BMW's small MPV benefits from a hybrid drivetrain that's not a million miles from the set-up powering the sensational i8. Thus, practicality, refinement and exceptionally low running costs are offered by the new 225xe, although the ride is firm - plus, it's still a 2 Series Active Tourer at the end of the day, which is not everyone's cup of tea. Nevertheless, it's a supremely well-executed PHEV from Munich.
In the metal
When it comes to its electric or part-electric cars, save for the outlandish i-branded models, BMW likes to keep things looking the same as the regular line-up. So the 225xe, those two little suffix letters denoting all-wheel drive and a plug-in hybrid drivetrain respectively, looks like any other 2 Series Active Tourer. That means, not very handsome. OK, this is a case of form follows function, because it's a people carrier - or 'small van with windows', if you will - and therefore its two-box design is a necessity. But it's not pretty.
Spotting the Two plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) externally requires you to pick up on the '225xe' boot badge and the 'eDrive' logo on the C-pillars, plus the extra charging flap on the nearside front wing.
The interior provides all the practicality of a regular 2 Series Active Tourer, with the added bonus of blue-lit LED light strips running around the cockpit's midriff, an eDrive control button next to the strange drive mode selector toggle and some electric-related information screens in the cluster and iDrive. Also, because BMW sites the battery pack under the rear seat, the boot space remains healthy at 400- to 1,350 litres (otherwise, 468- and 1,510 litres), which makes the 2 AT about as physically practical as its internal combustion-engined siblings.
This drivetrain is very similar, albeit not identical, to that found in the BMW i8. For the 225xe, it has been transposed through 180 degrees compared to the futuristic coupé, which means in full electric mode (Max eDrive) the 2 AT is rear-wheel drive; during petrol-only propulsion (Save) it's front-wheel drive; and in hybrid running (Auto eDrive) it goes four-wheel drive. And yes, that means there's no physical link (i.e. a propshaft) between the axles for the all-wheel drive. The 225xe also doesn't benefit from the two-speed reduction gear of the i8 for the electric motor, but in all other respects it's the same.
That means you get a charismatic turbocharged three-cylinder engine in the nose and the electric motor at the back, the two of them combining to deliver 224hp and 385Nm, which are rudely healthy numbers for a (sort of) C-segment vehicle - even one that weighs 1,660kg. That three-pot makes a much nicer noise than a turbocharged four and the hybrid drivetrain plus the wonderful six-speed Steptronic transmission provides the 2 Series with real punch. Open road overtakes that might otherwise be 'should-I-shouldn't-I' become a non-event and it whips about town on a wave of instant torque with real aplomb, while there's excellent traction from the all-wheel drive set-up off the line. Yup, 0-100km/h in 6.7 seconds seems entirely feasible, as does the 200km/h+ top speed.
It's not perfect, of course. The steering is superb, but the brakes still have a slight feeling of two-stage regen-grabbiness to them on occasion; this is a real pity, as on our pre-production prototype drive last year we didn't experience this issue. The body control is excellent for an MPV, but the ride is always a touch fidgety, while the electric motor is noisier in this car than it is in the 330e. Tyre rumble was also a constant niggle, although we'll put that down to the 17-inch winter rubber our test car was on as a result of legal requirements in Germany. However, in the largely high quality feel of all its major driver interfaces and switchgear, the 2 Series never lets you forget it's an upmarket creation.
We must come back to the handling, though. Quite why BMW feels an MPV needs to drive in such a sharp and feisty manner is beyond us, especially when its other models are exhibiting all the signs of getting soft in their advancing age. The 225xe is a car that will change its stance on the throttle and what's more, it'll do it without terrifying its driver. It's a really rather excellent chassis underpinning the Active Tourer, with only one moment of chronic understeer (which was then clumsily caught by the car's electronics) on a roundabout probably down to the bad-weather tyres (and a little over exuberance on my behalf), again. The inevitable consequence of the 2 AT's brilliant road-holding abilities is the ride, which never quite settles into a comfortable gait. Whether this is a fatal flaw for the 225xe or not is all down to whether you're particularly sensitive to bumps in the road.
Finally, let's address the on-paper versus real-world eco-stats. Urban commuters might see, or even surpass, the astonishing official 141.2mpg (2.0 litres/100km) figure, thanks to a 41km all-electric range with a limited top speed of 125km/h. Anyone who regularly has to put petrol into the Two's tank will not. Our test route, which was a little hillier than the circuit BMW laid on for the 330e on the same event, saw the following: 54.3mpg (5.2 litres/100km) fuel economy and 7.1kWh/100km battery use across 78km at an average 46.2km/h. Want us to soften the blow a little? For the first 20km of the route, through some heavy Munich traffic, the 225xe used around 50 per cent of its battery power and by the end was standing at a ludicrous 941.6mpg (0.3 litres/100km), which is utterly phenomenal stuff. Overall, we'd have to give the 225xe the benefit of the doubt and say its green credentials look extremely strong.
What you get for your money
The 225xe Active Tourer comes in two trims in Ireland, the Sport and the Luxury, retailing at €50,290 and €51,770 respectively - those figures are comparable to the 225i xDrive's prices of €50,120 for a Luxury and €51,710 for an M Sport so it looks like, on the comparable Luxury versions, the hybrid is €1,650 more than the current 2 AT range-topper.
However, the PHEV qualifies for €2,500 of VRT relief and also a €5,000 SEAI grant, knocking it down to €42,790 or €44,270. And that makes it cheaper than the Luxury versions of the 220i and 220d models, which is remarkable given the technology involved and the additional all-wheel drive. Finally, it comes with plenty of toys given its high-spec grades, so the 225xe looks like a cracking purchase.
Harsh ride aside, the BMW 225xe Active Tourer is a clever vehicle that melds multiple different automotive facets into one (admittedly ugly) body. If you want a 2 Series Active Tourer, then the xe's blend of great performance and cheaper-than-a-diesel running costs offset a list price that - while high - isn't as expensive as some lesser models in the line-up, making it probably the pick of the range. That it's also, weirdly, great fun to drive, is a pleasant bonus.