By Damien O'Carroll
The BMW 218i Active Tourer is something of an oddity n the BMW naming structure. You see, the 2 Series moniker was originally going to go on sleek, sporty versions of the 1 Series cars, much as the 4 Series and 6 Series cars line up with the 3 and 5 Series.
But the 218i Active Tourer goes and messes all that up by being a small five-seat, five-door tall-boy hatch of MPV-esque proportions. Which is, um, confusing.
Anyway, strange naming convention aside, the Active Tourer also messes with a more fundamental BMW truth by being, of all things, the first front-wheel drive BMW! Gasp!
Based on the same platform as the five-door Mini (tested p43) , the Active Tourer also shares the Mini’s brilliant 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine. But, while under the skin it is the same, it couldn’t be more different.
The 218i is conservatively handsome on the outside, but aside from the BMW nose it is rather surprisingly generic-looking – like a mid-90s Japanese car. It does look better with bigger wheels, but it is generally a hard shape to make particularly appealing. BMW at least hasn't made it ugly. Just bland.
Inside things get more interesting, with a very BMW interior – high quality, excellent materials, fantastic fit and finish. It is very comfortable and well stocked with specification for a small car. It boasts an excellent driving position and brilliant visibility, thanks to the tall exterior dimensions. It is also very cleverly packaged, with huge amounts of rear legroom.
The little 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine is as brilliant here as it is in the Mini Cooper, and it even possibly sounds better in the BMW, with a deeper growl and smoother tone, while the fantastic transmission makes the most of the eager little engine.
Out on the road is where the similarities between the BMW and Mini should be most obvious, but interestingly (and to BMW’s eternal credit) they really don’t feel the same at all. The BMW boasts a softer, more civilised ride than the five-door Mini, and is extremely comfortable and compliant.
It feels remarkably like a BMW with only a slight hint of Mini, except for up closer to the limit, where the softer suspension gives in to understeer sooner than the eager Mini. And, yes, it does feel odd being in a BMW that gently errs towards understeer...
When it all comes down to it, it is hard not to genuinely like the 2 Series Active Tourer. It has a great chassis and a fantastic engine and transmission. While the purists may moan about a FWD BMW, the reality is that the vast majority of people who buy it won’t be aware (or even care) which wheels put the power down.
Comfortable, well specced, brilliantly packaged and well-priced, the 218i is a very worthy car.
It just makes no sense to call it a 2 Series though...
Body type 5-door hatch
Drive Front-wheel drive
Engine type Inline 3-cylinder petrol
Engine capacity 1,499cc
Max power 100kW/4,500-6,000rpm
Max torque 220Nm/1,250rpm
Fuel consumption 5.1L/100km
C02 emissions 119g/km
0-100km/h 9.2 seconds
Front suspension MacPherson strut
Rear suspension Multi-link
Roof rails Yes
ABS brakes Yes
Air bags Six
Stability programme Yes
Air conditioning Manual
Lap/diagonal belts Five
Satellite navigation Yes
Electric seats No
Burglar alarm Yes
Panic button No
Boot release Yes
Cargo cover Yes
Boot capacity n/a
Wheel type 17-inch alloy
Spare tyre run flats
ANCAP rating Five stars