The first front-wheel drive BMW has made its way to South Africa. Stuart Johnston was at the launch of the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer and gave it a quick run through its paces.
There is a certain core-feel to the way a BMW rides, and responds to inputs through the steering wheel, and the question was always going to be whether a front-wheel drive BMW would feel like a totally different example of what the Munich-based concern call “sheer driving pleasure”.
After experiencing the first BMW FWD in the form of the 2-Series Active Tourer “cross-over” compact, it is good to report that there are still BMW core values at play here, important ones such as steering feel, crisp reaction to steering-wheel inputs, a controlled ride quality with a satisfying degree of compliance, and an overall feeling of body-shell integrity of the highest order.
HandlingThis shouldn't be too much of a surprise, as BMW now has well over a decade of building one of the sportiest front-wheel drive cars on the planet, the Mini. But it should be hastily pointed out that the 2-Series Active Tourer has none of that ‘go-kart” feel of the Mini. It is a much more family-orientated car, with the accent more on ride comfort than outright grip.
Over good quality tar roads it has a crispness that is typical of the brand, and yet the ride has none of the plank-like overt stiffness that afflicts even the base models of, for instance, the Mercedes-Benz A-Class range. The new BMW comes with a range of four engines, all of them transversely mounted across the body-shell in the nose, as one would expect of a FWD car. And, unsurprisingly, these power-plants draw on BMW’s Mini technology.
EnginesThe most interesting engine in the range is the three-cylinder petrol twin-turbo, a 1.5-Litre unit producing a quite impressive 100 kW and 220 Nm of torque. I am a fan of triple-cylinder engines, having owned a three-cylinder motorcycle (Kawasaki) many moons ago. I love that off-beat low groan at low revs, rising to a howl as a triple gets fully onto its power-band.
The downside of many triples in cars is that they can be quite rough. Thanks to a very sophisticated mounting system for engine and transmission, as well as a special flywheel, the company has ironed out minor frequency vibrations resulting in smoothness. What is almost as impressive, is the spread of torque.
I experienced this engine in the so-called 218i in six-speed Steptronic (automatic) form. It is also available in a six-speed manual.
The other models in the range are powered by four-cylinder engines. These are the 320i two-litre four-cylinder petrol at 141 kW, with six-speed manual or eight-speed Steptronic, the 220d two–litre diesel at 140 kW and notably 400 Nm of torque also using a six-speed manual or optional Steptronic eight-speed, and, finally, the second car available on the launch drive, the range-topping 225i, with 170 kW equipped with an eight-speed Steptronic as standard.
This latter is endowed with 350 Nm of torque. And while it copes with this power admirably in terms of torque steer, if you unload the inside front wheel, for instance when exiting a sharpish corner at lower speeds, and then plant the throttle, you’ll feel the power being transferred back and forth between the two front wheels. It will be interesting to see how the system handles 400 Nm.
As far as performance goes, the 225i Active Tourer is rated with a 6.6-second 0-100 kph sprint, a 240 kph top speed and an average EU fuel consumption of 5.9L/100 km, which should translate to a Real World figure of around 7.0-7.5L/100 km.
Another point worth highlighting, from the launch drive, is just how exceptional the brakes are. Even with relatively narrow tyres this car comes to a stop like it has hit something solid, when you climb as hard as you can on the brake pedal.
PracticalityThe Active Tourer is all about space utilisation, and despite looking relatively low slung in profile, it has cavernous interior space when measured against its 1-Series sibling. This particularly applies to the rear passenger compartment, where access is excellent and leg room is languorous, especially as the rear seat can be moved fore and aft to juggle passenger and luggage space. That boot, before you’ve folded down any seat backrests, is impressive, with a capacity of 468-Litres.
What's not to like?I found it quite difficult to achieve a good driving position that enabled me to feel comfortably perched with good forward visability, and still see some vital aspects of the instrument cluster, particularly the trip meter. And as for the styling, I didn’t find it exactly the most riveting BMW I’d ever laid eyes upon, or even the best-looking cross-over compact.
Also, getting back to handling, on dirt roads or other surfaces with ripples, the front suspension becomes quite jittery and rattles if you hit undulations at any sort of speed. Funnily enough, this is a trait that can affect rear-wheel-drive BMWs, but more on the rear axle end of things.
And then there’s the price. While the overall feel inside is classy without being overtly lavish, and the car does have that typical BMW clean, sculpted dash architecture, the car is by no means cheap.