BMW 223i M Sport Active Tourer UK review

Is the MPV still relevant in today’s SUV market? We can see why the 2 Series Active Tourer, now in its second generation, thinks so.

What is it?

The MPV is in danger of disappearing. Its place on many price lists will be taken by SUV-infused family vehicles that offer more space and functionality but also have the me-too appeal that buyers are currently seeking.

BMW has not lost its way. It just launched the second-generation 2 Series Active Tourer. This compact people carrier is similar to the Citroen C4 spaceTourer or Renault Grand Scenic that were discontinued in the UK due to slow sales.

This has not been an issue for the Active Tourer thus far. Since its launch in 2015, the original Active Tourer has sold a fair 40,000 units. Even so, the brand isn’t taking any chances, so in a neat marketing sleight of hand, the box-fresh BMW is being presented as a ‘crossover-influenced’ model. You see what they did?

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What is the 2 Series Active Tourer exactly? It’s an entirely new machine. This is a replacement of the original. The original had the distinction of being BMW’s first front-wheel-drive machine. This paved the way for the F40-generation BMW 1 Series. The brand’s most recent FAAR front-wheel drive architecture is used to support it. This means that the car can house BMW’s latest Gen5 plug in electric drivetrains.

It aims to squeeze as many interior spaces as possible into a footprint that is only 67mm shorter than a 1 series and 25mm wider. This means that the design follows the one-box MPV template and has a higher height. What about the crossover parts? There aren’t any obvious ones. The 2 Series has abandoned the 2 Series’ raised ride heights and bulky body cladding in favor of styling that takes a few cues from its X-rated offroader range.

The launch will include a 218d diesel engine and two 48V mild hybrid-assisted petrols (the 220-i and 223, respectively), but later this year, a pair plug-in hybrids will be available. The 230xe will have a 322bhp engine, while the 225xe has a 230xe. Both can also reach 56 miles of WLTP-stamped EV distance thanks to a 14.2kWh lithium battery.

The range has been restructured to Sport, Luxury, and M Sport trims. All versions get the latest driver assistance system from the brand. However, you will likely turn most of them off once you have pulled the lane keep assistant. Prices start at PS30.625 and go up to PS36.390 with the arrival of PHEV models.

It’s what?

Let’s start with the inside. An MPV’s ability to be family-friendly is what makes it successful or fail. If it doesn’t offer more space and practicality, why buy a car that isn’t as simple to drive or dynamically as an SUV?

Although the 2 Series is not an SUV, it sits higher than a traditional hatch. Plus, the larger windows let in more light and give you a better view. The interior feels brighter and more airy, despite its increased size.

The Active Tourer’s cabin is not innovative, but it offers a useful increase of space over the 1 Series, despite being roughly the same size on the road. The back seat offers generous head and leg space, and the 40/20/40-split folding bench behind can slide back and forth, allowing you to either make more room for passengers or luggage.

You have plenty of storage with large doors bins in the front and back. A big console cubby has a handy smartphone holder and wireless charging pad. A large trinket tray is located between the front seats. An armrest, which also houses the gear selector toggle as well as the iDrive infotainment controls, is ‘floating above’ this tray. It lacks the thoughtful touches and lidded hiding places that made it so distinctive from its French counterparts.

The boot measures 406 litres when the seats are in place and 1455 litres when they are folded down. You will also find some useful storage below the boot floor. The best part is that the battery for hybrid versions of the FAAR architecture is now located under the floor between axles. This means there is no loss in luggage or space for passengers.

The 2 Series looks great behind the wheel thanks to its curved dash display that is already found on the electric i4/iX models. The set-up includes a 10.25in instrument cluster, 10.7in infotainment display, and the brand’s Operating System 8 iDrive Software, which performs faster than ever before.

It’s easy to use and looks great at a stop, but it can be frustrating when you move around. You have to constantly tap at the screen to access basic functions that are usually reserved for traditional buttons. The augmented-reality satellite navigation that overlays directions on a live camera view of the road ahead works brilliantly.

BMW tried to capture the spirit of its sportier models in the Active Tourer. Our 223i M Sport test vehicle felt as agile as a car this size.

The 215bhp 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol combined with the standard seven speed dual-clutch gearbox delivers a warm-hatch-baiting time of 7.0sec to get you from 0-60mph. It’s claimed to be capable of reaching 150mph. This is a bit mind-boggling. The mild-hybrid 18bhp mild-hybrid engine adds low-speed torque fill (and occasionally torque steer) to give it a powerful boost on the line and during overtaking.

Although it isn’t the most attractive unit, it has a nice synthesized accompaniment to its dull note when extended. However, it’s easy enough and works well with dual-clutch automatic. Only occasionally is the transmission wrong-footed, particularly at low speeds as it and the stop-start system contrive to deliver some learner-driver-specification jerky getaways.

The brakes are another problem. They lack the initial response that inspires confidence. Also, they have a slow pedal action that can often lead to you needing to make sudden inputs because the car isn’t slowing down as fast as you expected. There’s nothing wrong in having a lot of stopping power.

Although the steering is responsive and quick, it’s not the best in terms of feedback. However, the 2 Series has strong grip which allows it to hold onto your chosen line with tenacity. In tight turns it can feel disjointed as the rear axle struggles to keep up with the front. The ActiveTourer is able to scythe this way with admirable composure in faster bends where more weight is being placed through the chassis.

M Sport’s standard adaptive dampers help to improve the handling. They provide strong body control even in the softest settings, so the 2 Series doesn’t feel as heavy or tall as the tape measure and scales suggest. However, the Active Tourer doesn’t feel as cosseting and comfortable as you would expect from a family-oriented runaround.

Although it’s not unpleasant, the BMW rides in a smooth manner on any surface other than table-smooth. Expect the Sport model with smaller 17-inch wheels to feel more flexible. (Our car was on optional 19in alloys.

Do I need one?

It is a shame that cars such as the 2 Series Active Tourer are in decline. In a world where style and appearance didn’t matter, these machines could be the family car of choice rather than the heavier, bluff-fronted SUVs that offer no real advantage over traditional estates or saloons.

BMW will undoubtedly find loyal buyers. They will love the car’s combination between hatchback handling on the roads and an interior that is flexible and spacious enough to rival an executive saloon. This is a great option for people who are constantly carrying around a family with their belongings. It’s also more versatile, dynamic, and better-equipped than the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, which is its closest rival.

However, it is likely that the Sport and Luxury 220i models are more practical and more efficient than this extravagant range-topper.