BMW hopes to defy criticism with new generation people-mover
Never one of his favourite examples of Bavaria’s extensive model range, the latest 2-Series Active Tourer has plans to turn loathing into liking for Iain Robertson, as he moderates his approach to its business practicalities in a fast changing people-moving sector of the new car scene.
Around a decade ago, I was invited to sample the first junior league people-carrier, or MPV, or as BMW prefers it, the 2-Series Active Tourer, from its developing line-up. It was ‘interesting’ from one key standpoint, it was the previously stoical rear-driven BMW’s first-ever front-wheel-drive family car. To me that meant the ultimate in automotive cynicism. BMW had already raided the Mini box of tricks, turning a British icon into a less spacious, less ingenious, more complex and significantly more expensive ‘starter’ range for the German firm and now it would use its underpinnings to power a proper Beemer…that was not.
Nothing could change my opinion of the hapless newcomer. I found fault with its handling, its dynamic balance and even its purported role in a fast disappearing market segment that was being overtaken by crossovers and SUVs. I wondered precisely why BMW seemed so doggedly determined to adhere to its ‘novel’ recipe. It made no sense. It was also rather expensive, when compared with its class rivals from Ford, Renault and Mitsubishi. Despite the cachet of slapping a BMW roundel on its bonnet and boot, they were surely insufficient to save it.
However, 430,000 units later, boasting a customer conversion rate of as much as 80% new to the BMW brand, it could be said to have achieved what its maker intended, even though huge numbers of them can be spotted in European taxi ranks, fulfilling the typical station-to-home, or trip-to-airport duty alongside Merc’s equivalent snotwagen, the B-Class. You will note that the other member of the Teutonic Threesome, Audi, has not even been tempted into rivalry in this model category. Yet, the 2-Series AT has found both business and private fans in quantities substantial enough to warrant a second but comprehensively altered generation.
Naturally, most of the hardware changes are not merely typical of the breed but are intended to address the blind rush into electrification that all carmakers are addressing presently. As a result, the new 2-Series will offer hybrid and battery-electric versions in fairly quick order. However, the exterior design has also been under the surgeon’s knife and not without recognisable success. In fact, it has moved from the anodyne shapelessness of its predecessor to a more organic form, better rounded, with the flabbier but still recognisable ‘Double-Kidney’ radiator grille that adorns some of the latest BMWs, just not all of them.
Of course, it would not be BMW, unless improved aerodynamics and the pursuit of weight savings were not intrinsic to the recipe…but I cannot stop feeling that, despite BMW’s intrinsic engineering resources, the Bavarian giant still insists on letting its customers ‘prove’ each model, before incorporating any changes in the next variation of the theme…as good a reason as any for my continued cynicism. However, I also recognise that, when BMW does good, by heavens, it does it really well. On the packaging front alone, while most of its rivals have committed to crossovers, there exists a need for a taller, wider, more accommodating family car (all dimensions that have increased with the 2nd gen model), the sort of machine that will carry mobility aids such as manual, or powered wheelchairs and the like. Without delving into conversions, the 2-Series AT offers the practicality of a near flat floor and plenty of rear seat legroom to allow items to be stored conveniently in-cabin, or boot.
As with its predecessor, the model is available in Sport, Luxury and M-Sport guises, all appropriately priced further up the ladder, although perhaps it has something to do with the upward creep of ALL carmakers’ list prices of late that a baseline of £30,265 does not seem as glaringly rip-off as it might have done a few months ago. In fact, with the now very attractively revised interior that is delightfully driver-focussed and better equipped as standard than before, BMW has gilded its lily most appositely.
While 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines, both of which are typically BMW frugal, continue to populate the lower end of the range, it is the 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit, also manufactured at BMW’s Hams Hall plant, just north of Birmingham, that provides the verve for either of the plug-in hybrid variants, which also boast all-wheel-drive, thanks to positioning the electric motor on the rear axle, which gains the model not just an ‘e’ but also an ‘x’ designation. The combined power of infernal combustion unit and electricity equates to 326bhp, or 245bhp, whether opting for 230e, or 225e models. They can be fully recharged at a 7.4kW rapidcharger in a zesty 2.5hrs, or 8.0hrs from a domestic plug, but the full EV range has been increased to 49mls in both cases. As you might anticipate, the performance is also sparkling. More details of the hybrid specification will emerge soon, as will the pricing, which you can expect to carry a premium of around 25%, although the full BEV versions will double those rates for sure.
Needless to say, the raft of EU-approved driver assist programs, most of which can be cancelled fortunately, feature on the new 2-Series AT but some aspects are worthwhile, such as the vast improvements made to both vehicle stability and traction levels, with new microprocessors managing corrective inputs, where they are required. The new car’s handling agility is much enhanced and, should the active damping be specified (standard on M-Sport), it no longer feels as though its chassis is fighting with the driver over typical British road surfaces. The same applies to the car’s brakes that are finally up to the task of stopping it quickly and non-dramatically. While it is pretty much par for the course for BMW to make its next-gen models significantly better than than the originals, it may have reached a new peak with the 2-Series Active Tourer that warrants its ‘new’ designation and has earned its place finally in the model range.