice in the tarmac, and speed bumps become a bit of a nightmare, truth be told. We'd very definitely recommend trying out a Sport or Luxury model, on the 17-inch wheels and without the M Sport suspension before you buy.
On the upside, refinement on a long cruise is very good (aside from a typical touch of Germanic tyre roar) and the zesty performance of that turbodiesel engine is lots of fun in and of itself.
Our verdict on the 218d Active Tourer
While the 2 Series Active Tourer could, ideally, do with more rear seat space and a comfier ride (at least going by this M Sport model) it is still a rather charming car. As ever with an MPV, it packs plenty of useful space into a pretty compact body, and in spite of being front-wheel drive it retains BMW's traditional values of driver involvement. Plus, the dashboard design is excellent and while the diesel engine might be unfashionable, it's hugely economical.
What do the rest of the team think?
Labelling the 2 Series Active Tourer as an MPV sets it up for a fall, as it's not truly a large family car, as many will expect it to be. Once you get past that, it's a highly likeable machine that's certainly more practical and versatile than an average hatchback, with a more palatable image than an equivalent SUV. Saying that, as Neil noted, it has more than a hint of the BMW iX about its sharp new design. Shame the iDrive rotary controller is gone, but thankfully the touchscreen is generally very good to use. Interior quality is a highpoint and space is fine so long as you don't expect to transport more than four people. It drives better than it needs to and I also found that its diesel engine was smooth, with exceptional economy, even away from the motorway.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor