The arrival of the 2 Series Active Tourer is as mould-breaking for BMW as the i3 electric car the carmaker launched earlier this year. While the i3 is far more technologically advanced, the 2 Series Active Tourer is the first car in decades to depart from the BMW brand association with rear-wheel drive and longitudinally mounted engines. It is also the premium brand’s first people carrier.
Until this month, I had never heard a BMW executive talk proudly about a new model’s cup holders, storage bins or sliding rear seat. Yet now that group of car buyers with a Renault Scenic and a Volkswagen Golf SV on its consideration list has a compelling reason to visit their local BMW showroom. With strong residual values, this model range, which starts at £21,345, could pinch custom from the mainstream brands as well as its premium rival, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
BMW product manager Alex Morgan said the crucial target customers for the 2 Series Active Tourer include ‘empty nesters’ who desire a premium car that can transport their grandchildren with their accoutrements. These have been typically more conservative than BMW has previously appealed to and value rationale aspects such as comfort and practicality.
Small families are naturally another key market to capture, while Morgan suggested a smaller target could be independent professionals such as photographers who need space for their kit. Dealers are also able to offer a range of accessories to suit individual lifestyles, from backrest bags and folding tables to roof boxes.
Marketing is already under way, with heavy experiential focus. “We can’t rely on people coming into the dealership, we have to put the car in front of people,” Morgan said.
A digital launch campaign now under way may be followed by some TV exposure later but that is still to be confirmed. Corporate demonstrators are already going out to some major fleet and leasing companies.
BMW UK has relatively modest sales expectations – around 5,000 units annually split equally between private buyers and company car choosers – because this is unknown territory for the brand. “There is probably much more potential for this car but because it is new to us we are being quite conservative,” Morgan said. He hopes three quarters of sales will be bringing new customers into the BMW brand.
This month's launch line-up comprises two powertrain variants: the 218i turbocharged three cylinder 1.5-litre petrol and the 218d 2.0-litre turbodiesel. Both drive superbly, with plenty of overtaking power available, although the steering response lacks the immediacy and directness enjoyed by most BMWs. The 218d will appeal to company car drivers thanks to its 109g/km CO2 emissions and 68.9mpg efficiency.
From November more variants will join the range: 220i and 225i petrol units and 216d and 220d units, with all-wheel drive available for the highest powered models.
Equipment on the entry SE trim includes rear parking sensors, DAB radio, Bluetooth, a 6.5in colour screen, dual zone climate control and keyless start. Of particular interest to prospective customers will be its two rear and one front Isofix child seat mounts, and sliding rear seats that fold flat for large loads with the simple press of an electric button inside the boot once the powered tailgate has opened.
For a £1,250 premium buyers get Sport specification with 17in alloys, sports seats and upgraded trim and upholstery, while £2,000 premium gets a Luxury specification with leather upholstery, wood trim and chrome exterior details. The range-topping M Sport trim, available from November for a £3,000 premium, boasts 18in alloys, leather upholstery, M Sport stiffer suspension, runflat tyres, aluminium interior trim.
Those 'empty nesters' sought by BMW ought to steer clear of this model however, as the ride is too firm and uncomfortable.
Driver assistance systems include a head-up display, adaptive LED headlamps, active cruise control and park assist, while BMW Emergency Call, fitted as standard, ensures the driver is a button press away from summoning help should the occasion arise.
Compared with established rivals such as the Scenic and C-Max, the 2 Series Active Tourer feels slightly lacking in absolute practicality and comfort. But the fact that it has that crucial premium quality and BMW badge means many buyers will forgive it.