We’ve only driven the 2.0-litre diesel engine in the 218d and 220d, and the three-cylinder, 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the 218i and 225xe, all of which are worth a look. The 218d is punchy enough once it gets going at around 1800rpm, but if you let the revs drop too low or hit a steep hill, you’ll have to change down a gear to maintain your speed, although if you add the optional eight-speed automatic – one of the best autos in the class – then it disguises the engine’s shortage of low-down response.
Even with the auto, you’ll still notice that the 218d Active Tourer isn’t fast, so you’ll occasionally need to work it hard for decent overtaking performance. The 220d is worth looking at if you value a sportier-feeling engine, or if you regularly carry a full load of passengers and luggage, but the 218d is usefully cheaper to buy and will be more than adequate for the majority of buyers, even those who do lots of motorway miles.
The 218i has an engine taken from the Mini, which sounds like it would struggle in a car as big as the 2 Series Active Tourer, but that’s not the case. You will have to work the engine fairly hard through the standard six-speed gearbox if you want hearty acceleration, but generally it’s just as adequate in everyday driving as the 218d, thanks to a broad spread of torque.
This engine is also found in the 225xe, alongside a battery pack and rear-mounted electric motor. Performance from a standing start is strong, but this tails off as speeds increase thanks to the weight of the added hybrid componentry.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer ride comfort
The Active Tourer’s ride is a little unsettled at low speeds and over rough surfaces, but it’s a lot better on fast country roads and motorways, and deals with large imperfections such as speed bumps very well. Just avoid the M Sport suspension – which is a cost option on lower trims, or is standard on M Sport models, but can be deselected in favour of the softer set-up at no extra cost, which we would recommend. You can also add adaptive dampers, which are a reasonable extra cost, but they’re not necessary to improve the ride unless you’re opting for firmer M Sport suspension and bigger alloys.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer handling
For a tall MPV, the 2 Series Active Tourer changes direction nimbly. Its steering – which has three weight options as standard – inspires plenty of confidence while also being light enough for easy use in tight parking spots. It’s certainly well enough sorted that you shouldn’t pay to add the optional Variable Sports Steering, which brings more acute steering response at higher speeds.
There’s a bit of body roll when cornering, but nothing bad by the standard of the class, and the body is kept in check over undulations or awkward cambers. Overall, the 2 Series is more rewarding to drive than most high-roofed MPVs. You will notice the additional weight of the 225xe though.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer refinement
Not perfect, but best in class – particularly the 2.0 diesel
The 2.0-litre diesel engine never sounds or feels particularly strained, and you feel only a slight vibration through the controls. The petrol has a characterful burble to it, but is also quite hushed when you’re not accelerating, and vibrations are kept to a minimum in both. It’s just a shame that the manual gearbox is so notchy, although the shift and clutch action are light enough to make it easy work. The eight-speed automatic available with the 2.0-litre diesel is very smooth, delivering almost imperceptible shifts just when they’re needed.
The 225xe proves even more impressive thanks to its silent electric-only running. Even when the 25 miles of battery power has been used up, the engine kicks in smoothly, only becoming noisy at higher revs. The standard six-speed auto isn’t quite as impressive as the eight-speed unit but it is still smooth.
The Active Tourer is a hushed high-speed cruiser regardless of which engine you choose, because it keeps out most wind and engine noise on the motorway, and road noise is an issue only on really coarse surfaces.
This turbocharged, 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol is taken from the Mini. It holds low revs very happily, so you won’t have to change down through the standard six-speed manual too often around town. You’ll have to rev it if you want good acceleration, though, because this engine needs to be worked hard to get the best performance from it. Refinement is good, and many will enjoy the characterful burble of the engine when you accelerate hard. There are a few vibrations through the wheel and pedals at low speeds and idle, though.
We’re yet to try this 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol car, but it looks like a niche choice next to the similarly potent yet much more efficient diesel options.
Official performance figures suggest that this 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, which is mated to a four-wheel drive system as standard, has hot-hatch pace. We’re yet to drive it, but it is very expensive so will be hard to justify.
This 1.5-litre, three-cylinder diesel is familiar from the Mini, where it’s a really pleasant motor to use. We haven’t tried it in the heavier Active Tourer, where performance might be a bit sluggish, although the good emissions could make it well worth considering – especially for company car users.
Our pick 218d
Our pick of the range. This 2.0-litre diesel is flexible and punchy enough for relaxing everyday use, yet is also very efficient. It’s particularly good if you add the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox, because this doesn’t affect emissions. The springy clutch and gearshift in the manual makes the car harder work in general.
Worth considering if you really value fairly sprightly performance, because the 218d does feel a bit gutless when it comes to high speed overtaking manoeuvres. The higher-powered version of the same 2.0-litre diesel is refined, has good mid-range response, and good emissions.
This has similar performance to the 225i but uses the same engine as the 218i. A battery pack and electric motor give four-wheel drive and an electric only range of 25 miles. Expensive to buy but cheap on tax for business users.