BMW 218i Active Tourer review

BMW’s 218i Active Tourer is the turbo three-cylinder entry-point to the new range of compact cars

BMW’s newcomer is more MPV than SUV, with practicality ahead of the brand’s traditional focus on the driver. The 2 Series Active Tourer is BMW’s first-ever front-wheel-drive model.

The four-strong line-up runs from the $44,400 turbo-three base model via the $47,800 2.0L turbo-diesel four-cylinder 218d to the flagship $54,900 2.0-litre turbo-petrol 225i Active Tourer. The $50,990 220i will join the range in January – it’s powered by a lower output version of the 225i four-cylinder engine.

The 2 Series is fresh off the boat and the launch in Launceston, Tas, was our first opportunity for a drive on local soil, following our first overseas drive at the international launch in Austria.

Audi A3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class

The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer attempts a new feat – BMW handling in a practical, comfortable front-wheel-drive mini-MPV. It is practical, as well as roomy and well-equipped, but in trying to satisfy conflicting requirements – delivering driver appeal and mainstream comfort – it nails neither.

PLUS: Well-packaged and equipped; agreeable dynamics – on smooth roads, with optional dampers and steering
MINUS: Low-speed ride quality; modest performance; not the Ultimate front-Driving Machine

FRONT-wheel drive brings unique packaging benefits. Who knew? Erm, everyone, including pioneers the British Motor Corporation, which experienced the same revelation just five and a half decades ago, in 1959’s Morris Mini Minor.

If confronting a famous rear-drive believer’s first FWD effort isn’t disturbing enough, the base model’s engine may be – a Mini-sourced 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo.

The 218i springs to life with a pleasant purr, though it’s not a particularly premium sound. This will change, though, as triples continue to proliferate.

The engine helps make the base 2 Series the weirdest car yet to wear the Munich roundel, but we can’t criticise it. Its 220Nm arrives at 1250rpm, belying the capacity and cylinder-count, and carries through until 4300rpm, just short of the 100kW peak.

Despite delivering its outputs at low revs, the engine spins without harshness or excessive intrusion to a 5400rpm redline. The distant snarl is almost reminiscent of the brand’s sixes, though the 9.2sec 0-100km/h sure isn’t. The 5.1L/100km official economy is a valid trade-off in this market segment.

The stylised shoebox delivers rear headroom in spades, and rear leg and foot-room are ample. It’s a pity about the transmission tunnel hump (to accommodate not-for-Oz AWD) and dual A-pillar blind spots.

The 2 Series ushers the mini-MPV into the BMW line-up, then. But does it apply BMW poise to the people mover?

Body roll is always more pronounced when you’re seated up high, so the fact little is felt holds promise. The $55K 225i, with its standard variable steering, is fluid and agreeable; the steering itself slick and well weighted.

Primary ride quality is decent on the standard adaptive dampers, but secondary ride is busy on 18in Bridgestone Potenza run-flats. Bumps are blotted on back roads but the little niggles never go away, whether in Comfort or the distinctly tautened Sport mode.

With the flagship as the reference point, the 218-badged variants – lacking fancy steering and clever damping but riding optional 18in hoops – do the job with decidedly less dynamic polish. The low-speed ride niggles multiply, and primary ride quality is less absorbent. The front end is coaxed into corners where the variable steer variant is guided; the 50kg-heavier diesel with the weight in the nose suffers most.

The dynamics fail to match the promise – or the badge – but it’s here, in a quiet, spacious and well-equipped compact, that we could almost let it slide. However, ride is crucial, so we’d suggest sticking with the standard 17s to maximise comfort.

There are countless ways to spend $45K on a small SUV or compact premium car, but if the BMW floats your boat, it will count that 2 Series Active Tourer has only one direct rival – the Mercedes B-Class – and that isn’t perfect, either.

BMW 218i Active Tourer
Engine: 1499cc 3cyl, dohc, 12v, turbo
Max power: 100kW @ 4400rpm
Max torque: 220Nm @ 1250-4300rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 1360kg
0-100km/h: 9.2sec
Fuel economy: 5.1L/100km (ECE)
Price: $44,400

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