A fine first stab at front-wheel drive
Taboos are there to be broken. Porsches were always to be powered by air-cooled engines located behind their drivers, until it became convenient to use water-cooled engines located ahead of their drivers. Ferraris were always going to be rear-wheel-drive machines until it suited Maranello to build one with four-wheel drive. And surely Bentley would never build an SUV? We will see the answer to that question later this year.
But a BMW driven by the steered wheels alone? The Ultimate Driving Machine with incorrect-wheel drive? Surely this is some kind of joke?
Actually it’s not: the BMW 2-series Active Tourer is indeed Munich’s first front-wheel-drive car and, to the 30 per cent of existing BMW customers who will buy one and the 70 per cent who will be new to the brand, it will matter not one jot.
What will matter far more is that for a certain sort of growing constituency of buyer, namely those looking for a comfortable but spacious family holdall, the Active Tourer provides the opportunity to buy into a brand that may hitherto have been denied to them. Yes, this is also BMW’s first cod-MPV and there are likely to be a few of us old stick-in-the-muds who’ll get quite exercised about that too.
But there’s no need. BMW is now a fully diversified brand with cars as novel as the superb little electric i3, as traditional as the old 7-series saloon and as customer-savvy as its ever-widening range of SUVs. An inoffensive little people carrier like this is simply not worth getting steamed up about.
It’s a good car too, so long as you can divorce your feelings from what you might historically have expected from a BMW. It’s not particularly fast when fitted with a mid-range diesel engine and, while I suppose there’s a certain élan to the way it tackles difficult roads that you’d struggle to find elsewhere in this class, compared to the conventional 3-series this kind of money will buy, its dynamics are entirely unremarkable.
But to think of the Active Tourer as a Nissan Qashqai with a posh badge would be to do it a considerable disservice. It has a quality feel to its control weights, switches and levers that are distinctly BMW and not common elsewhere in this class. Ride quality is notably good and refinement spoiled only by the distant diesel thrum. I have it on good authority that the petrol 218i is quieter and more civilised. For those who’ll buy it for practical purposes, it is a car short of gadgets like seats that turn into amphibious landing craft at the press of a button, but long on common- sense features like legroom, vast storage and surprisingly generous equipment levels, not to mention impressive fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
There are no reasons, either good or bad, to get excited about the BMW Active Tourer; but that doesn’t mean there are not plenty to encourage you to try one. So forget the badge and ask yourself instead if you like the sound of a high-quality, well engineered, mildly entertaining and reasonably practical family bus. If you do, this is it.
Engine: 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: [email protected]
Torque: 248lb [email protected]
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Top speed: 129mph