We’ve wondered for awhile if the new front wheel drive 2 Series would be a brand killer or a master stroke. Now that the first two reviews are in (with more coming by the hour) we’re a little closer at understanding what the answer might be.
Even though the Active Tourer’s lineup will include a range of models with both diesel and gasoline engines, BMW is sending just the top-of-the-line 225i to the U.S. It comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo and eight-speed automatic. Rated at 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, it is the most powerful car in the segment, such as it is. It just doesn’t feel that way. The power rush is strong, but the engine tone is subdued; the overall noise level is so low that we constantly underestimated the speeds driven, especially those driven in a straight line. The Aisin-supplied automatic is unobtrusive, but when using manual mode, less gears would be more. Here’s a typical situation: You want to get to a lower gear for a passing maneuver or an upcoming corner. But the transmission has put you in seventh or eighth. It takes way too many downshifts with marginal rev changes to actually get the engine where you want it to be.
The electromechanical power steering is precise, but effort is a bit on the heavy side. About all we can say about the handling is that it’s fine—like a tall Mini, in fact—although enthusiasts will call for a firmer ride. Indeed, this car’s ride/handling balance is skewed to the comfort side, and we found the car easier to unsettle than one of BMW’s rear-drivers. The Active Tourer’s higher center of gravity doesn’t help here.
In truth, this 218d test car – which we drove on the roads around Innsbruck, Austria – came up short in a number of areas. The first failing came apparent from the moment we rolled down the road. At lower speeds, a rush of road noise was being transmitted up through the car’s front structure from the front wheels. That said, the test car rolled on 225/45 R18s, which is a somewhat aggressive tyre.
The other failing with this particular model was the gearshift. While the stick is sportingly short and short-throw, its action across the gate is surprisingly notchy. The detent between first and reverse – which are next to each other – was also awkward and it needed a very firm shove to get it into reverse gear.
Finally, this Active Tourer’s high-speed refinement is not all it could be. At motorway speeds, the swirl of wind noise around the windscreen pillars and roof rails was unexpected.
On the road, the car is fundamentally sound but perhaps lacks the fluidity of the best front-drive rivals.