BMW freshens up its most unusual models, the front-wheel-drive 2 Series Active and Gran Tourer MPVs, for the 2019 model year. Not much has changed, so these mini-MPVs remain much the same as they were: good to drive, perhaps not the most practical or inventive in the cabin, a touch too firm on the ride comfort front, challenging to behold and relatively expensive for what they are.
In the metal
BMW might well have sharpened the appearance of the 2 Series Active and Gran Tourer twins, but lookers? No, these MPVs are not. And, in a world of very light facelifts across the board, the Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) for the Active Tourer/Gran Tourer models is modest in the extreme. The 2019MY cars have larger, deeper kidney grilles, horizontal LED foglamps, the option of Icon LED headlights, twin rear tailpipes that have been enlarged in diameter from 75- to 90mm and two new body colours - Sunset Orange, which you can see here, and Jucaro Beige. Inside, you get a new gear lever, a 5.7-inch black panel instrument cluster, a black optic display for models with Navigation Plus, new upholsteries and enlarged seat bases in the front row of chairs.
The 2 Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer models drive exactly as they did before their LCI. We drove both this 220i Gran Tourer, in Sport guise, and an updated 225xe Active Tourer, and about the only thing we thought we might discern is that the acoustic refinement on both seemed better than we remembered; even when revved out, the petrol-powered motors on the duo were extremely hushed and refined, so that's a pleasant bonus.
Which just leaves us giving you a brief recap on what the 2 Gran Tourer (and, by extension, the Active Tourer) is like to drive. Based on the underpinnings of the MINI, this is the first BMW-branded front-driver in history and it's actually a well-sorted chassis for dynamics. They both live up to BMW's reputation for driver involvement, with good steering, strong body control and high levels of grip. Great drivetrains, too, as this 220i uses the running gear from the MINI Cooper S so it feels lively and perky in a way many more mundane MPVs do not. You also don't notice the circa 80kg extra weight of the longer Gran Tourer, when compared to the Active Tourer.
The pay-off for all this kinematic goodness is ride comfort on the firmer side of palatable, which might be an unforgiveable sin in a car that's primarily aimed at transporting potentially nauseous kids around. Too often you'll feel the 2 Series Gran Tourer bobbling about on uneven surfaces and transmitting too much information about imperfections in the asphalt to its occupants through the seat bases (and the rim of the steering wheel, in the case of the driver). To be honest, BMW ought to have given the 2 Series Active Tourer/Gran Tourer models more suspension compliance, as it has done with some of its more overtly sporty offerings - we're thinking, in particular, of the soft-around-the-edges 4 Series Coupe. But it hasn't, so don't pick this if you or any of your relatives are queasy in a car.
What you get for your money
It's a myth that BMWs have basic specification in their lowliest grades any longer and the 2 Series Active and Gran Tourers are perfectly well-equipped from SE grade up to range-topping M Sport level. But they're not cheap to buy in the first place and there are still plenty of cost options that can escalate the expense further - making rivals that are more practical and less money look all the more appealing.
While we've got nothing per se against the BMW 2 Series Active and Gran Tourer models, you've got to really want a BMW MPV to pick one of these before anything else. Great chassis aside, they're not the most attractive or commodious of people carriers, even in our (marginally preferred) guise of the Gran Tourer (it just looks a bit better proportioned at the rear). Extremely mild LCI updates for these two strangest of BMWs also hardly transform the 2 Active Tourer/Gran Tourer twins, so we're left thinking that - if transporting lots of small people is your chief priority - your money would be better off going into a Citroen Grand C4 Picasso instead.