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31 May 2022

What We Dislike
M-Sport suspension may arguably still feel too firm for some
Steering falls on the lighter side

On its second rodeo, the 2 Series Active Tourer doubles down confidently on its premium disposition, pairing better looks and driving with the latest BMW tech.


Before the questions start flying - Why is the all new 2 Series Active Tourer's narrow-eyed face gracing sgCarMart's Reviews page yet again? - let us quickly explain. When we were previously at the car's international launch, what we got to drive were the 220i and 223i (mild hybrids), and 230e (plug-in hybrid) variants. Though thoroughly impressed with all of them, there was just a slight issue - none of them were Singapore-bound.

Instead, the variant that we were always destined to get was the pure combustion-engined 218i. That makes this car you're looking at now the first proper canvas for an apples-to-apples comparison with the previous generation that took our roads by storm.

Sophomore outing: Same practical fella, but better clothed

Right sort of evolution: The 2 Series AT sheds its friendly demeanour slightly on its second rodeo for a sharper look - and succeeds 
Expecting a compact MPV to take your breath away with its looks is honestly quite foolish, but those slimmer headlights, shorter front and rear overhangs, and more heavily raked A-pillars lift the current 2 Series AT a notch above its plainer predecessor from a design standpoint. While you shouldn't be surprised to pick up on ambient chatter about the size of those twin kidney grilles, the larger application actually works well given that the car has grown slightly in all directions.

In this M-Sport trim, the 2 Series AT also gets chunks of black plastic cladding on the front and rear bumpers, ostensibly meant to simulate large air intakes (the actual vertical air curtains are more subtle slits). While contentious, the design cue does add a welcome layer of visual menace to the car. Viewing it from a rear-three quarter angle also somewhat validates BMW's description of it as having a 'modern crossover character'.  

Translating its width and height properly into the cabin means the 2 Series AT is a proper five-seater
Unsurprisingly, the 2 Series AT is still an excellent people-hauler. Although the car's wheelbase has remained unchanged, legroom is extremely generous for the second row, especially considering that the rear footwells are slightly recessed. Likewise, its boot largely retains the capacity of the previous model, but not tinkering too much with the car in this aspect isn't a problem, given its wide opening and boxy shape. 

The car also properly translates its width and height into the cabin, meaning that even the middle passenger - typically punished on most family cars - should remain happy on cross-island/border hunts for the best dimsum. 

On the inside: Reinforcing the 'premium' in 'premium compact'

The car's dash manages a modern and premium feel without sacrificing functionality 
Above all, however, where there will be absolutely no bickering is on the point of the car's interior design and build quality. 

BMW's decision to fit a floating centre console enhances the sense of spaciousness up front, as does the drastic neatening out of the gear-selector area, which extends out of said centre console uninterrupted. A thoughtful touch is a metal 'seatbelt' that can fasten your phone into place on the wireless charging tray. 

Combined with the 10.25-inch customisable instrument cluster, updated steering wheel design, and plentiful soft-touch materials, the driver's seat is a wonderful place to slip into. 

BMW's currently iterated Live Cockpit Professional - what it calls the driver's digital instrument cluster - allows for a wide range of customisation
Seeing that BMW has retained an easy-to-read rev counter on one of the digital layouts induces a happy sigh of relief; ditto for the physical buttons on the steering wheel, rather than - ugh - capacitive touch ones that are quickly becoming commonplace. Resultantly, switching menu displays or skipping over filler tracks on your favourite album is a breeze. 

The commendable thing about BMW's latest OS 8 is that it reaches deep and wide enough tech-wise to excite Silicon Valley-worshippers (there are goodies like an RPG game-esque augmented reality navigation on Launch Edition models, and driver habit automation), yet also retains a sense of intuitiveness that won't frustrate the most luddite drivers. This is almost imperative here on the 2 Series AT, which does away with the rotary knob. 

Launch Edition models add a quirky, RPG-game-esque augmented reality dimension to the satnav
For instance, there isn't a need to menu-dive for air-conditioning, since the dual-zone climate control settings are permanently lodged at the bottom of the screen. Plentiful shortcut buttons (Media, Telephone, Navigation, Home, etc) also ensure you'll never get from Point A to B without being able to access your basics. 

Tying everything together neatly in a modern sheen, of course, is BMW's latest Curved Display, spanning the entire length from digital instrument cluster to central touchscreen. Across the board, the graphics are relentlessly crisp and vibrantly coloured, while the 10.7-inch touchscreen is iPhone 13 Pro-level responsive.

On the move: Active little kid in a grown-up body

The car's 1.5-litre turbocharged straight-three is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission
Powering this all-new 2 Series AT's front wheels is the 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder carried forward from the first-gen, producing the same 134bhp, but tuned now to squeeze out extra torque (230Nm, against 220Nm previously). In case there are doubts about refinement without mild hybridisation, let them rest; only mild shudders come from the start-stop system, and gear shifts are quick thanks to a very smooth seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

'Light-footed, but not light' would perhaps best describe the way the 2 Series AT behaves on the road. A nine-second flat 0-100km/h timing on paper may not sound impressive, but the car feels relatively eager to dash off the line, especially because peak torque already arrives at 1,500rpm.

Light-footed, but not light: The 2 Series AT doesn't disappoint by delivering a decently fun drive
Furthermore, all-round visibility is excellent; the car feels planted and is easy to place on the road; and thanks to the ease of propelling (and piloting) it, you'll often catch yourself darting in and out of traffic. Above all, that 3-cylinder never feels like it's stretching beyond its comfort zone - even when at the speed limit of the expressway. 

While damping on the M-Sport variant may fall on the slightly stiffer side, this does well not to mar the car's overall sense of composure. Aided, perhaps, by its better aerodynamics, cabin insulation is also impressive. On multiple occasions, I heard contented, sleepy musings from my passengers about how conducive the cabin was for a quick nap on the move.

The M-Sport trim not only enhances the car visually, but also adds paddle shifters and BMW's Adaptive M Suspension, which lowers the ride height
The positive flip side to the firmer set-up is that the car handles quite well and with less body roll than you'd expect. Thank those widened front and rear tracks (and lowered ride height on this variant) for this. What may not be to everyone's liking, however, is that the steering can feel uncharacteristically light by BMW-standards. Still, it's worth noting that this doesn't dampen its sharpness nor responsiveness, nor the feeling of stability at highway speeds. 

With a final burst of spirited driving, the trip computer displayed a combined fuel consumption of 11.8km/L over three days, although I did manage a personal best of 12.4km/L at one point in Efficiency mode. Official figures for the M Sport aren't provided, but this isn't drastically far off the Luxury trim's claimed 14.0km/L.

A convincing evolution

Almost in a class of its own? The 2 Series AT is arguably quite refreshing in a sea of soft-roaders
In many ways, the 2 Series AT delights because of how straightforward it is. 

While demand for the car has undeniably been huge, the fact remains that compact MPVs are less favoured in a world still voraciously lapping up SUVs. The 2 Series AT may pander to this phenomenon slightly with its styling, but is ultimately still refreshing in a sea of soft-roaders by being aggressively function-oriented through and through. 

Furthermore, BMW could have easily phoned it in with light updates (anything with that badge is a surefire hit anyway), but the second generation of the 2 Series AT raises the bar significantly higher to earn its coveted premium label, especially on the inside and in terms of its behaviour on tarmac. 

Will Singapore bite again, given our current COE climate?
That only leaves it with one real problem. 

Unlike in 2014, where it had to contend with criticism as the marque's first front-wheel drive car, as well as public scoffing at BMW's entry into the compact MPV segment, the 2 Series AT now ironically carries the weight of being a roaring sales success. Official figures for the first-gen model stand at a whopping 430,000 units sold worldwide, and in our own teeny-tiny-car-market sort of way, Singapore actually contributed to that. 

It is with this sort of context in mind that the unavoidable question looms over this 2 Series AT: Will Singapore bite again? 

Since that question can't be answered by us, we'll tackle this one instead: Should Singapore bite again? We'd argue that this second generation steps things up competently enough to command its higher price tag.

On the lookout for another premium compact MPV?


This Mercedes-Benz B-Class also offers an aggressive exterior and a flashy interior

Car Information

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BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 218i M Sport (A)
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Price

: $230,888

Engine Type

:

3-cylinder in-line 12-valve TwinPower Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1499cc

Horsepower

:

100kW (134 bhp) / 6500 rpm

Torque

:

230 Nm / 4000 rpm

Transmission

:

7-speed (A) Steptronic DCT

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

9sec

Top Speed

:

214km/h

Fuel consumption

:

n/a

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car review  bmw  2 series  active tourer  218i