Hybrids are all the rage in the automotive industry at the moment. And while the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer might look like the twisted hybrid spawn of a BMW rear-mounting a Mini Clubman – the two share the same UKL1 wheelbase platform after all – this ugly duckling of the BMW fleet can also proudly spread swan-like wings thanks to the same BMW i8 supercar mixture of plug-in electric and petrol engines. This, the 2 Series Active Tourer eDrive, is the people carrier for the emissions-conscious BMW driver. Or, at least, it will be when it arrives some time in 2016.
We won't dwell on its looks too much. When the standard 225i model was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2014 it wasn't exactly rewarded with heaps of praise – you only need to browse car forums and comments sections to get a cross-section of public reaction to bear witness to that. But since 2014, and having now driven the 2 Series Active Tourer in its eDrive hybrid format, we think the time elapsed has increased our acceptance of how this MPV looks. Or perhaps it's those distracting “BMW squiggles” drawn down both sides that aids its visual appeal in this instance.
Nonetheless, there's a lot going on under the hood with this hybrid that can't fail to impress. Just like the BMW i8, the Active Tourer eDrive pairs a tri-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine, delivering 136bhp, with a 65kW electric motor to the rear, delivering 88bph.
That totals a 220bhp output because, and unlike the unusual front-wheel-only drive of the standard 2 Series Active Tourer, the eDrive goes all-wheel drive when both engines are running in its eBoost mode. That makes it feel firmly stuck to the road, even with chicanes and corners.
Depending on drive mode selected means the eDrive model can be front-wheel-only drive in Power mode, or rear-wheel-only drive in ePower mode, which makes for an unusual prospect with different handling to suit different driving situations.
We drove around a track at BMW's Miramas proving grounds in Marseille to get a taste of town-like driving on electric only, before dumping the accelerator to feel that petrol engine seamlessly kick in and take us hurtling down the track straights, propelled along by that electric boost. With a 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds it's no slow coach either, it's actually over 4 seconds quicker than the 225i Active Tourer thanks to that eBoost.
After the track we went off road and on to beaten gravel track, climbing a 50 per cent incline. The Active Tourer eDrive is a torquey little beast, capable of tackling all kinds of terrain. It felt more like a Land Rover experience than sitting in the passenger seat of a BMW family car. An impressive torque demo, albeit of rare use in the real world for a car like this.
Of course, being a plug-in hybrid means the electric-only range is limited. The built-in batteries, which sit underneath the boot space, can recoup charge from regenerative braking and economic driving techniques, but according to BMW you'll get around 24-miles from electric alone. Which is perfectly fine for a daily work commute, particularly if the office has charging stations in the car park. Beyond that you're not stuck by any means, though, with the petrol tank as back-up.
Inside the 2 Series Active Tourer eDrive delivers a trove of BMW familiars: it's all nice plastics and leather seats rather than anything outlandish like a wooden or carbon dash. Central to it all is a screen (BMW ConnectedDrive will make this 8.8-inch, or the standard is 6.5-inch) where all the important info is displayed, as controlled by BMW's iDrive remote just ahead of the 6-speed auto gearstick. It's an essential control to consciously toggle between drive modes, or perhaps you just want to change the radio station over and find some better tunes.
As this is a prototype model, which is unlikely to launch until the middle of 2016, it's not been fully sound treated, and that electric motor does indeed like to whine – it's particularly noticeable when sat in the back. However, BMW says there will be no problems whatsoever in muffling these sounds for the production model.
Speaking of the rear – and we mean inside, not the 2 Series Active Tourer's oddly stretched rump – there's plenty of space to sit in the back comfortably. This is a people carrier of sorts, after all, which will cart around a family of five no problems. Or four in greater comfort.
So there we have it. BMW's most questionable car design in its lineup has been given the grace of hybrid power. And while that's not going to suit all prospective buyers, we think the extra torque and power put to the road make for an altogether better car.
Sure it'll be far more expensive than the standard model, even with the UK government grant of £5,000, but with low emissions and zero tax it's got plenty going for it – not just those fun design squiggles.
Just because we teasingly call the 2 Series Active Tourer an ugly duckling doesn't mean it's got no heart. Indeed, in this eDrive instance, it's got two.