BMW 2 Series Active Tourer for Trendy Motoring

By Lee Pang Seng

THE changing tastes among passenger vehicle buyers can’t be ignored if a carmaker is to stay relevant and be fully competitive. There is an increasing demand for comfortable family vehicles that goes beyond cars and stationwagons (or estates), and this comes well catered to in MPVs (multipurpose vehicles).

Perhaps the Volkswagen Kombi gave us the first inkling of this multipurpose role in vans back during the ‘flower days’ of the early ‘70s when being hippie was cool, although this was mainly in the US. In Malaysia, creative moves to retain market share against an unfavourable tax structure led some car distributors to promote their commercial purpose vans in dressed-up versions to serve as ‘MPVs’. It gained some inroads but the hard ride factor from a leafspring rear suspension was a downside.

Nevertheless, the seeds for such family motoring had taken root. With dedicated and comfortable MPVs coming on line over the years, they started to gain ground with more car buyers who gradually discovered the practicality of MPVs for family motoring. Not too long ago, BMW decided that it was not going to miss out on the MPV bandwagon and the result was the 2 Series Active Tourer.

What’s more, it was akin to killing two birds with one stone as the 2 Series Active Tourer was also its first front-wheel drive vehicle carrying the BMW badge, tapping no less on the technology that already existed with the MINI. This German carmaker had already sounded its intent to drive in this direction in 2012 when we were introduced to the front-wheel drive proto type in a 1 Series at its newly opened Driving Academy in Maissach, a former airfield about 30km west of Munich.

The MINI linkage is apparent in the common platform between the new generation MINI and the 2 Series Active Tourer. However, the development went in different directions from there. The architecture differs from the body upwards as the Active Tourer is designed to be a compact family mover with interior flexibility to accommodate the people and paraphernalia that come as part and parcel of this motoring direction.

To extract that spacious interior quality in a compact form, BMW chose the front-wheel drive format. However, the underlying goal during the Active Tourer’s development was to shed much of its front-wheel drive characteristics and to be recognised dynamically as a BMW. When we drove the 1 Series prototype in Maissach three years ago covering a slalom section and high-speed stretch, we had concurred that BMW had already achieved this then and it was a matter of honing its qualities further. This was done through equal length drive shafts: the longer shaft on one side due to the transverse location of the engine was sectionalised to provide this mechanical solution, an approach that was commonly adopted by carmakers.

At the time of the 1 Series prototype, BMW had ‘cut’ its multiple award winning 3.0-litre straight-six engine in half to retain its highly praised qualities in efficient running and performance and arrive at a 1.5-litre engine for transverse location in the engine compartment. Based on the per cylinder design, BMW believed it could achieved the same winning qualities

What turned up in the second half of 2014 was an Active Tourer with an engine compartment that was big enough to accommodate a 2.0-litre in-line four as well. BMW arranged an international media drive in Solden, Austria and two models were made available, the 218d Active Tourer and 225i; both came with 2.0-litre engines, one a diesel and the other petrol. A third variant in the 218i with the three-cylinder petrol engine was not made available for the drive. BMW Malaysia launched the 2 Series Active Tourer in April and this was the 218i, carrying prices from RM218,000 to RM248,800 for the respective model versions.

Since the 2 Series Active Tourer was launched by BMW last year, more than 33,000 vehicles were sold in markets worldwide and the demand was described as encouraging and increasing, suggesting that BMW had certainly done well to hop onto the MPV bandwagon.

The 2 Series Active Tourer is bigger than the Honda Jazz despite its compact look suggesting otherwise. Its flexible seating arrangement with the second row seatrests folding away to provide almost a flat floor increases space threefold; from 468 litres that progress via the BMW standard 40:20:40 split fold seatrests to 1510 litres. The standard space can accommodate three medium travel bags with the removable luggage cover in place. When fully extended, items of up to 2.4 metres could be taken on board.

The interior space is generally good, passenger-wise, with decent headroom, legroom and elbow room. This is the benefit of its long wheelbase of 2670mm and the raised roofline in body styling. The rear-wheel drive 2 Series 220i Coupé, however, sits on a slightly longer wheelbase of 2690mm. It does indicate that more space can be extracted from a vehicle with a shorter wheelbase if it is a front-wheel drive.

In all respect, there is no mistaking the 2 Series Active Tourer as a true-blue BMW as the equipment level and styling, like the typical seatrest fold pattern, establishes its identity. The three-spoke steering with multi-function controls and paddle shifts is a clear feature, with the BMW logo holding centre spot. There are also the large 8.8-inch multi-info display to the centre of the dashboard, the two-tone interior ambience, electronic handbrake, electric power steering, BMW ConnectedDrive system, full-colour Head Up Display via a retractable screen and three drive modes in ECO, Comfort and Sport to stand the 2 Series Active Tourer out as a modern-day BMW.

Our drive through the Alpine roads in Austria was only in the 225i as it came with the eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission while the 218d was a six-speed manual. We didn’t see the need for the added stress in manually selecting the gears with the ‘wrong’ hand while having to focus on driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Besides, the smart operation of today’s automatic transmission made robust driving equally at home on winding roads as manual transmission.

The 2.0-litre petrol engine is a four-cylinder unit that is said to be developed for use in a front-wheel drive layout. It still comes with twin-scroll turbocharging, direct fuel injection, double-Vanos variable camshaft timing and Valvetronic fully variable valve timing. There is a clear difference in the stroke as the engine in the 2 Series Active Tourer has a 94.6mm stroke against the rear-wheel drive equivalent displacement engine (90.1mm) while bore is 82.0mm against 84.0mm. Displacement is similar though at 1998cc to 1997cc. The compression ratio is slightly higher at 10.2 to 10.0.

Both are tuned to run on minimum RON 91 octane petrol but the front-wheel drive engine delivers more output at 170kW (231hp) at 5000rpm to 160kW (218hp) at the same peak rev. Torque is also higher at 350Nm at 1250-4500rpm against 310Nm from 1350 to 4800rpm. Given that scenario, the 2 Series Active Tourer would live up to expectations in performance as BMW says it would accelerate to 100km/h in a quick 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 240km/h, while combined fuel consumption stays good at about 17km/l (5.8 l/100km).

It was summer when we took part in the global media drive last year and the roads were teeming with holiday traffic. During the few open stretches that we had, the 225i Active Tourer flexed its muscle readily to gobble up the road, especially during overtaking. There were no open-speed autobahns in Austria and the momentary charge that took us to 140-150km/h over short stretches were the best we could manage under the circumstances.

The reasonably good aerodynamics of the 2 Series Active Tourer (0.29 for the 225i and 0.27 for the 218d) made cruising a relaxed affair with low wind turbulence around the door mirror, sides and roof. It was along the winding stretches that we could enjoy the BMW’s dynamic quality better.

The 2 Series Active Tourer is independently sprung all round with single-joint spring struts in lightweight aluminium steel construction in front and multi-link axle of the same composite components at the rear. Of course, the dynamic quality of the vehicle is assisted by the full gamut of electronic systems: DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), ABS, CBC (Cornering Brake Control), DBC (Dynamic Brake Control), Dry Braking function, to name some.

At 1555mm in height, it is not a tall vehicle although taller than the average car. We enjoyed driving the Active Tourer through the corners as its dynamic manners were consistent to the BMW genre; the electric power steering gave the necessary directional feedback and feel to take the corners confidently and the vehicle’s body didn’t lean much. The understeer that is normal for a front-wheel drive was largely controlled and we could push the Active Tourer through corners at good speeds without feeling the front wheels scrubbing hard against the road. And there was definitely no torque steer, another typical front-wheel drive malaise.

Although the 225i is specified with 205/55 R17 tyres as standard, the media cars were shod with Pirelli P Zero 225/45 R18 tyres. Their grip on wet roads was put to the test when we ran into rain on the stretch back to the hotel. We also had a brief insight into the Active Tourer’s ride comfort over a stretch of potholed road for a lunch break along a hillside restaurant. It was firm in the typical BMW way but comfortable enough to enjoy the ride.

There is no question that this first MPV from BMW would turn heads as we have had our share of enquiries, especially from the ladies. Little wonder as it is trendy and compact, and that makes it easy to drive in urban centres. With the 1.5-litre three-cylinder power unit of the 218i, it should be just as much fun to drive. It should ruffle some feathers too as it is not short on power: 100kW (136hp) at 4400rpm and 220Nm from 1250 to 4300rpm. The six-speed Steptronic model does 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds and a top speed of 205km/h, while combined fuel mileage is rated at about 19.6km/l (5.1 l/100km).

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