First Drive

2014 BMW 218i SE Active Tourer review

The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is BMW's first attempt at both a practical MPV and a front-wheel-drive car, and we've driven the 218i version for the first time in the UK.

Words ByRob Keenan

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We've already established that 2 Series Active Tourer's debut didn't stop the earth rotating on its axis, as predicted by doom-mongering BMW purists objecting to the firm's first front-wheel-drive model. In fact in 218d diesel auto guise it's a very fine thing indeed, worthy of a four-star rating.

We've now driven the 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol Active Tourer, aka the 218i. With CO2 emissions barely higher than the diesel's, it's still worthy of company car fleets, but most sales are expected to go to private buyers.

Better still, it's also a lot cheaper than the diesel model, with prices starting at Β£22,125 with a six-speed manual gearbox. It's the same engine from the new Mini too, so how good is it in a family car?

What’s the 2014 BMW 218i SE Active Tourer like to drive?

The 218i has a six-speed manual gearbox as standard (as tested), or for Β£1250 more you can spec an six-speed automatic. The turbocharged engine comes from the Mini and is nicely refined at tickover, with minimal vibrations making their way into the cabin as the revs increase, and the characteristic three-cylinder thrum only becoming intrusive when you near the redline.

Peak torque is developed from as little as 1250rpm all the way through to 4300rpm, and the engine pulls strongly through most of this rev range. Naturally, when making progress you have to work the gearlever hard and its springy action isn't as slick as offerings from, say, VW, but it's not an unpleasant gearbox.

There's little wind noise at high speed, but 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.

At least BMW has got the handling right. The Active Tourer changes direction neatly and its steering gives plenty of confidence, even though there's more body roll than in a Golf SV, and the BMW feels slightly less nimble when turning into bends too.

Our test car was fitted with 18-inch alloys on standard suspension (rather than Β£390 adaptive dampers). While undeniably firm, most high-speed imperfections are dealt with well, although sharp-edged ridges sometimes send a heavy thud into the cabin.

Things are 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 schelps.

What’s the 2014 BMW 2 Series Active Tourer like inside?

There's reasonable forwards visibility, because you sit much higher up than you would in a normal family hatchback, and both front occupants sit very comfortably because there's a wide range of adjustment to the front seats and a huge amount of headroom. 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 rear 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 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 might 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 the best infotainment system 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 Β£1250 more, and add larger 17-inch alloys, sports seats and a sportier exterior design.

Another Β£750 takes you up to Luxury trim, which features different alloys and leather seats. A further Β£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.

Should I buy one?

The Active Tourer is an MPV, and if you're considering one it's because space and practicality are high up on your list of requirements. If they're right at the top there are better choices. The Citroen C4 Picasso is bigger inside, quite a bit more versatile and several grand 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 also cheaper, albeit not by much. 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...

Rivals

Citroen C4 Picasso

Volkswagen Golf SV

BMW 218i Active Tourer

Engine size 1.5-litre petrol, turbo

Price from Β£22,125

Power 134bhp

Torque 162lb ft

0-62mph 9.2 seconds

Top speed 127mph

Fuel economy 57.6mpg

CO2 115g/km