Driven tests the family-friendly BMW 2 Series Active Tourer
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BMW picked the mountain biking region of Austria to launch its 2 Series Active Tourer
BMW's world headquarters is shaped to resemble a four-cylinder car engine with the famous 22-storey joined towers in Munich dominating the landscape.
But, with the third-generation Mini Cooper, the stunning electric i8 sportscar and all-new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer all using a 1.5-litre, three-cylinder engine, the company may have to create a triple tower block in Munich to celebrate the success of the new powertrain.
BMW is using its Leipzig plant to build the two very different vehicles - the limited supercar i8, aimed at rich businesspeople, and the family-friendly, high volume Active Tourer.
Production of the vehicles started in July. The i8 had a high-profile launch at the Munich headquarters while the international launch of the Active Tourer was at the Austrian ski resort of Solden.
The area was chosen as it was the "holiday region of future customers who will be active, and enjoy hill walks, climbing and skiing," said BMW's launch manager Stefan Karch at the international press conference.
The company expects "40 to 50 per cent of customers to be in Europe with China taking 10 to 15 per cent of the product".
Set to arrive in New Zealand in November, the front-wheel drive will be available here in two variants.
BMW launched the 2 Series Active Tourer 2-litre diesel in Austria - where the locals were very friendly.
The 1.5-litre petrol paired with a six-speed automatic will be priced from $51,900.
The three-cylinder engine produces 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque.
The diesel will be priced at $62,900 and powered by a four-cylinder 2-litre engine producing 110kW and 330Nm, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
BMW New Zealand spokesman Edward Finn told Driven at the launch that the company was expecting "70 per cent conquest rate" from such brands as the Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5.
"For $5000 more than a top-end Japanese SUV you can get a premium vehicle from BMW," he said.
The Active Tourer's closest European rivals are the Peugeot 3008, Volkswagen's Tiguan and Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
Finn didn't know volume at the New Zealand launch, but expected that the five-seater would next year be in the "top five" for the company's sales in New Zealand.
There were only two models available at the Austria launch - the 2-litre diesel, paired with a six-speed manual (the transmission will not be available in New Zealand), and the eight-speed auto with the 2.5-litre petrol model that Australia is taking.
The vehicles will also be available in New Zealand with Sport and Luxury Line packages costing $1760 and $3000-$3500 respectively.
Options include 18in alloys over standard 17in, electric sports seats and the $3500 Navigation Plus package that has a personal favourite - Heads Up Display, with speed and directions reflected on to a retractable plastic screen set in front of the front window.
Away from the Mini, and the company's short-lived ownership of Rover, the 2 Series Active Tourer is BMW's first foray into front-wheel drive, but rival Mercedes has produced the family-friendly front-wheel-drive B-Class for nearly 10 years.
BMW realised that by configuring the vehicle with front-wheel drive, and thus losing the driveshaft, space is freed up inside. The company is so impressed that it will be using this architecture on more products, with the rumour mill's top candidate being a 1 Series Active Tourer.
But the focus for Munich at the moment is the 2 Series Active Tourer, with the people mover-esque vehicle sitting at 4.342m long, 1.8m wide and 1.555m high with a 2.670m wheelbase.
The extra interior space is used to its advantage - providing the driver with a cockpit style area; adding 40:20:40 sliding rear seats and a large boot with a hidden space under it for extra storage.
But to crack the family market that has pushed the compact SUV segment in the past few years the seating positions are higher than a sedan, allowing the driver to look ahead in traffic.
The headspace and legroom in front and back is impressive, especially if you add a panoramic sunroof ($3000).
The rear of BMW's 2 Series Active Tourer is similar to the X1
The cabin is notably quiet - even when navigating the pitted bitumen country roads between Solden and Innsbruck - and the layout of the dash is clean despite the 6.8in control display screen sitting on top of it rather than in it, a personal preference.
The exterior is obviously BMW, with the kidney grille dominating the front of the vehicle and a large rear bumper giving it an SUV-style appearance.
A newly developed chassis comprising of a single-joint spring strut axle and a multi-link rear axle aims to give dynamic driving and precision steering.
That was tested on the roads of Austria - first the 130km/h speed limit autobahn out of Innsbruck, then the secondary roads, before climbing up to the alpine area.
The car has two driving modes, eco pro or sport, with a toggle used to engage either.
With a solid steering wheel and firm steering in eco pro mode, the Active Tourer holds the road firmly though when put into corners at pace there is feedback into the steering.
Put the car into sport mode and it perks up, with the chassis responding to the more energetic ride.
The New Zealand-bound diesel engine is suitably quiet and provides plenty of pep and it is a pity the 1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine wasn't available for the launch, though having driven the new Mini Cooper it will be interesting to test it when combined with the Active Tourer.
Style-wise it's a good looking vehicle that would make an impression sitting in front of a school ready for picking up the offspring or grandkids.
BMW's electronics integration manager Pascal Forissier drove the Active Tourer for a number of weeks as part of his job, and as a dad of two young children was impressed with the layout of the vehicle.
"When the kids are small you need all the room in the boot for their paraphernalia so you move the seats forward so you can fit their gear. When they are older, they need more leg room so you can slide the seats back," he tells Driven.
His job was to say yes or no to the electric ideas. So what is his favourite electronic inclusion in the Active Tourer?
The fuel efficiency rating setting is his immediate response.
In the setting, the control display screen shows you how efficiently you are driving, "a sort of game" says Forissier, where you aim for five stars - a task he achieved in one day's drive.
The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer has a large screen and idrive; an optional Heads Up Display plastic screen; and the driver's area is a cockpit style.
And as a dad he was also impressed with the team's rear-view camera that was low enough that you could see a toddler playing behind the car.
And with such features BMW makes no apologies for aiming at the family market, though "Baby on Board" signs and "My Stick Figure Family" decals are optional, thank goodness.
Dial dinner on the road
When the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer goes on sale in New Zealand in November, the company will also introduce a concierge service and possibly an SOS system aligned to the car's connectdrive.
Using the system, you can ring BMW NZ's operator in the Philippines and ask for information on such topics as nearby service stations, or restaurants at your destination.
The operator will then send the information to your satnav system or even ring the restaurant and make a reservation.
BMW NZ is still deciding whether it will include its SOS system.
With this, the car will phone an emergency number if you have an accident and give the operator your details.
The service is available in Australia, and has been used since Ford introduced the Kuga there.