- Published: Thursday, 18 December 2014 02:00
This 218i ActiveTourer is a strange new type of BMW, and one that purists are bound to denounce. But is it any good?
SINGAPORE - I’ve never been so tempted to crash a test car on purpose. That’s not because I despise the BMW 218i ActiveTourer and wish it ill, but because it comes with a search-and-rescue feature. Crash heavily enough to make the airbags fluff up, and the car alerts someone sitting at a control centre in the Philippines, who then calls the emergency services for you and lets them know where you are, based on the car’s satnav info. That tree over there never looked more inviting.
Of course, it’d be a shame to smash up a new BMW, although I’d imagine the purists denouncing this one as an imposter.
That’s because the ActiveTourer is BMW’s first front-drive car, while all the others have their rear wheels (or all four of them) powered by the engine. It actually shares its basic architecture with the current generation of the Mini Cooper.
But can you actually tell? As a matter of fact, yes. The ActiveTourer drives differently from the other BMWs, and if it were possible to pilot a car safely with a blindfold on, you’d never guess its origins from how it feels at the wheel.
That’s not to say it drives badly, though. The steering isn’t quick and the tyres aren’t massively grippy, but the BMW has an unruffled way about it when you hustle it through corners. The body, though tall, never feels like it’s about to keel over no matter how hard you charge.
Overall the 218i ActiveTourer is much more steady than, say, me after a couple of Paulaners. (And a much prettier sight, I should add.)
The engine burbles quite nicely, too, with a three-cylinder voice that turns into a pleasant chirrup as you build up the revs. It’s a turbo unit, so it feels grunty from low revs, and if you keep things between 2,000 and 5,000rpm it hauls the BMW along pretty smartly.
The ride quality over poor tarmac is pleasingly pillowy, and ultimately I’d call the BMW a pleasant car to drive, as opposed to a thrilling one (like the 2 Series Coupe, for instance).
But this is meant to be The Useful BMW above all else, which is why it’s essentially a box on wheels. That box contains five seats, but the rear ones tilt and slide so you can play with the amount of boot space available.
If you’ve been cursed with kids, the pram and other assorted clutter should slot nicely into the rear anyway, but there’s genuine versatility on offer. I used it to cart a treadmill somewhere, which is something you couldn’t do with a 5 Series, so a couple of bicycles would probably fit with ease.
The cabin is home to a large number of bins and storage compartments, too, and even under the boot floor there’s a fairly deep space into which I managed to stuff a soft bag with four days’ clothing inside.
Mind you if you really wanted more space, the same money would get you a larger car, like Honda’s CR-V. That’s longer and wider by 13.8cm and 2cm respectively (though its wheelbase is 4cm shorter), and it has a larger boot.
You’ll have to really want a BMW to stump up the cash for this, though it’s not without its premium features. There’s satnav, for instance, and the tailgate can be opened and closed with a button. If you approach the back with your hands full or, say, cartons of Paulaner under your arm, the right kicking gesture makes the boot open up for you in a way that Ali Baba would have envied.
Some cheap plastics here and there bring the tone of the cabin down, but for the most part the ActiveTourer does feel nice and posh inside. If anything, it feels more expensive inside than its chief rival, the Mercedes B-Class.
Its on-road manners are there, and it’s certainly a useful little car, but I’m undecided about its sheer desirability. I think the best small BMW is the 2 Series Coupe, but then I haven’t got kids so I can spend my money (my theoretical money, that is) frivolously. I suppose if I did have kids, I would feel mildly consoled by the 218i ActiveTourer instead.
NEED TO KNOW BMW 218i ActiveTourer Luxury
Engine 1499cc, 12V, turbo in-line three
Power 136bhp at 4500-6000rpm
Torque 220Nm at 1250rpm
Gearbox 8-speed Steptronic automatic
Top Speed 205km/h
0-100km/h 9.2 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.2L/100km (combined)
Honda CR-V, Mercedes-Benz B 180 Sport