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We drive BMW's first front-drive car

By: Jesse Adams

Solden, Austria - I doubt if many conversations pertaining to the new 2 Series Active Tourer will start with its flexible seating arrangements, or its 1510 litre maximum load capacity, or how many cupholders and storage compartments it comes with. Nope, this car will be remembered forever as the first front-wheel drive BMW.

The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is the first BMW to feature front-wheel drive.The new model is set to arrive in South Africa early in 2015.It will be available with turbocharged diesel and petrol engines, with prices starting from an estimated R378 000.BMW 225i Active Tourer.BMW 218d Active Tourer.BMW 225i Active Tourer.BMW 225i Active Tourer.BMW 2 Series Active Tourer with M Sport Package.BMW Active TourerBMW Active Tourer

Completely new territory for a brand that prides itself on sportiness then, and not just because of where drive comes from. Mommy vans, sorry… MPVs are unfamiliar territory for BMW, and I can only imagine the heated internal discussions as design teams squabbled over which direction the completely new model should take.

There’s a permanent responsibility that BMW has to satisfy “driving pleasure”, but at the same time the Active Tourer needed to meet a host of practicality requirements.

So, should steering be meaty and weighted with ultimate feedback in bends, or easy to turn in supermarket parking lots? Should driver’s seating position be close to the floor for a low centre of gravity, or up high for a better view of the road? Should the suspension be tuned for sporty weight transfer and grippy handling, or soft and squishy for comfort on the daily school run?

The answer is both, and BMW’s done a good job of striking a balance between the two. Mommy van, er… MPV, might sound too harsh a category to pigeonhole the 2 Series Active Tourer in, but with obvious similarities between this and its inevitable market rival, the Mercedes B-Class, I think it’s an appropriate term – even if Beemer’s promo videos feature hardcore kayakers, rock climbers and mountain bikers attempting to portray some sort of adventure vehicle.

While this may in fact be the first front-wheel drive BMW, we mustn’t forget that BMW has more than 10 years experience with this drivetrain layout as caretaker of the Mini marque, and predictably the Active Tourer is based (loosely) on the latest platform from its sister brand. Not exactly a badge-engineering situation, though, as a unique wheelbase, wider track, and specific strut-type front and multilink rear suspension systems give this chassis a more BMW-like identity of its own. And forget the 2 Series prefix, the Active Tourer shares nothing with its RWD coupé namesake.

Judging by how often I was asked about my impression of the car’s dynamics at the international launch in Austria last week, this is of vital importance to BMW staffers.

And it’s good. Obviously powerslides and four-wheel drifts, á la M3, are out of the question, but steering feel and changes of direction are still in line with BMW’s core handling philosophies.

Within seconds of pulling off for the test drive, I was reminded of our long-term 1 Series by intricacies fed through the steering wheel. Mission accomplished for BMW engineers tasked with making their first FWD model feel like a BMW. I do think, however, that customers upgrading from Toyota Versos and Nissan Livinas will find the typically-sporty BMW steering unusually heavy.

Interior design’s also brand-specific and a quick survey of the cabin reveals recognisable features from Z4s to X5s to i8s. But here there’s more focus on practicality, with extra storage nooks everywhere, optional tray tables for kiddies, and a front passenger seat that folds flat for through-loading of objects 2.4 metres long.

The front-wheel drive setup allows for a roomier interior because there’s no gearbox tunnel to hog space down the centre of the chassis between the seats. The front row is noticeably elevated compared to other BMWs but a relatively high roofline makes for comfortable headspace.

The rear seats also fold flat, and slide individually on rails to suit several occupant/cargo configurations.

We’ll get four models early next year starting with a 218i fitted with the same 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo (100kW/220Nm) engine as the new Mini.

The rest of the range gets a new family of four-cylinder turbo diesel and petrol units. BMW hasn’t yet released specs on 220i and 220d models, but the range-topping 225i gets 170kW/350Nm and claims to do 0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds.

A new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox also makes its debut in the Active Tourer and comes standard in the 225i.

The Active Tourer range will extend to seven-seater and all-wheel drive models in the future.

2 Series Active Tourer pricing:

218i – R378 000

220i – R391 000

220d – R422 000

225i – R440 500

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