Tuesday, May 26, 2015

First Drive: 2015 BMW 2 Series Active Tourer (w/ Video)

When BMW unveiled the 2 Series Active Tourer, it felt like an arrow straight through the heart of purists. For so long, they held on to treasured brand values like sporty designs and of course, rear wheel drive. They tolerated Chris Bangle, but this? BMW’s first-ever MPV, first-ever front-wheel drive car, and first-ever use of a three-cylinder engine? It isn’t just an arrow—it’s an arrow through an arrow through an arrow. It’s a move that makes Robin Hood proud. Imagine the other German brands snickering, “Whut iz wrong with ze water in Munich? Too much Paulander?!

The 2 Series Active Tourer sure feels like the unwanted child, but dismissing it does a great disservice to the people behind it. Even if you take away the marketing speak and focus purely on the driving, it’s a BMW through and through; most of the time, at least. And the best judge is of course, the seat of your pants.

A fleet of six 2 Series Active Tourers awaited everyone upon arrival at the Bacolod-Silay International Airport. Standing in varying shades of gray and a solitary one in blue, the general consensus is that it looks like a BMW, with the exception of the stubbier hood. It relies on crisp, clean lines to give it visual drama while remaining subdued in its execution. It’s peppered with trademark design cues without looking like a caricature. It doesn’t call attention to itself nor does it blend too much into the crowd. It rightfully balances style and function, fun and seriousness.

Split three to a car, it swallowed everyone’s overnight bags with room to spare. After pressing the power tailgate shut, everyone occupied the passenger seats for the first part of this road trip. Opening the rear doors reveals the reason for BMW’s madness: it’s roomy. And not just roomy for its footprint roomy; it’s roomy as in roomier than a 3 Series roomy.  And because of its front-wheel drive layout, the center tunnel at the back’s nonexistent. If James Deakin could comfortably cross his legs while leaving enough space without you having to whiff the scent of his Sketchers shoes, then it’s totally a winner.

The first stop of the day is Autobahn BMW in Talisay City where dealer principals Kalene and Alex Rodela gave a Maskara welcome before giving the group a tour of the facility. The siblings then joined the rest of the group onward for the rest of the drive. The second stop is The Ruins, a former mansion turned tourist attraction for lunch and the prerequisite photo op. After filling up on necessary grub and shots, it’s time to put on the driving gloves and stretch the 2 Series Active Tourer’s legs to the final destination: Punta Bulata, a resort some 160 kilometers away from Talisay.

Settling into the driver’s seat, it’s apparent that the 2 Series Active Tourer feels like a BMW, but at the same time, it doesn’t. There’s some familiarity in everything from the control layout to the driving position to iDrive, but there are marked differences in the details as well. The instrument panel may have the dual-round cluster, only it’s squished here; so squished that the information display gets covered by the steering wheel. Second, the gear lever has the PRND stamped on the lever itself rather than the base—a BMW trademark—only it’s not electronically actuated. Next, the most comfortable driving position isn’t low to the ground like a typical Bimmer. It’s higher up, closer to an MPV. The list goes on and on, but you get the picture: it’s a mix of the familiar and the new. This is something echoed in the way it drives.

The best part of the entire experience is the 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine. It’s deserving of all the accolades with its smooth performance and gobs of useable power. There’s no unwanted vibration or harshness. Only if you’re overly critical, you can hear the odd soundtrack before it’s drowned out by the turbo whine. Like any other turbocharged motor, there’s a bit of delay in the power delivery, but once engaged, it makes itself known. The spec sheet reads 136 horsepower and 220 Nm of torque, but it feels much more. Designed for European super highways as well as tight city streets, the 6-speed automatic is flexible in giving imperceptible shifts in traffic while easily achieves triple-digit speeds. The 218i, as this model’s officially known, does 140 km/h with room to spare.

Through corners, it behaves like a typical BMW regardless of is driven wheels. Ninety percent of the time, it’s indistinguishable from a 3 Series. It has a firm, but controlled ride that absorbs even the worse of road cuts. Smaller undulations do make their way to the rear passengers, but for the most part, it’s alright even for long journeys. It’s only in the final ten percent or during more extreme levels of cornering where the 2 Series Active Tourer shows its front-wheel drive layout. You feel it being pulled into a corner rather than being pushed into it. There’s a hint of understeer exacerbated by the light steering. Nonetheless, it still feels like a high-speed precision driving instrument.

As the group arrived at Punta Bulata for some R&R, it’s time to rate the 2 Series Active Tourer. Objectively, the level of performance is close but not at par with say, a 3 Series. But again, it’s not designed to outdo a 3 Series. Rather, it’s meant to show what BMW could do if they think outside the box. After all, if you’re tasked to make the brand’s first MPV, first front-driver, and first use of a three-cylinder engine, you need to make sure it’s a technical tour-de-force. You need to leverage all your know-how without sacrificing long-held traditions. In that regard, the 2 Series Active Tourer nails it. It’s roomy, comfortable, and practical while retaining the same sporty demeanor and luxurious feel expected out of a BMW. It’s not going to please everyone for sure, but unwanted child this is not. It communicates that joy need not be limited by body style, driven wheels, or the engine. Joy is in every BMW, even if it’s got a passenger with smelly shoes.

1 comment:

  1. Mazda really took inspiration from BMW. At first glance, I thought the interior looked extremely similar to a mazda3