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BMW 218i Active Tourer

 

Meet the first-ever front-drive car to wear a BMW badge. Does the Active Tourer’s space and versatility justify this engineering about-face?

Base price: $51,900.

Powertrain and performance: 1.5-litre petrol three-cylinder, 100kW/220Nm, 6-speed automatic, front-drive, Combined economy 5.1 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 9.2 seconds.

Vital statistics: 4342mm long, 1565mm high, 2670mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 468-1510 litres, fuel tank 51 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels on 205/55 tyres.

We like: Energetic three-cylinder engine, good handling, clever cabin packaging.

We don’t like: Bland looks, uneven specification, expensive.

How it rates: 7/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? We’re sure you know that modern Minis are brought to you by BMW. Well, here’s some role reversal: the BMW 218i Active Tourer is brought to us by Mini, making it the first-ever front-drive production car to wear a BMW badge.

BMW has figured out that buyers of small family cars don’t necessarily want the packaging compromises of rear-drive, however sporty the vehicle may be. So the Active Tourer rides on the front-drive platform of the latest Mini five-door and our 218i test car even shares its 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine with the British brand.

So don’t confuse the Active Tourer with the 2-series coupe or even the 1-series hatchback, both of which are a similar size – because they’re both still rear-drive. But not for long: BMW has just announced a 1-series facelift, but the next-generation model due in 2018 will almost certainly join the Active Tourer in being pulled rather pushed along. Times have changed at BMW.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? Compared with BMW’s other small cars, the Active Tourer will a disappointment to the enthusiast driver. Compared with most other front-drive small cars on the market, it’s really quite entertaining.

It’s nowhere as nimble as a Mini five-door, of course: the BMW is taller, more softly sprung and quite a bit heavier. But it still corners with enthusiasm and is responsive to steering and throttle inputs. If the brief for a BMW is to be sporty by class standards, this one certainly qualifies.

The Active Tourer gets BMW’s Performance Control as standard: it’s a form of torque vectoring by braking that can send more power to the outside front wheel, by braking the inside.

The three-cylinder engine is a delight. It produces impressive outputs for a powerplant of such small capacity, it sounds fantastic and it’s full of energy. The biggest disappointment is that the 218i has a six-speed automatic gearbox, whereas every other BMW has eight speeds. That’s because the three-pot is a Mini engine, and that brand still relies on a six-cog gearbox.

Step up to the 218d Active Tourer, with a BMW-sourced 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, and you get the full eight ratios. At a price: it’s more powerful, better equipped and costs another $11,000.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? This is where the front-drive, tall-body Active Tourer is supposed to shine: passenger and cargo-carrying capability.

It’s an incredibly spacious and versatile machine, especially considering it’s less than 4.4 metres long. The high seating position helps, but so does the trick rear seat. It slides fore and aft, can be locked at 90 degrees to give more loadspace while still offering occasional passenger accommodation (the Mini has the same mechanism) and it’s split 40/20/40 like BMW’s other wagons and crossovers, giving you the ability to mix and match people and parcels.

Even with the rear seat slid right back, the Active Tourer has a massive boot. There’s a false floor that allows you to either have a flat load-through when the seats are folded, or a deeper cargo bay when it’s removed.

The cabin architecture is pure BMW, with a compact instrument binnacle and the signature iDrive screen in the centre console. It makes a premium impression, as it should for $50k.

But there’s an odd mix of equipment on board. You get some high-tech stuff such as ConnectedDrive, self-parking and autonomous braking at city speeds. But in other ways it seems a bit sparse for this money, with manual air conditioning and cloth trim. You have to pay extra for features you’d think would be no-brainers in a car like this: a front-passenger seat that folds flat for long loads, flip-up tables for the rear seats and a separating net for the luggage compartment each cost $400.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? The Active Tourer treads a fine line between family hatchback and midi-people-mover – and does it very well, combining fun-to-drive character with true space and versatility.

It looks bland in standard form (you can dress it up with an M Sport kit) and it’s very expensive, especially given the amount of optional equipment available. Take a look at what kind of Volkswagen Golf you can buy for the same price and it puts the Active Tourer in a rather unflattering light.

However, for the family buyer who wants some BMW character (not to mention the badge) but has very practical priorities, it’s an impressive package.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Lane guidance: $1500 with Driving Assistant option, also includes Approach Control Warning and Person Recognition with light braking, High Beam Assistance and special instrument cluster.
  • Cruise control: Yes with braking function.
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Intelligent headlights: $2000 with LED option, includes cornering lights.
  • Parking radar: Yes with camera
  • Self-parking technology: Yes
  • Head-up display: $3000 with Navigation Plus option
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Keyless entry/start: $750/Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Manual
  • Heated/ventilated seats: $800/No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: $2000
  • Leather upholstery: $3000
  • Power boot or tailgate: $750
  • Split/folding rear seats: 40/20/40

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