Every week there’s a new scientific discovery that links humans to something else completely. There are those who say we share 97% of our DNA with mice and pigs, or that we’re actually 88% cucumber. Depending on who you believe, it’s the small 3% that differentiates us from rodents and where we get our bacon from.
So you could take the same recipe, or DNA, of something and the smallest changes can also make the biggest difference. That applies to cars as well. Let’s begin with the MINI. A car brand brought back to life and catapulted into the 21st Century by the Bavarians.
It was a great idea, a British icon reinvented with German engineering. They should’ve called it HRM MINI II. And BMW knew the MINI brand would be a success so they invested in more models. Eventually the MINI platform would become the base of a hatchback, a convertible, a wagon, a sports coupe, a roadster, and a crossover.
Then all of a sudden BMW thought hey, since the MINI platform is ours and it’s working so well why not use it as a base for one of our cars. So they did and came up with the first front-wheel drive BMW – the 2-Series Active Tourer.
Oh how people cried and wailed. There were riots and anarchy throughout internet forums around the world. There were reports of BMW fanatics shutting themselves in their rooms for days because BMW, a company known for their rear-wheel drive creations, had gone to the dark side and made a car that pulls through corners rather than pushes. And to make matters worse, it was an MPV.
Elsewhere in the BMW group was a small division called BMW i. While MINI were busy expanding and growing, BMW i were busy making a new breed of BMWs for the future. Efficient, economical, and most of all desirable cars that’d change the way the public perceived hybrids and EVs.
But in order to be economical and efficient they had to have small engines. So when it was time to launch the i8, their flagship sports car, they simply couldn’t use one of BMW’s existing engines because they were all too big. Luckily for the BMW i engineers they could ask MINI for some engines. So the i8 comes with a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine from a humble MINI Cooper, albeit tuned to produce 247hp/181kW.
Of course, BMW later realised their BMW i technology would go to waste if it were used on only two cars, so BMW quickly added hybrid technology to the rest of their car range. We then saw hybrid versions of the 3-Series, 5-Series, and 7-Series sedan as well as the X5 SUV and of course the car I’m reviewing here – the 2-Series Active Tourer.
This then, is a car with a platform from a MINI and has the same engine and hybrid technology as a BMW i8. You could think of the 225xe (or BMW 2-Series Active Tourer iPerformance as it’s known in New Zealand) as being 97% related to the i8, but it’s that 3% difference that sets the sports cars from the MPVs apart.
The 2-Series Active Tourer range sits down the lower-end of the BMW lineup. You won’t find any V8s or twin-turbo straight sixes in the engine options. Instead you get a choice of a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol in the 218i, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel in the 218d, and the range-topping 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol and electric hybrid as tested here in the 225xe.
Prices for the Active Tourer starts at $50,500 which seems pretty reasonable for a family-oriented BMW. Stepping up to the diesel adds $10k to the price, while the hybrid is $18k more than the base petrol. Though, you do get more standard equipment the further up the range you go. In true typical BMW fashion the options list is quite sizeable and it’s very easy to add several thousand dollars worth of options to your car.
You look at this car and see the BMW kidney grille, the BMW badge, and the typical BMW styling lines. It says it’s a BMW but it doesn’t really shout ‘BMW’. It’s not as athletic looking as we’ve come to expect from the Bavarian brand. Even their SUVs manage to do look somewhat BMW-ish.
The 2-Series Active Tourer is far from the prettiest BMW then, but in terms of MPVs it’s one of the more stylish ones. But that’s the caveat. MPVs aren’t supposed to follow form and fashion; they’re functional cars that are supposed to make the most of the space they have. In the attempt of making the Active Tourer look sleek and BMW-ish, they’ve made an MPV that isn’t all that spacious.
It’s more a tall hatchback than a fully-fledged MPV. You can make it look more exciting with the optional M-Sport package which adds ‘sportier’ looking bumpers and bigger alloys. I’d suggest doing that if you were to get an Active Tourer because in standard or in the Luxury trim as tested here, it looks a bit ‘vanilla’. You could almost mistake for any other tall hatchback/MPV.
So it’s not as sleek and as sporty as you’d expect a BMW to be. But does it make up for it inside? The moment you sit on the driver’s seat you immediately feel like you’re in a BMW. It’s all very familiar inside. The dashboard, the instrument dials, and of course that brilliant iDrive system are carried over from other BMWs. So that’s a good thing. Because after all, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
I especially liked how the centre console was still angled towards the driver like it is in other BMWs. Yes, this may be a sensible and practical MPV but it’s still very much got BMW DNA.
The heads-up display system isn’t very BMW though, in fact it’s taken straight off the MINI but I understand costs had to be saved at this end of the market. Luckily, the rest of the cabin has been built to typical BMW standards. The quality of materials and level of fit and finish are hard to fault. The plastics especially are nicer than the ones used in its rival from Stuttgart, especially around the transmission tunnel.
There is decent amount of space inside. Tall people won’t be lacking for headroom, so if you like driving around in a hat the Active Tourer has an advantage over something like the smaller 1-Series. Space for rear seat occupants is acceptable, especially if they’re smaller humans. There’s adequate legroom and on a long distance journey you won’t get too many complaints from the back.
Despite this being a ‘four-wheel drive’ vehicle, there’s actually no obtrusive transmission tunnel eating up precious rear floor space so even the middle passenger has somewhere to put their feet. The trade-off though is a slightly smaller boot (70L less) than the conventional petrol or diesel powered Active Tourer since the batteries for the electric motors powering the rear-wheels are located under the boot floor. So the USP (unique selling point) of this particular version of the Active Tourer makes it less practical. Good thing the back seats can be folded with a 40:60 split.
This being the top-of-the-line variant for the Active Tourer model, you’d expect to find a lot of toys. You’d be right in thinking so. You get an electric tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, active cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot assist, voice control, bluetooth connectivity, heated electrically assisted leather seats for the front row, keyless entry and go, start/stop technology, front and rear parking sensors, and many cameras to name a few.
Of course some of these are optional extras and many more options are available so in that regard it’s still very much a BMW.
BMW’s, in my mind, have always been a step above its rivals in terms of the way they drive. They’re constantly being used as the benchmark for their respective classes because, well they’re just that good. You don’t hear people saying “xxx car is xxx company’s rival to the Audi A4 or Mercedes E-Class”. The benchmark are always the 3-Series and 5-Series. To this day I still maintain the current generation BMW M5 is one of the best all-rounders I’ve driven.
Under the short bonnet of the 225xe is a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit pumping out 134hp/98kW and 220NM of torque sending power to the front wheels. The rear wheels are driven by an electric motor producing 87hp/63kW and 386NM of torque. The combined output is 221hp/162kW and 386NM of torque. That results in a 0-100 km/h time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of a little over 200 km/h.
Unfortunately I don’t see the Active Tourer setting any benchmarks for hatchback/MPVs anytime soon. If you drive this car with the expectation of the ‘ultimate driving machine’ you’ll be disappointed. You have to change the way you approach it and the way you drive it.
Put your sensible beige trousers on, the Active Tourer is a perfectly fine car to get about town in. If your commute to and from work is less than 30km then you can get there without using any fuel at all as that’s the average range for the Active Tourer’s batteries. A full charge takes about 6 hours, so you could always charge while you’re at work if your commute is longer.
In pure EV mode, the Active Tourer becomes rear-wheel drive. It’s quite a strange sensation feeling the car push you forwards with decent urgency but with no noise. The electric motors only ever drive the rear wheels, as the petrol engine only ever sends power to the front.
When the two work together in hybrid mode, the transition from silent emissions-free driving to a combination of petrol and electricity isn’t too noticeable. In other hybrid cars I’ve driven (looking at you Honda), the transition can be felt with a bit of jerk as the petrol engine kicks in. Not so in the BMW.
There are three different modes for the hybrid drivetrain to choose from; AUTO, MAX e-DRIVE, and SAVE. AUTO is self explanatory, as the car decides on its own when to use either power sources. MAX utilises the full potential of the batteries and electric motors. SAVE is best used for long distance motorway cruising as it tries to conserve and recharge the batteries as you drive along. You can charge the 225xe via a wall charger. Not a problem if your home or office has a plug as the BMW comes with an adapter plug. The problem I had in Japan came from finding a 200V charger at motorway rest areas as most charging stations catered towards conventional Japanese EVs such as the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi PHEV.
I took the Active Tourer on a road trip from Tokyo to Osaka, about a 400km trip one way and I had it on SAVE most of the time so by the time I got into Osaka City, I could drive around in EV mode. However, it’ll only charge the battery up by 50%. The batteries can be recharged by regenerative braking.
Using SAVE on most of the motorway journey and MAX e-DRIVE in the city, I averaged around 5.8L/100km. Far from the claimed figure of 2.1L/100km but no one really matches those claimed figures in the real world. To be fair I wasn’t trying to drive as economically as possible either.
On the motorway journey, the Active Tourer was a perfectly fine companion. It kept outside noise down to a minimum, the ride didn’t break my back, and the raft of driver aids kept my stress low. However, it’s far from being the most fun motorway companion. Also, the seats were a tad on the firm side as typical of German cars.
That’d be fine if they were supported for the times you’d blast around a windy mountain road. Unfortunately, no. I did come across a fantastic mountain road which was empty 90% of the time. It would’ve been perfect for a four-wheel drive hot hatch to zip through with tight hairpins and lots of camber changes.
In the Active Tourer it just felt like a chore to drive on and I kept wishing the road ended. It’s not a tiring car to drive, far from it. The steering is light and you get great visibility out thanks to the large windows. Well, apart from the rear three-quarters which have quite a blind spot but that’s what the blind spot assist is for I suppose.
When I did try to drive it in a way I’d drive a BMW, it did lean and roll through corners typical of a tall bodied car like this. The light steering, which is great for nipping around town in, was a tad vague. There is a ‘Sport’ mode which adds weight to the steering but it felt artificial. It so desperately wants to be a sports car.
While it’s branded as an ‘iPerformance’ car, the performance isn’t blistering. It was surprisingly zippy when it finally got into its stride but there’s a bit of a delay from when you put your foot down to it finally picking up speed. I know, this isn’t a sports car but hey I’m not the one who labeled it an iPerformance. That three-cylinder MINI engine does make a nice noise though.
|Price – High to Low
|2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol
|BMW 225xe Active Tourer
|1.5-litre, three-cylinder turbo petrol + electric motor
|$68,500 (NZ-spec price)/¥¥4,880,000/$65,321
|2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel
Pros and Cons
What We Think
The Active Tourer makes sense for young families needing the extra space and practicality over a 1-Series hatchback. It’s proved to be quite popular here in Japan as customers here do prefer tall hatchbacks and MPVs as family cars. The 225xe also makes sense in a city like Tokyo where the EV range is adequate for getting around in and having the petrol engine takeover the work until you can find a charging point.
However, there are more practical family car options costing less than the Active Tourer. If you want a hybrid or an EV, there are also other options available. Hell, even BMW’s i3 is around the same price and is a proper EV, not a halfway PHEV.
But I can’t see this making much sense in New Zealand. It costs too much, the infrastructure for electric cars isn’t there yet, and let’s be honest, no one wants an MPV anymore. If you must have a posh MPV, then the 225xe sort of makes sense compared to the Mercedes B-Class as it costs less, has more power, and is more economical.
But during my time with the 225xe I couldn’t help but think the hybrid powertrain would’ve better suited in another small BMW. The Active Tourer shares the same platform as the X1 crossover and I think a X1 25xe would’ve been a better car, certainly it would be a more enticing package. A small affordable crossover plug-in hybrid? That’s literally what consumers want these days.
*At the time of writing there are now reports of MINI using the same hybrid powertrain as the 225xe on the next-generation Countryman.
|¥4,880,000/$65,321* (NZ-spec Pricing: $68,500)
Electric Panoramic Sunroof: ¥209,000/$2,797
Advanced Active Safety Package: ¥130,000/$1,740
Advanced Parking Support Package: ¥43,000/$575
BMW Connected Drive Premium: ¥57,000/$762
Metallic Paint: ¥77,000/$1,030
|1499cc three-cylinder turbocharged petrol + electric motor
|Length x Width x Height
|4342mm x 1800mm x 1586mm
|ANCAP Safety Ratings