BMW 2 Series Active Tourer review: practicality before performance in this premium people mover

Second generation of BMW’s ‘lifestyle activity vehicle’ is a sensible but expensive alternative in a sea of SUVs

The BMW 2 Series line-up is a bit of an odd thing, coming in three quite distinct ‘flavours’ that some brands would set out as completely different model. There’s the standard two-door coupe, the Gran Coupe four-door saloon and the Active Tourer, a sort of mini-MPV-style five-door hatchback which bears no immediate resemblance to the other two 2s.

From the side and rear the Active Tourer is perfectly pleasant in a generic tall hatchback sort of way. The M Sport body kit and wheels give it a bit of presence but it’s most fairly anonymous. However, like most models in the current BMW range, it is cursed with a gigantic gaping grille that takes up three quarters of the car’s front end and, in our test car’s chrome finish, makes it look like a beaver wearing braces. Sadly, despite near global derision for this awful design concept, BMW seems fully committed to burdening every new vehicle with an ever-larger and uglier grille.

Still as an owner, once you’re on board you don’t have to look at it and can instead focus on the well-appointed high-tech interior, which is a lot more pleasant. Despite being a family car, the first impression is that everything is very driver focused thanks to how the dash and twin screens curve towards the driver. Like almost everyone, BMW has removed most physical controls in order to declutter the interior, with just gear and drive selectors, plus an unnecessary volume control on the centre console. Everything else is controlled via steering wheel buttons or the 10.7-inch touchscreen, which features the latest BMW Operating System 8 with its seemingly endless array of connected services and customisation.

The interior design is understated, with decent material quality across the board but our test car felt pretty dreary thanks to the heavy use of black leather and ‘Sensatec’ faux suede, which contrast blue stitching and ambient lighting couldn’t lift. It’s a practical place, though, with loads of storage in the door pockets and a huge open space beneath the split level centre armrest. The vertical smartphone charger is a clever use of space and there’s even a usable glovebox, plus four USB-C charge points - vital for any modern family.

The new Active Tourer is built on a new platform and is bigger in every way than its predecessor, which was intended as a sort of compact premium people carrier. In usual BMW fashion those up front are well catered for in every direction and the M Sport seats are brilliantly comfortable while the fairly upright seats means there’s impressive rear legroom. The rear row is definitely a 2+1 arrangement, though, with good shoulder room for outer passengers but a narrow raised lump in the middle. The seats split in a useful 40:20:40 configuration and slide, allowing you to expand the boot space from 415 litres to 505 litres.

The car’s new platform allows for a wider range of drivetrains than before, including mild and plug-in hybrid options that offer up to 322bhp and 57 miles of EV range. We tested the regular 223i petrol which comes with 48V mild hybrid tech as standard. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit develops 215bhp and 267lb ft, which is good enough to cover the 0-62mph run in 7.0 seconds while returning up to 47.1mpg. A seven-speed dual clutch auto is standard across the range. Like many DCT transmissions, it can be stuttery and jerky at low speeds but out of town it’s a smooth and unobtrusive companion.

BMW’s sales blurb will tell you the 2 Series Active Tourer has “typical BMW driving dynamics”, which shows just how far marketing departments are willing to stretch the truth. It feels like any other bog-standard tallish front-wheel-drive family machine with an occasional diversion into torque steer if you’re too heavy with the throttle. It is perfectly composed and controlled, if a little firmly sprung at low speeds, but any attempt to claim this is somehow worthy of BMW’s “ultimate driving machine” tag is well wide of the mark. That doesn’t really matter in what is supposed to be a practical, spacious family car but if you’re buying it because you think it’ll handle like a 3 Series, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Even the adaptive suspension of M Sport variants doesn’t help but the high-spec trim line does bring a wealth of technology and equipment ranging from 18-inch alloys and adaptive matrix headlights to massage seats and a powered tailgate. There’s also a healthy driver assistance package, although touches such as adaptive cruise control and lane control assist are extra.  Our car also featured the optional parking assist plus with extra cameras that can double up as a dash cam and reverse assist that can retrace the car’s route for the last 50 metres without any steering input.

Unlike some of its models, the 2 Series Active Tourer isn’t a BMW to be lusted after - but then few sensible family cars are. What it is is a well-considered, practical and premium alternative to the never-ending stream of SUVs fighting for family buyers’s attention.

BMW 223i M Sport Active Tourer

Price: £38,395 (£40,665 as tested); Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol, mild hybrid; Power: 215bhp; Torque: 267lb ft; Transmission: Seven-speed DCT; Top speed: 150mph; 0-62mph: 7 seconds; Economy: 42.8-47.1mpg; CO2 emissions: 137/149g/km