BMW 2 Series Active Tourer review
The 2 Series Active Tourer is BMW’s first people carrier, but does it cut the mustard?
The front-wheel-drive small MPV may not feel like natural BMW territory for some enthusiasts of the marque, but there’s no doubt the 2 Series Active Tourer provides an interesting alternative in the sector.
Its major selling point – aside from the premium badge on its nose – is a well-appointed, upmarket interior that beats most MPV rivals into a cocked hat for design flair, material specs and overall build quality. However, what it doesn't offer is the same practicality. By MPV standards it's not very impressive, and even the BMW X1 is at least as spacious inside, while offering more style and better handling.
The Active Tourer's handling lacks the ultimate engagement for sporty drivers, but it's still significantly better to drive than most rivals. The engines are efficient, though the diesel is a little noisy for our tastes. The plug-in hybrid 225xe can manage up to 25 miles on electric power alone, which could drastically lower running costs for those sticking to mostly short journeys.
About the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer
The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer represented a massive change in direction for the German carmaker: not only was it the company’s first MPV, but it was also the first to incorporate front-wheel drive. Previously this had been an alien ground for BMW, but the success of sister brand MINI gave it the chance to explore a new market.
Using the same UKL1 front-wheel drive platform as the MINI, the 2 Series Active Tourer differs in that it’s been stretched to boost passenger space. It’s also been altered to accommodate BMW’s xDrive 4x4 system on some models.
Engines available in the 2 Series Active Tourer have been carried over from the MINI. These include the 218i which uses a 134bhp three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo, and the 218d powered by the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel from the Cooper D.
BMW rightly predicted the latter would make up the bulk of sales, but four other variants including the 220i, 216d, 220d and 220d xDrive are also now available to buyers.
In addition, you can buy your Active Tourer as a plug-in hybrid. The 225xe features a lower-powered version of the 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine previously seen in the BMW i8 supercar, with power heading to the front wheels and an electric motor sending drive to the rears. Low official CO2 ratings promise competitive company car tax ratings, but it is also the most expensive model in the range - prices for the 225xe start from around £37,000 and climb to the best part of £39,000 - a large amount of money for an MPV, even if it does have a BMW badge on the nose.
The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer arrived into a market that was already seeing decreasing sales as buyers began to shun boxy MPVs and move into chunky crossovers such as the Nissan Qashqai and Peugeot 3008 – a trend that’s still ongoing. However, competition in the sector remains stiff, and the Active Tourer doesn’t get an easy ride, having to fend off MPV opposition in the shape of the Mercedes B-Class and Citroen Berlingo.
Trim levels in the Active Tourer range start with the SE, moving up through Sport and Luxury versions to the range-topping M Sport. Most engines are available across all trim grades except the entry-spec SE which is only offered on 218, 216 and 220 models, while the 225xe is only available with Sport, Luxury or M Sport trim.
The 2 Series Active Tourer only comes in a five-seat body style, but BMW has also introduced the 2 Series Gran Tourer on the same platform with a stretched seven-seater body. The 2018 facelift brings blink-and-you'll-miss-them updates, with a new front bumper, fresh headlights and an improved infotainment screen among the changes.
Engines, performance and drive
Like the design, an MPV’s driving dynamics can be limited due to the shape and size of the vehicle. But the 2 Series Active Tourer is rather agile for its size and manages body control well. The steering feels very sharp at first, but once you're accustomed to a people mover with such a sporty setup, it proves itself to be well weighted and accurate. Engaging sport mode makes it feel artificially heavy, though.
Turn into a bend and you’ll notice some movement in the body but even through quick changes in direction the Active Tourer never feels unsettled. It’s only when you really hurl it in into a corner you’ll notice excess body roll but that’s always going to be the case with a car of this size and height.
At higher speeds intrusive engine noise from the best-selling 2.0 diesel is drowned out by excessive wind noise kicked up by the tall A-pillars and wing mirrors. The ride is always supple, though, even on larger 18-inch alloy wheels, so it’s comfortable on the move if you can ignore the slight lack in refinement.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel is badged as the 218d, and is the most popular model among buyers. The same engine is also available with 187bhp in the 220d model.
In use, it’s gruff on start up and it never really settles into a soothing thrum. There’s plenty of shove on offer, with 330Nm of torque in its lowest-performing guise helping complete the 0-62mph sprint in 9.1 seconds. Power delivery is always smooth too, even if the engine sounds a little lumpy. The 220d will do 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds, or a tenths quicker if you have 4x4 with auto gears.
The entry-model across all trim levels is the 218i petrol. It uses the three-cylinder, 1.5-litre engine from the MINI Cooper and solves the refinement issues associated with the 2.0 diesel. It's hushed at start up and well isolated from the cabin at speed, managing 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds. Jump to the 2.0-litre petrol in the 220i, and 0-62mph is delivered in 7.3 seconds.
Those after something even quicker - and indeed more eco-friendly - can opt for the 225xe plug-in hybrid. It's not quite as sharp to drive as the standard car due to the heavy motor and 10kWh battery, which promises an all-electric range of 34 miles. It still handles well enough, however, and can accelerate from 0-62mph in 6.7 seconds. That makes it not only the fastest 2 Series Active Tourer, but the quickest MPV on sale today. It's an impressively refined unit, and performance remains respectable in fully-electric mode.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Efficiency is definitely a strong point for the 2 Series Active Tourer. The 216d returns 58.9mpg on the official combined test cycle with CO2 emissions at 125-129g/km (depending on alloy wheel size), while the 218d manages 56.5mpg and 130-134g/km. Even the punchy 220d will do up to 54.3mpg on BMW’s official combined test figures, with CO2 at 136-139g/km.
However, if low running costs and company car tax are key, then you should look at the plug-in hybrid 225xe, which returns up to 188mpg on paper. Getting near this figure in the real-world is almost impossible, but you could see triple-figure fuel economy by charging the battery on a regular basis. Emissions of 35-38g/km mean it gets a small £10 discount in VED (compared to £150 for a normal petrol or diesel) plus exemption to the London Congestion Charge. The 225xe also falls into one of the lowest company-car tax brackets.
The lighter and smoother 1.5-litre Turbo engine from the new MINI could also be a genuine alternative to the diesel, as economy figures are pretty reasonable. BMW claims 47.1mpg and 137-141g/km of CO2, which is decent for a petrol engine powering a car of this size.
Another incentive for the 218i model would be the saving you make on the purchase price. Although slightly less economical, the petrol variant costs around £2,000 less than the 218d.
The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer shares its engine line-up with the 2 Series Gran Tourer (the seven-seater), and the insurance groups are roughly the same. A group 11 rating means that the 216d SE should be the cheapest Active Tourer to insure, while the highest groupings are reserved for the xDrive 220d M Sport (group 22) and the 225xe M Sport (group 23).
In general terms the Series 2 Active Tourer’s depreciation is nothing to shout about – by BMW standards it’s pretty poor. Our valuation experts reckon the range will retain between 39 and 48 per cent of its new cost over three years and 36,000 miles.
Interior, design and technology
The criteria which an MPV needs to meet in order to be successful limits how stylish and visually engaging the design can be. With slab-sided bodies and squared off panels, MPVs are arguably the least visually dynamic segment in the market. However, BMW has attempted to inject some life into an unloved class with a car that features styling cues borrowed from coupe models.
The trademark kidney grille is narrow and rests just below the headlamps, a feature you’ll see on BMWs such as the 4 Series and 6 Series. In an attempt to mask the car’s bulky exterior, each panel wears a subtle crease or kink to help break up the lines of the bodywork. Still, it’s not the most eye-catching of machines, and in truth can’t be said to do much for BMW’s cherished ‘sporty executive’ image – but then again at least it’s not as boxy as the seven-seat Gran Tourer version.
Once you’ve stepped inside though, you can forget such negativity. The interior is one of the finest and most lavish in its class. Lashings of leather and sporty red stitching make it a truly inviting place.
Aluminium inserts in the dash and centre console give a premium feel, with every twist and prod of the controls affirming the well-engineered design. The 2018 facelift brought a new infotainment screen and dashboard dials and some updated materials - though the overall design is identical.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
All versions of the 2 Series Active Tourer feature Bluetooth connectivity for the infotainment system, as well as BMW Navigation, a DAB radio tuner and BMW Online Services.
Optional packages include the Technology Pack I, which adds adaptive LED headlights, Bluetooth with wireless charging and a reversing camera. Technology Pack II adds a head-up display and BMW’s Navigation Plus system, which features an 8.8-inch touchscreen with real-time traffic updates. Apple CarPlay preparation is standard, while a Harman Kardon sound system is optional.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer may not be as spacious as the Mercedes B-Class but the build quality and beautiful cabin means plenty of people will forgive its shortcomings.
It’s also only got space for five passengers, so if you want to carry more you’ll need to look at the larger Gran Tourer version.
Up front, numerous storage bins and a handy armrest that doubles up as storage to charge your phone are nice touches. There’s also a huge amount of adjustment in the driving position so a driver of any size can get comfortable behind the wheel. The forward visibility is good too thanks to a high driving position, but many owners will welcome the option of a reversing camera.
Engine noise from the diesel engines and wind noise mar the interior ambience a little at higher cruising speeds, so the cabin isn’t quite as relaxing over long distances as we’d like.
All models have separate climate controls for driver and passenger though, and there are all sorts of practical accessories to support your active lifestyle, including ski bags, bicycle racks and luggage nets.
The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer measures-up at 4,354mm long and 1,555mm high. Meanwhile, the seven-seat 2 Series Gran Tourer is 4,556mm long.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Unlike the Citroen C4 SpaceTourer, the Active Tourer doesn’t have three individual rear seats. It’s a conventional bench arrangement and as the BMW is a little shorter than the B-Class there’s slightly less knee room. There’s still enough space to fit three adults and the high roofline means there is a good amount of headroom, though.
The automatic tailgate is standard across the range and opens up 468 litres of space - less than SUV alternatives like the BMW X1, and less than the more conventional 3 Series Touring. That number drops another 68-litres if you opt for the plug-in 225xe, which is compromised by the battery being mounted beneath the floor.
The electrically folding rear seats can be dropped at the flick of a switch and increase capacity to 1,510 litres on the standard car. Again, the hybrid is slightly smaller, at 1,350 litres.
Reliability and safety
Although badged as a BMW, the 2 Series Active Tourer shares little in common with the rest of the BMW line-up – apart from its bigger brother the Gran Tourer.
It’s based on a stretched version of the MINI platform and is front-wheel drive, so it’s not a combination we’ve seen before from the German manufacturer. However, while the format is unusual for BMW, there’s not much new on the engineering/technology front and individual components are pretty well tried and tested – whether by MINI or elsewhere in the BMW range.
BMW as a manufacturer came 27th out of 30 car makers in our 2020 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. That’s a somewhat unimpressive result, with owners criticising their BMW's exterior styling and build quality, with a relatively large proportion reporting an issue with their car in the past 12 months. The company's cars scored pretty well for their economy, infotainment offerings and practicality, though.
Independently crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2014, the 2 Series Active Tourer predictably managed a top five star score. That said, its percentage scores weren’t exceptional, with NCAP awarding 85 percent for both adult occupant safety and child occupant safety, 60 percent for pedestrian safety and 70 percent for its electronic assistance systems.
Safety kit on the Active Tourer is pretty comprehensive and includes pedestrian warning with city braking function as standard. These features significantly improve pedestrian safety in busy urban environments by automatically applying the brakes if a driver fails to respond to an obstacle in front of the car.
The Active Tourer, like all BMWs, comes with the manufacturer’s standard three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty. It matches the cover from Mercedes and Volkswagen.
With servicing ‘schedules’ rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and on-board systems defining when you need a check-up based on how your vehicle is used, it’s hard to predict when the service warning will appear on the 2 Series.
At least service costs can be predictable though, with BMW offering a monthly service plan of £20 per month over three years.