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First Drive: 2015 BMW 225i Active Tourer [Review]

Join us as we take BMW\'s first-ever front-wheel drive car for a spin.

There are several pivotal models in BMW's history. The 1602 helped the Munich-based automaker move into the mainstream and gain a secure foothold in the United States. The original e24-based M6 marked the welcomed democratization of BMW's M division, and the first X5 paved the way for the company's entry into the lucrative world of SUVs and crossovers.

Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show last March, the 2-Series Active Tourer signals the arrival of front-wheel drive BMWs. As expected, the idea has been ill-received by brand purists - a front-wheel drive BMW, say it ain't so! Ten years ago, finding a transversally-mounted engine under a hood adorned by the black, blue and white roundel emblem was as likely as a proverbial cold day in hell but times change, markets evolve and sometimes the unthinkable becomes inevitable.

Don't let the name fool you: The 2-Series Active Tourer shares very little with the 2-Series coupe that is sold on our shores. The Active Tourer stretches 170.9 inches long, 70.8 inches wide and 61.2 inches tall, dimensions that make it smaller, shorter but marginally wider than BMW's own X1. BMW isn't shy about the fact that the Active Tourer was developed to go head-to-head against the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, a similarly-packaged people-mover that is well into its second generation.

While the Euro-spec Active Tourer tested here has been on sale on the Old Continent for several weeks, BMW has not decided whether or not to add the people-mover to its lineup in the United States.

Under the SkinThe Active Tourer rides on a relatively new platform that also underpins the third-gen MINI Hardtop. The platform is highly modular, and different evolutions of it will provide the basis for a wide array of models over the next couple of years including many future MINIs, the next X1 and an all-but-confirmed seven-seater variant of the Active Tourer.

In Europe, the Active Tourer is currently offered with two gasoline-burning engines and a lone turbodiesel mill. The gasoline-powered models are called 218i and 225i, respectively, and the oil-burner is christened 218d. Like rival Mercedes, BMW has gradually stepped away from a surgically-precise nomenclature system and the nameplates no longer reflect the displacement of the engine.

The 218i is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine that makes 136 horsepower and 162 lb-ft. of torque. Also found in the aforementioned MINI Hardtop and, in tuned form, in the gas-electric i8 coupe, the engine is linked to either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed Steptronic automatic unit.

The 218d packs 150 horsepower and a healthy 242 lb-ft. of torque from a 2.0-liter turbo four. It comes standard with a six-speed stick, and a new eight-speed Steptronic gearbox is available at an extra cost.

Exclusively offered with the eight-speed automatic, the 225i (tested here) gains a 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged four-cylinder engine that pumps out 231 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque, enough grunt to send the Active Tourer from zero to 62 mph in 6.6 seconds - that's better than a MINI Cooper S.

The lineup will be expanded next month with the addition of the entry-level 216d, the 220d and the 220i. Additionally, BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system will be made available on the 220d and the 225i.

On the RoadWith 231 ponies under the hood, the 225i has more than enough pep for every day driving yet it remains well-mannered and comfortable. Under normal driving conditions the shifts fired off by the eight-speed are nearly imperceptible and the gearbox doesn't hesitate before finding the right gear, an annoying trait in some seven- and eight-speed automatics currently sold in Europe.

The 225i's Drive Experience Control (DEC) function allows the driver to choose from one of three modes: COMFORT, SPORT and ECO PRO. With the DEC left in COMFORT mode, the Active Tourer is a refined way to haul around a family and a trunk-full of gear. The eight-speed noticeably lowers rpms at high speeds so the drivetrain is quiet on the highway, making for a relaxing drive hour after hour. The Active Tourer is easy to maneuver in tight parking garages or around traffic in big cities because it boasts a compact footprint in spite of its people-moving vocation.

Being a BMW, the Active Tourer should be able to haul more than kids and engineers didn't overlook that - in fact, they boast the 225i can lap Germany's famed Nürburgring in under nine minutes. A flick of the aluminum toggle switch located at the bottom of the center console kicks in SPORT mode and completely transforms the 225i. The steering becomes stiffer and the automatic transmission holds each gear longer, though SPORT mode is best enjoyed by taking advantage of the shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.

In SPORT mode, the 225i powers through corners with all of the confidence expected from a BMW. The suspension is primarily tuned for comfort so there is some body roll but it's not alarming or disturbing in any way. The wheels respond directly to steering input turn after turn and the pads grip the discs with almost no fade. Few people expect a tall people-mover to pack this much of a punch; SPORT mode turns the 225i into a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The third mode is called ECO PRO. It is designed to maximize gas mileage by noticeably reducing the throttle response, disconnecting the engine from the transmission when the car is coasting (a feature only offered on cars with an automatic transmission) and turning the brake energy recuperation system up a notch. BMW states the ECO PRO mode improves gas mileage by up to 20-percent in ideal driving conditions, a statistic that we were not able to verify during our drive. We averaged around 37 mpg in a mixed cycle when driving in COMFORT mode with a light right foot, not far from the 39 mpg the Active Tourer is officially rated at.

Life AboardAnyone who has driven a recent BMW will feel right at home in the Active Tourer. The instrument cluster is primarily made up of two very clear analog gauges, the steering is commanded through a familiar three-spoke multi-function wheel and the center console is noticeably oriented towards the driver. High-quality materials are used throughout the cockpit.

A 8.8-inch screen that sticks out from the top of the center console runs BMW's intuitive iDrive infotainment system. The bulk of iDrive's functions can be accessed via the controller knob located between the front seats or by voice commands.

The emphasis that BMW put on creating a family-friendly car is evident throughout the Active Tourer. The driver sits nearly an inch higher than in a X1 and over four inches higher than in a 1-Series hatchback. This provides a commanding view of the road ahead but the thick A-pillar is obtrusive when going around a sharp bend. All occupants have a sufficient amount of head, shoulder and leg room, the 2 never feels cramped, and loading bulky items in the trunk is made easier by a low floor and a large hatch. Interestingly, the rear seats can individually slide forward to clear up more trunk space or slide back to free up extra leg room.

The Active Tourer offers 16.5 cubic feet of trunk space with five occupants on board, about the same amount as a X1. The rear seats fold down electronically at the push of a button (a standard feature regardless of engine or trim level) to free up a very usable total of 53.3 cubic feet.

BMW proudly claims the Active Tourer features the same amount of electronic driving aids as a 5-Series. It can be ordered with a camera-based adaptive cruise control, a traffic jam assist function that can take complete control of the car at low speeds, automatic high beams, collision / pedestrian warning with a city braking function, park assist and a segment-exclusive heads-up display. As expected, most of these features come at an extra cost.

Leftlane's Bottom LineA lot of naysayers were quick to write off the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer as a heresy solely because of its front-wheel drive platform. That's unfair, it has all of the attributes buyers look for in a BMW: It's dynamic to drive, it's technologically advanced and the build quality inside and out is above average.

Dyed-in-the-wool BMW enthusiasts will take some time to accept the Active Tourer, understandably, but its target audience will welcome it with open arms. That audience includes current BMW owners who want a roomy-yet-compact alternative to their 1- or 2-Series without moving up to a 3-Series, but it also encompasses a new set of younger buyers that will likely be first-time BMW owners.

This strategy has worked wonders for Mercedes-Benz's B-Class over the past decade, there's no reason why it won't with the 2-Series Active Tourer.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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