BMW get Active as they break with tradition to catch up with demand
IT has taken BMW a long time to cross the line into making front-wheel drive cars - and people carriers.
It realised many years ago it had to get cracking on something that people were buying elsewhere.
Call them MPVs or people carriers, the fact is that mainstream and Mercedes were giving people the options. BMW were not. They are now. And so we have the 2-series Active Tourer people carrier.
There was a sense of occasion when we drove this. Being the first BMW with front-wheel drive and transverse engine, gave it an extra edge of interest, I suppose. It's also the first I've seen lifted by cable car to a launch 3,000m up a near-vertical Alpine slope.
Due here in September, it is built on the same 'architecture' as the new MINI. And there will be a seven-seater, most likely next year, such is the level of perceived demand for this sort of car.Prices start at €32,530 for the 1.5-litre petrol (136bhp, 115g/km, €200 road tax) and €35,250 for the 218d (€190 road tax,109g/km, 150bhp).
Frankly, it looks ordinary enough. At 4.342m long, 1.8m wide, 1.555m tall and with a wheelbase of 2.67m it is compact and unremarkable. A bit like its chief posh-car rival the Mercedes B-Class (Ford's C-Max, Citroen Picasso, VW Golf SV are others).Yet when we got inside it was as if someone had pushed out the sides and roof. There was a LOT of room. The secret partly lies with the well-judged height of the seats (second row of three is higher, they can recline and slide forward). And the 'command' driving position was excellent. The use of space out front and back is cleverly worked to carve decent proportions front and back. We were impressed. Boot room is 468 litres (1,510 when the 40:20:40 rear seats are folded).
For all that, you can sometimes judge a car by simpler, more basic elements. Just touching and feeling bits and pieces. The quality of plastics on the dash in this, for example, is a real sign of intent. It's soft and felt expensive. No rattles there. Point made on quality and that's important because this doesn't come cheap. They have also made a thoroughly good job of the radio and ventilation layout, dividing them vertically with a handy little area for your glasses or iphone (don't touch). They have lots of slots and enough room for a large litre bottle to be stowed. Realistically you are looking at two engine options: the 218d diesel and the 3ycl 1.5-litre turbo petrol - also from the new MINI. We also drove the range-topping 225i (turbo 2-litre 4cyl, 227bhp); it's due shortly after the others. A 6spd manual gearbox (notchy in the diesel I drove) is standard; 8spd automatic optional. There will be some all-wheel drive versions later; 16ins wheels will be standard. And there's lots of connectivity and apps.
I don't care what anyone says there is a difference in feel between rear-wheel and front-wheel drive. Well there is for me in a BMW and it took me a little while to get fully used to it.
That won't affect 70pc of prospective buyers because it is estimated they will be new to the brand. They will be younger couples, those downsizing, or using it as a second/family car. The second day's driving made up my mind they have successfully crossed the Rubicon - we will see several more front-wheel-drive Beemers. However, the advantages of seating, a nicely-sized steering wheel, plenty of elbow room and excellent rearwards visibility were somewhat undermined by the partial intrusion of the front pillars in our line of semi-lateral vision. I'll reserve judgment until the car gets here. There was some bodyroll which puzzled me because it is not a tall motor and because it has, like the MINI, that high-strength steel platform, (sorry 'architecture'), and decent front and rear suspension systems.Yet for all its minor drawbacks, it is still a significant new arrival in the MPV market. A few tweaks here and there would make it a formidable 'first'.