FROM the moment you clap eyes on the new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, it’s clear this isn’t your average BMW.
A stumpy, sloping bonnet, people mover-esque silhouette, and styling details that look as though traditional cues (the twin kidney grilles and Hofmeister kink, for example) have been crunched into a very un-BMW shape.
In many ways, that defines BMW’s compact game changer.
The 2AT (for want of a snappier name) breaks with decades of tradition and sneering at competitors to send drive solely to the front wheels.
It does away with that 50-50 weight balance BMW has spruiked as being perfect for a brand all about “dynamism”, “sheer driving pleasure” and “the ultimate driving machine”.
A decade ago, the 2AT would have been about as BMW as an Audi, and even now it promises to have some of the brand faithful on the rev limiter.
If it’s any consolation, traditional BMW owners aren’t the target market. BMW sees the 2AT as having a high conquest rate and tempting buyers who have been looking at other spacious hatchbacks, predominantly the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
Perhaps fittingly, my first 20 minutes or so with the 2 Active Tourer were when it was stationary, checking out all this new-found front-drive space and seeing if it really is as practical as the boffins say.
It’s a fine machine, with good fit and finish, robust but stylish trim materials and plenty of BMW touches; a centre stack tilted towards the driver, touch-sensitive programmable buttons and orange illumination that adds to the unmistakable cabin ambience.
It’s practical, too. Even adults will have ample head and leg room in the rear, and the 40/20/40 seatback and sliding seat base promise to swallow any box, pram or 2.4m-long broom handle you can throw at it. Plus there’s under-floor storage in the boot (where the spare tyre would normally sit) and an electric tailgate that can be optioned with a wave-your-foot gesture control system.
For a car that’s just 4342mm long, it could conceivably do the job of a small or medium SUV or even a mid-sized sedan or wagon, though there’s not as much boot space.
On the road, the 2AT is equally un-BMW.
Our drive in the Austrian Alps was welcomed with a generous dousing of rain that quickly challenged the optional 18-inch Pirelli P-Zeros. Tasked with tight hairpins and the dual task of feeding 330Nm to the bitumen and pointing the car, there was soon plenty of little flashing lights on the dash as the stability control stood to attention.
With between 57 and 59 per cent of the car’s weight over its nose (depending on the model), the Active Tourer is also prone to understeer, something accentuated as those grip levels are reached and exceeded.
Throw in electromechanical steering that can feel unweighted as you’re feeding on the power and it’s a long way from the hunkered-down, have-some-fun feel of traditional (rear-drive) BMWs.
That said, the 2AT is a confident, capable hatchback and is among the more athletic front-drivers going.
There’s no steering kickback and the grip levels are, ultimately, high.
There’s mild body-roll, but it’s well managed and the Active Tourer never feels as high as it looks (the seating position is 29mm higher than the BMW X1 SUV).
The steering is precise, though it can feel overly light when accelerating out of a bend, and the sizeable dual A-pillars can have you darting to see around them.
Our test roads were predominantly smooth, but the occasional bump or dip was dealt with efficiently and with a level of ride comfort more sensible BMW drivers will no doubt appreciate. There was some occasional unwanted tyre roar, though, something accentuated by water spray.
We didn’t get to try the 1.5-litre triple borrowed from sister brand Mini, but the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel builds its torque quickly and revs cleanly. However, we only tested it with the six-speed manual that won’t be offered in Australia.
The 2.0-litre turbo-petrol in the 225i is a feistier piece of kit, albeit one that can keep those electronics busier out of tight corners. With 170kW and a free-revving nature, it’s backed up with 350Nm of torque that makes for effortless acceleration, and is teamed with a smart eight-speed auto.
It adds up to a sensible, practical, good driving car. But it lacks the fizz and dynamic flair we’ve come to expect of a BMW.