BMW 218i Active Tourer Review - Strictly wholesome family fun
Singapore - When the first Active Tourer and Grand Tourer cars were introduced here, BMW seemed to have found the winning formula, as they immediately became an instant hit. Between both the lunchboxes, the Grand Tourer was especially popular, since it offered aspiring extended families that premium experience. Some time ago, you could even have one in your garage, without shelling out anything more than three-times of fifty-thousand dollars.
The twin platform 2 Series range is varied, and includes a confusing mix of a front-drive four-door coupe (which has more in common with this Mini Countryman than what I am mentioning next), and another “real” coupe BMW touts as the Drift Machine, which is primarily rear-drive.
While the Grand Tourer became a popular choice with Singaporean buyers… well, because two more seats, BMW has confirmed that they will not be producing a new one. So the 5-seater Active Tourer is the only body style we will get. But you know… never say never.
What the 2 Series Active Tourer brings to the table is the versatility of a compact SUV or a hatchback, some added height for easier access, but without the “tippy-toppy” feels you would normally get when driving an SUV. It is in essence, a car built on purpose, for purpose… or would that be for purpose, on purpose. Whichever way you think it, we like how the new beaver-faced Active Tourer is styled. The front end has got more presence than its flatter-nosed predecessor. The grille has grown more upright, in-line with their current design language. Now go feed it a piece of wood… nom nom nom… and at the rear BMW has added those really cool blade tail lights, which match those seen on the 3 Series.
This time round, there are no bad angles on the Active Tourer. But I say this with the caveat that the version we are driving here is the M Sport, complete with fancy kit and rims, and a 15mm reduction in ride height.
BMW 218i Active Tourer - inside
On the inside, there is a sense of familiarity with the dashboard, as the 2 Series Active Tourer borrows plenty from the fully-electric iX. While there is no leather, made from olive leaves here, the dashboard features a floating curved display panel, which houses both the 10.7-inch control and 10.25-inch information display screens. There is also a floating centre console, which houses the shift-by-wire gear switch, drive mode selection, and some basic controls for the infotainment system. Essentially, it is a condensed version of the iX’s dash design, sans the fancy glass iDrive knob.
Like the iX, BMW’s Operating System 8 infotainment firmware, an evolution of the previous installation finds its way into the 2AT. While it retains its voice activation capabilities, it is also able to determine if the driver or the passenger are the ones giving a command. So while it might frustrate you initially (where after some restraint, I eventually let off an F-bomb… to which to my surprise/dismay it replied “Watch your tone!”... never in my life have I been scolded by a car!), it picks up the way you speak, and eventually, it will understand your voice patterns.
You can tell that the BMW had prioritised the Active Tourer for the left-hand drive market, as the compartment on the centre console opens to the left; so if you are the driver, accessing your stuff in there will be a slight challenge. There is a super-large wireless smartphone charger, which looks like you can drop two phones in to charge, which would have been great, but this actually fits only one phone.
With the addition of the M-badge, the 2AT comes with supportive bucket-style seats up-front, and contrast stitching. You also get a fancy “lightweight” bottom steering wheel spoke, which frames the all-important M-badge, just to remind you that there is a little bit of M-car DNA here… a little.
So while it does not have that third-row, which made the Grand Tourer a popular choice, the 2AT is almost as versatile as a Swiss Army Knife… so that you do not have to have the powers of the ‘Swiss Army Man’ to impress everyone else in the car. Versatility comes in the form of 60:40 sliding rear seats, backrests which can fold upright in ‘cargo position’, to create an additional 90 litres, and a generous 470 litre double-floor boot.
BMW 218i Active Tourer - the drive
BMW’s turbocharged 1.5 litre three-cylinder finds its way into the 2AT again, but to our surprise, there have been a few improvements in refinement. While 3-cyls are infamously known for their vibration and roughness, the 2AT’s revised engine seems to feel slightly smoother than its only competition, the B-Class Mercedes-Benz, with its 1.3-four. With our current super-high COEs, it is no surprise that BMW has not brought us the 220i, which also benefits from a Mild-Hybrid system. This would have had some additional fuel savings, together with added grunt.
So while this might just have a more-than-adequate 136hp, you get 230Nm generously spread between 1500 to 4000rpm. You still get a 7-speed dual clutch, but BMW has done some good work to iron out most of the jerks. Fuel efficiency is acceptable here, with official stats at 6.9l/100km, and we managed 7.1 litres. So if we had the 2.0 with the MHEV bit attached, this could be reduced to 6.3l/100km.
At nine seconds to 100km/h, the 2AT is not going to raise any hairs here. But remember that we have one with the M-badge, meaning that you have what is a well-sorted adaptive M suspension. When put into action around bends, you could simply forget that you are actually driving a rather tall vehicle. The multi-linked rear suspension even keeps the back tidy around bends, even when the road surface is compromised. In contrast, the B-Class Merc makes do with a torsion beam, which explains its untidy handling around similar roughed-out corners.
But, there is a major flaw with the 2AT’s M suspension…
Which makes it not an ideal car for B-roads up North, or even with our patched-up and again patched-over road surfaces. The dampers do not take well to larger shocks, meaning that sudden jolts (like a wheel dropping into a pothole, or emerging from one), even at low speeds, will be transmitted quite directly into that grey blob on the insides of your cranium. So if you are thinking of road tripping here, you (really) might want to use the North-South.
So you should not opt up for the M-Sport badge?
Well, mostly yes. Because it is a family car, and comfort should take priority over handling. And even with the “softer” Luxury-badged car, you still have a rear multilink which the Merc doesn’t have. Go ahead.. Run circles!
Overall, the new 2AT is in many ways a much better car than the one it replaces. It does just about everything better, but it has unfortunately become a more expensive way to transport the family.
PHOTOS and TEXT Clifford Chow
BMW 218 Active Tourer M-Sport
Engine 1,499cc, inline 3, turbo
Engine Power/rpm 136hp/4700-6500rpm
Engine Torque/rpm 230Nm/1500-4000rpm
Transmission 7spd dual-clutch
0-100km/h 9 secs
Top Speed 214km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.3L/100km