2016 BMW 2 Series Active Tourer First Drive
Well done: You've gotten your head around the fact that BMW, with its i3, is making a compact electric city car. But don't go thinking the Bavarians are done messing with your head. For today's forehead-slap moment, we are sampling a front-wheel-drive BMW people-mover.
Don't be fooled by the 2 Series badge. While the 2 Series coupe and (soon) cabriolet are indeed traditional, compact, rear-drive longitudinal Bimmers, this is the 2 Series Active Tourer. And it's a very different kettle of bratwurst.
We need to answer two questions. First: What the heck is BMW doing entering this segment? And, second, if it's done such a car, has it done it well? In other words, is this, to paraphrase the car rental guy in "Get Shorty," the BMW of people-movers?
The Active Tourer vividly shows BMW's belief that the car world is no longer split into premium and non-premium segments. It sees an opportunity for premium vehicles in every segment. The restaurant world is no longer divided into fine dining and fast food. It's perfectly possible, in a high-end-but-casual joint, to order a $50 burger.
BMW figures its next phase of global expansion will come from building more compact cars, but ensuring they're premium compacts. And in order to prevent having impossibly small internal space, compacts need transverse engines and FWD or AWD.
So five years ago the engineers and planners sat down and envisioned a dozen different compact body styles. Then they worked up an architecture called UKL that could, with differing heights and tracks and wheelbases and suspension strengths, support them all. BMW won't necessarily build all 12, but the potential is there.
Oh, and by the way, that's in addition to the new Mini and all its variants, which join the UKL platform party too.
The next generation of the 1 Series hatch and a small sedan will transition onto this architecture, as well as a small crossover and possibly even an Audi TT-style coupe and/or roadster. Some BMW execs have said that some 40 percent of its vehicles will be UKL. They've also said about 40 percent of their output will be crossovers. Somewhere in that Venn intersection are a whole lot of UKL crossovers.
Because the rear-drive 1 Series and X1 aren't yet up for replacement, it so happens the first UKL out of the pipe is this Active Tourer. The next will be even further off-brand -- a stretched seven-seat version. All-wheel drive will also arrive next year, but BMW won't officially specify if or when any of them will be sold in the U.S. But they say it's possible.
None of which makes us bet on bulging Active Tourer order books, even in Europe. Sure, it's the right size for Europe – think Ford C-Max, only without the hybrid drivetrain. But this kind of hatchback is a fast-drooping segment as families move to more spacious crossovers. They're not image vehicles, and BMW buyers want image. Does that make a BMW hatch an image car? Possibly not.
Still, it really is BMW through and through. The press kit says that it can do a sub-9-minute lap of the Nürburgring, and that with the DSC in dynamic mode it can be oversteered. Any other wildly irrelevant facts you'd like to throw at us, BMW?
Call me juvenile, but I enjoyed finding out. On my blast through the Austrian mountains, hypothetical kids in the back would have been taken to upholstery-endangering levels of motion sickness.
The electric steering has more road feel than many such systems in "sports cars," with a gratifying directness and precision. Unfortunately, because it doesn't mask what's happening at the tires, it also transmits road shocks and torque steer. Unusual priorities for a minivan, but ones the engineers are unrepentant about. And there's amazingly little roll or understeer. And yes, if you lift the throttle in a max-effort bend, the tail swings out, catchably but definitely.
Should BMW build a hot hatch off this chassis, it'll be a riot. But for this vehicle, maybe engineers should have prioritized a ride that's more placid than the current over-taut setup.
The 225i Active Tourer has the all-new 2.0-liter direct-injection turbo engine, as seen in the 2015 Mini Hardtop Cooper S, but boosted to 228 horsepower. It's a fundamentally fine engine, pulling stoutly from low down in the revs and sweetly from higher up. But our early sample had a few calibration issues, hunting a little on a constant throttle. It's mated to an eight-speed auto, which again worked smoothly most of the time but occasionally made eccentric or hesitant choices.
But, as promised, the dynamic experience is genetically BMW. What feels truly odd is the disconnect of receiving those dynamic signals while sitting in an upright driving position, gazing over the expanse of vacant dash-top to the big, distant windshield typically sported by minivans.
For those in the rear, the layout is actually not very minivan-esque. There's good legroom, but it's a relatively simple spilt bench rather than three individual seats. The folding arrangements lack versatility too. There's no facility to tumble the seats forward to accommodate tall loads. Still, the rear seat does slide forward when you need to expand the otherwise fairly average trunk.
To be honest, it does look pretty sharp, thanks to a strong stance and an arrowlike nose. But as a BMW? Well, meh. It can't quite defend itself against the charge that the designers just bagged up all the usual BMW detail and surface cues and slathered them on a generic boxy outline.
Even though it's Euro-sized, BMW isn't quite ruling it out for the U.S. Our hunch is that if BMW does send the Active Tourer here, it will be later on, in the form of the bigger seven-seat version with the availability of AWD. At least the extra seats will give it a practical benefit over the X1. In these crossover-crazy times, that's the very least it needs.
|BMW 225i Active Tourer (Euro-spec)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINES||2.0L/228-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT||3200 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||171.0 x 70.9 x 61.2 in|
|0-62 MPH||6.6 sec (mfr est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Possibly 2015|