BMW finally goes front-wheel drive (FWD), not counting the MINI, with the new 2 Series Active Tourer.
BMW has drawn on its existing front drive technology with MINI and developed a common platform shared by the new MINI and the 2 Series Active Tourer.
The 2 Series Active Tourer is a standalone model that is more of an MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) than an SAV (Sport Activity Vehicle) that the X1 is designed to be, leaving the X1 to continue serving its intended role.
In that respect, BMW has not only taken the first step into the world of front-wheel drive with a dedicated model from the BMW car range but is also moving into MPV motoring.
That explains why the 2 Series Active Tourer has a completely new body profile that is unlike any other BMW model, and it certainly looks like the first of many to come if demand is encouraging.
Our first inkling of BMW taking the front-wheel drive route came in 2012 when we drove the 1 Series prototype model at the German carmaker’s newly-opened (back then) Driving Academy at Maisach, which was an old airfield with a dark past.
We had a brief drive in the 1 Series prototype through a slalom section and high-speed stretch, and came away impressed with its dynamic quality and responsive power from a 1.5-litre engine. Back then, we were briefed on BMW’s plans to develop an Active Tourer from this platform although the model description appeared to be slanted towards a Tourer as in an Estate or stationwagon rather than an MPV.
The MPV did not come to mind at the time as BMW didn’t have such a model in its range although the rational hint given to us for adopting the FWD platform was to extract maximum interior space.
Now that the 2 Series Active Tourer is here, it would probably serve as the base to develop bigger models to come in the 4 Series and perhaps, even the 6 Series. BMW body designers have retained its iconic identity with the distinct kidney grille and four round headlamps although the front has a more bulbous styling than the sleeker flow of the other models.
Nevertheless, the new body profile remains aerodynamically efficient in its wind-cheating ways with the Cd (dynamic co-efficient) values ranging from 0.26 to 0.29, depending on models.
There are three models – 218i, 225i and 218d – but only the latter two were made available for the international media drive experience in Austria.
The 218i has a three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine (or as BMW had put in 2012, half of a multiple award winning six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine) while the other two are fitted with four-cylinder engines of 2.0-litre displacements.
The 225i came with an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission with manual shift modes while the 218d provided for the media drive had a six-speed manual gearbox.
As in a typical front-wheel drive layout where the engine is located transversely (as opposed to longitudinally in a rear-wheel drive car), BMW has adopted a common mechanical means to reduce torque steer.
There is an equal drive shaft for each of the front wheels by sectionalising the longer shaft on one side so that there is no pull to either side when accelerating hard, a FWD characteristic that was the norm in the 1970s. According to Martin Schuster, who specialises in the car’s driving dynamics, the challenge was to make the front-wheel drive model handle and drive like a rear-wheel drive BMW.
“When our bosses gave us the thumbs up after a drive in the proto model, we knew we had retained the BMW character using existing resources within our means for it to be fully a part of the family,” he said.
This sees the use of ‘precisely calculated elastokinematics’ and ‘precise software calibration’ as well as the counteraction of engine forces through ‘optimally designed’ engine and transmission mounts.
Dimensionally, the 2 Series Active Tourer sits on a shorter 2,670mm wheelbase compared to the 220i 2 Series Coupé (2,690mm), which is a rear-wheel drive, indicating the different platform to accommodate the respective drive format.
This has led to a shorter body that is wider and taller to befit its Active Tourer function, while the wheel tracks are wider in front and quite similar at the rear.
Inside, the 2 Series Active Tourer has a spacious interior with flexible space arrangements through the 40:20:40 split rear seatrests (a current standard arrangement in the BMW range).
With the seatrests up, there is almost 470 litres of luggage space and this can be extended threefold to more than 1,500 litres with the seatrests folded progressively.
From the driver’s seat, the BMW ambience is clear: the three-spoke steering wheel with multi-function controls and paddle shifts; the dual tone interior layout; the large 8.8-inch multi-info display on the central dash; the retractable glass panel for the full-colour Head-Up Display; electronic handbrake; electric power steering; choice of three drive modes – ECO PRO, Sport and Comfort; BMW ConnectedDrive; to name some.
A slew of electronic chassis control systems come part and parcel for both active safety and driving dynamics: the Dynamic Stability Control comprises anti-lock braking system, DTC (Dynamic Traction Control), EDLC (Electronic Differential Lock Control) and Performance Control as well as FWD adapted sub-functions that include torque interface.
What all that means is that the 2 Series Active Tourer drives like a BMW should: the 225i that we drove gave us the exhilaration in acceleration with its 231bhp and 350Nm of torque during passing manoeuvres and the rare stretches of open road, what with the summer holiday traffic crawling along.
For the winding sections up and down the Alpine region, we couldn’t quite tell its front drive dynamics as the 2 Series Active Tourer took smartly to the curves and bends with hardly any understeer and minimal body lean.
The electric power steering gave us the needed directional feedback to push it a little more through corners when we could and the single joint front strut suspension and multi-link rear rated well in handling dynamics.
There was only a short stretch of not-so-good road to reach a golf course out in an Alpine valley and the ride was firm but comfortable, which was typically BMW.
We also had some wet road driving as it rained on the first day and the 2 Series Active Tourer gave us a confident account of its good grip through the winding sections, mostly mild sweepers.
We also found the aerodynamically efficient body profile and equally good sound suppression measures appreciable for the quiet drive it provided along the open stretches.
And if we had doubts about the luggage capacity, it accommodated three full-size bags that the Malaysian media team had brought along for the trip to Europe.
We didn’t drive the 218i turbodiesel model as we weren’t too fond of using the manual shift while driving on the ‘wrong side’ on European roads.
It may be a new segment of the market that BMW is exploring with the 2 Series Active Tourer but by providing the vehicle with the same level of engineering expertise and dynamic quality, it won’t be short of customers looking for something novel from this German carmaker.