BMW is stretching its 'Ultimate Driving Machine' remit a touch with this new 2 Series Active Tourer – the first ever front-wheel-drive BMW and its first practical MPV. It's more of an 'ultimate living machine', because it's designed to be a larger, more spacious and versatile version of the 1 Series.
It's been launched with the choice of two newly developed engines, a three-cylinder 134bhp 1.5-litre petrol turbo, and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder 148bhp diesel, although a wider choice of engines, including a 216d, 220d, and the option of a versatile four-wheel drive version, will arrive in November.
What’s the 2014 BMW 2 Series Active Tourer like inside?
Front passengers sit very comfortably, because there's a wide range of adjustment to both front seats and a huge amount of headroom. The driver also has reasonable forwards visibility, because you sit much higher up than you would in a normal family hatchback. Unfortunately, the windscreen pillars often obscure your view when pulling out from junctions.
It's the same story in the rear of the cabin, with wide C-pillars making it tricky to reverse. On the plus side, even SE models get rear parking sensors as standard, and a reversing camera and automatic parking assistant are both optionally available.
Even tall adults will find room to spare above their heads in the back seats, and their knees will be free from the front seatbacks. There is a lot of room underneath the front seats, too, so even the largest pair of shoes will be able to squeeze in. The rear seats can also be tilted, and they slide forward and back in a 60/40 configuration, so you can trade rear legroom for boot space.
It's disappointing, though, that there aren't three individual seats in the rear, as you get in a Citroen C4 Picasso. It means shoulder room is cramped in the middle on long journeys. The Citroen's rear cabin feels the more spacious, and is more versatile, because its three rear seats also slide individually. It has a flat floor, too, whereas the 2 Series Active Tourer has a raised central tunnel, so whoever sits in the middle will feel pretty hard done by.
At 468 litres, the Active Tourer's boot is also quite a lot smaller than both the Citroen's and a VW Golf SV's. It's a square shape, though, and has a low, wide opening for easy access. Better still, there's a deep storage cubby under the load bay floor, although you can't simply drop the divider out of the way like you can in the Golf.
If you need even more room, the rear seatbacks split 40/20/40 and fold down when you push two buttons located on either side of the boot to lie completely flat. A pair of plastic dividers also ensures a flat floor with no gaps, even if you slide the rear seats all the way forward. Another nice touch is the fact all Active Tourers get an electric tailgate as standard.
The dash feels well put together and features plenty of dense, soft-touch plastics. Look in the boot though, and you mind find the odd sign of cost-cutting, with harder and cheaper-feeling materials. BMW has kept the cabin layout simple, although the gearstick does obstruct the climate controls, and because they are mounted quite low down, you do need to take your eyes off the road to use them.
A 6.5-inch colour screen comes as standard, navigated using BMW's iDrive rotary controller located next to the gearlever. It remains one of the best infotainment systems on the market.
Entry-level SE Active Tourers get 16-inch alloy wheels, a USB connection, Bluetooth, DAB radio, auto lights and wipers, and a multifunction steering wheel as standard. Sport models cost £1250 more, and add larger 17-inch alloys, sports seats and a sportier exterior design.
Another £750 takes you up to Luxury trim, which features different alloys and leather seats. A further £1000 brings you range-topping M Sport trim, which features 18-inch alloys, stiffer M Sport suspension and even more figure-hugging M Sport sports seats – if such things really matter on a family MPV.
What’s the 2014 BMW 2 Series Active Tourer like to drive?
We tried the 218d diesel, which comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, or (for £1550 more) an excellent eight-speed automatic. The engine is really punchy above 1800rpm, but if you get caught in the wrong gear or hit a steep hill you'll have to change down to maintain your progress. This is much less of an issue in the auto, though, which always seems to be in the right gear for the situation.
The 218d is more than fast enough for most situations, but BMW has worked wonders on its new 2.0-litre's refinement, so it never sounds or feels particularly strained, and there's only a very slight buzz through the controls. It's a shame, then, that the Active Tourer's manual 'box feels stubborn and notchy. Another reason to choose the automatic.
Even so, the Active Tourer is a hushed place to spend time at high speeds, because it does a great job at shutting out wind noise on the motorway. Road noise is an issue, particularly on models fitted with wide tyres and large alloys, and rough road surfaces send a loud roar into the cabin when you're cruising at motorway speeds.
BMW has done a good job with the handling. The Active Tourer changes direction nimbly and its steering gives plenty of confidence, even though there's more body roll than a Golf SV, and the BMW feels a tad less sharp when turning into bends.
We've tried cars fitted with the largest-possible 18-inch alloys on standard suspension, and on 17-inch wheels with the optional £390 adaptive set-up. Both set-ups manage to deal with most imperfections well, although sharp-edged ridges sometimes send a heavy thud into the cabin.
The ride is a little fussier at low speeds, and over particularly rough or coarse stretches of road, but it's a lot more settled on fast country roads and during long motorways journeys.
Should I buy one?
If you're in the market for an MPV because space and practicality are paramount, then there are better choices. The Citroen C4 Picasso is bigger inside, quite a bit more versatile, and cheaper.
It's also worth bearing in mind that the Golf SV is equally spacious, even sharper to drive with a more flexible engine, and is cheaper. It also comes similarly well equipped to the BMW, although the boot in the 2 Series is better designed than in the SV - and easier to manhandle into different configurations.
However, if you just need more space than a family hatchback and want an MPV that remains good to drive, is refined and cheap to run, the Active Tourer is definitely worth considering.
What Car? says…
BMW 218d diesel auto
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
Price from £25,755
Torque 243lb ft
0-62mph 8.9 seconds
Top speed 127mph
Fuel economy 68.9mpg