Yes, you are looking at a BMW. A front wheel drive people carrier called the 2-Series Active Tourer. We’ll just leave that to sink in for a minute.
The brand that almost entirely defines itself by its rear-wheel drive cars and has the ability to create "Ultimate Driving Machines" has at the Geneva Motor Show unveiled what, according to most on-lookers, didn’t look like an ultimate driving machine in any way, shape or form.
Let’s break this down a bit and try to understand why BMW’s decided to create a compact people carrier. It can be summed up in a couple of words: the Mercedes B-Class. Merc’s compact people carrier isn’t the last word in beauty either, but sells very well in Europe, primarily to young families who really want the classy interior and covetable key fob that a premium brand brings. It was predictable BMW would respond, and on the face of it, a car that’s both shorter, more practical and cheaper than a BMW 3-Series estate could hold a lot of appeal for some people.
"But why has BMW ditched rear-wheel drive, when that’s one of its trademarks?" we hear you cry. Well, a couple of reasons, the first being that if you want to create a spacious but compact vehicle, rear wheel drive’s powertrain – things like propshafts running down the length of the vehicle - eats into cabin space. The other reason is that the 2-Series Active Tourer sits on the company’s new UKL1 platform, which it will share with bigger Minis, such as the forthcoming Clubman Concept also shown in concept form in Geneva.
Platforms are hideously expensive for car companies to develop, which means that increasingly the approach they take is to spin as many different vehicles off one platform as they can. The Volkswagen group is the master of this - with the Golf, Audi A3, Skoda Octavia, Seat Leon and a whole host of upcoming SUVs all sharing the same "MQB" platform. BMW doesn’t own loads of brands, so it’s going to start sharing this small platform across both BMW and Mini brands to make it cost effective.
The good news is that, if you go on how Minis drive, moving to front wheel drive shouldn’t prove to be a disaster for the 2-Series, and we’d expect it to flow down the road with at least a little of BMW’s trademark vim and vigour. Here’s hoping, anyway.
Jump inside the Active Tourer and it’s fairly typical BMW fare. Nice plastics, great ergonomics and that wicked iDrive interface are all present. There’s a few more cubby spaces than you get in the average Beemer too, befitting of the people carrier brief. Although it goes without much of the cleverness and numerous stowage systems you get in something like a Renault Scenic, which does seem like a shame.
What matters most in this class, though, is interior space. And while only 4.3-metres long, the 2-Series has loads of space front and rear and a chunky-sized 468-litre boot. In other words it's far bigger than something like a Ford Focus or VW Golf family hatchback.
The Tourer's Power comes from a variety of new engines. The 218d 2-liter diesel you can already find in the 1-Series and 3-Series models and we’d bet will mop up most of the sale. But if you’re looking for fun, the 225i petrol has 230bhp and proves that BMW hasn't forgotten entirely about the fact people tend to buy its cars for the way they drive - because it’ll reach 60mph in 6.8 seconds, which is decidedly unlike typical people carrier performance.
Perhaps the most interesting engine is BMW’s new 3-cylinder petrol engine you’ll find in the 218i. It produces 136hp and CO2 emissions of 115g/km. It should make a fun noise too.
As you might expect, you’ll be able to spec up the 2-Series Active Tourer to a ridiculous degree and have it in the more pumped-up M-Sport trim, as well as the lower trim levels of Sport and Luxury. All models come with an electrically opening tailgate too.
While it’s easy to be cynical about BMW moving into every single segment of car in a bid to expand the range, on paper the 2-Series Active Tourer makes plenty of sense and has decent appeal. If only it wasn’t so aesthetically challenged. Just look at it.
We hope, then, that the typical BMW polished driving experience becomes the small people carrier of choice for those who want some driving thrill, but need space and versatility too. We’ll find out when the car goes on sale later this summer.