N.b. This review was updated on May 24, 2016, after further testing on B-roads.
BMW’S 2-SERIES Active Tourer and its seven-seat Gran Tourer sister have never been the darlings of the BMW model range. MPVs (multi purpose vehicles, or people carriers, in plain speak) aren’t exactly the embodiment of BMW’s tagline The Ultimate Driving Machine; they’re for middle-aged mums and dads who value practicality over sporty design and a sporty drive.
When viewed within the BMW range they do stick out like a sore thumb, and it’s not just down to the dumpy body shape; when it launched in 2014, the 2-series Active Tourer, which rivals the Mercedes B-class and VW Golf SV, was also the first BMW to feature front-wheel drive, prompting die-hard fans of the badge, which had proudly stuck to a rear-wheel drive layout for so long (with added 4×4, or “xDrive”, in recent years), to vent their view that the brand was being butchered.
The nay-sayers needn’t have worried, though, as the five-seat 2-series Active Tourer turned out to be a perfectly decent car with surprisingly good road manners, possessing BMW’s usual build quality and refinement.
Now there’s a plug-in version for family car buyers to mull over, the BMW 225xe Active Tourer, promising a pretty mind-blowing economy figure of 141.2 miles per gallon. It manages that thanks to an electric motor powering the rear wheels, in addition to the petrol-powered 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine, offering a pure-electric driving range of up to 25 miles. That means the PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) version ought to go nearly twice as far per gallon of petrol as the most frugal diesel powered alternative, the 216d Active Tourer, which returns a claimed 74.3mpg.
Of course, direct comparisons between diesel and plug-in hybrid cars are not entirely helpful, as economy of the latter can vary wildly depending on how it’s driven. BMW has done the maths, though, and reckons you’ll get between 40.4mpg on long-distance runs, where the little petrol engine will be doing all the work, and 201.8mpg in the city, where electric power will be used mostly, with a fairly realistic 62.8mpg on a mixed journey of 30 to 37 miles.
As long as you’re not regularly driving long distances, then, the 225xe makes sense on paper. As does the official CO2 figure of 46g/km, which means zero VED (road tax) and exemption from the London congestion charge.
“There are more exciting looking pushchairs on the pavements than there are 2-series Active Tourers parked against the kerb”
Let’s take a moment to remember that you’re paying up front for this privilege: the plug-in version of the 225xe Active Tourer in Luxury trim (Sport is the only other trim level) costs £33,405 on-the-road, which makes it £2,500 dearer than the 220d xDrive Luxury diesel equivalent. However, thanks to the government plug-in car grant, the 225xe Luxury’s price drops to £30,905, making it a much more feasible proposition.
Company car drivers should sit up and take notice at this point, too: the 225xe in Luxury (Nav) trim attracts a stunning 7% benefit in kind tax rate saving hundreds of pounds a year over a diesel equivalent – BIK is 24% for the 220d xDrive Luxury, so under the current rules that works out at £467 vs £1,528 annually for a 20% tax payer.
Going over these details can scramble the brain. What does the 225xe Active Tourer feel like to own and drive? Our extended test of the 225xe (look out for further updates on life with the car) involved a daily round-trip commute of 48 miles, with charging at each end – in theory enough to use only electric power – and a trip from Surrey to Norfolk and back, giving us plenty of time to get to grips with its petrol-electric alchemy.
The first thing you’ll notice about the 225xe is how “normal” it looks. Because it’s an adapted version of an existing petrol/diesel model, it’s nowhere near as futuristic and eye-catching as the two models in BMW’s “i” range – the i8 and i3. There are more exciting looking pushchairs on the pavements than there are 2-series Active Tourers parked against the kerb.
That said, the quality of the build is impressive and the use of chrome detailing makes the BMW look smarter than most of its rivals. What’s more, you’re reminded that its boxy silhouette serves a purpose once you open the doors. The driver’s seat offers a light, airy workspace, especially thanks to the panoramic glass roof and given the lighter trim colours, while in the back there’s space for two adults or three children.
Tall dads and mums (over six foot) with rear-facing child seats will want to fit their screaming nappy-soiler – sorry, precious bundle of joy – behind the passenger seat, as you’ll be reminded that this is a “compact” MPV, not a barge-like seven-seater, and space between the front and back seats is snug rather than palatial.
The good news is that BMW’s smart packaging hasn’t compromised space in the rear of the 225xe over the standard car, as the electric motor and battery hug the rear axle, underneath the boot and rear seats. That also means that standard boot space isn’t compromised, with a flat load floor, and buggies fit with ease. The Active Tourer’s handy storage compartment under the boot floor has disappeared, though, aside from a cubby hole for charging cables and a tyre sealant kit.
Out on the road, BMW stalwarts will feel at home in the cabin – all switchgear is familiar territory – though the instrument binnacle features hybrid-specific information such as battery charge level and miles per kilowatt-hour (the electric alternative to mpg), while the infotainment system includes eDrive and energy flow data. You’ll be watching it like a hawk to get the maximum miles to each gallon/kWh.
Making the range go as far as possible is tricky, and requires constant switching between eDrive modes. By default, you’re in Auto eDrive, which will favour electric mode up to 50mph until the battery reaches 7% full, then will fire up the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine. If you’re using sat nav, it gets smarter by predicting speed limits and adjusting modes accordingly.
However, extended driving at 50mph will drain the battery quickly, so for a stretch of the A3 near the start of my commute into London it makes sense to switch to Save mode, which brings in petrol power straight away to maintain battery charge. Then, in central London, I learned to switch again into the third and final mode, Max eDrive, which uses the electric motor only at speeds of up to 78mph. Not only are you not pumping out ozone-opening CO2 or health-harming nitrogen oxides and particulates in a densely-populated area, but it’s also quiet, smooth and quick away from the lights, thanks to the electric motor’s torque.
The 25-mile advertised range is a more realistic 18 miles so for my 24-mile commute, some petrol power is required, but by switching between modes and opting for the additional Eco Pro setting, which reduces throttle response and reduces air conditioning, I get more than 134.5mpg, according to the BMW Remote mobile app, which is linked to the car. The first time I tried it, I managed only 65.3mpg, so proactively managing the way the engine and electric motor work together pays dividends, and eking out maximum mpg becomes a surprisingly amusing game.
The longer journey to Norfolk – 139 miles of almost entirely motoring driving – yielded 40.6mpg, which won’t impress diesel drivers but is on a par with many petrol vehicles.
The app is the only way to know the true mpg figure at the “green” end of the scale, by the way; in what must be a hangover from the petrol and diesel-powered variants, the in-car display maxes out at 99.9mpg.
Performance? Thanks to the electric motor’s torque, it’s pretty good, with a brisk 0-62mph figure of 6.7sec – the only Active Tourer variant that can best that is the most powerful petrol variant, the 225i.
“Proactively managing the way the engine and electric motor work together pays dividends, and eking out maximum mpg becomes a surprisingly amusing game”
Total power output from combining the 136hp petrol engine, which turns the front wheels, and the 88hp electric motor working on the rear axle, is 224hp, which means it has more power than any other Active Tourer, but that’s needed to combat the extra weight of the battery pack and electric components.
The added bulk is noticeable under braking and through corners, though body roll is kept admirably in check, while the steering is still remarkably precise and the wheel feels weighty to turn, giving a more connected feel to the driver than some other electric systems.
BMW offers a sequential shift option with its 6-speed automatic gearbox. Presumably this is to make the driver feel more involved, but it seems odd in a hybrid; most owners will be less interested in pedal-to-the-metal driving thrills than a relaxed, fuel-sipping A-to-B.
Having said that, some B-road driving revealed that Sport mode changed the character of the car completely, tightening the steering, stiffening the dampers and increasing throttle response. The 225xe came alive, combining petrol and electric power for maximum punch under acceleration and distributing torque to all four corners to make it quite handy through corners. It was a bit of a revelation and showed that this car has a Hyde to its daily driver Jeckyll.
In Comfort and Eco Pro modes, bumps and road imperfections are smoothed out particularly well, resulting in a comfortable ride, although hitting larger sleeping policemen, even at speeds well below 20mph, can result in the traction control light flashing up and drive power being cut for a moment. It’s like a boxer being taken by surprise with a powerful blow to the head, and seeing stars. This wouldn’t happen with a petrol or diesel variant.
The BMW 2-series Active Tourer PHEV may not be a BMW purist’s dream but it’s a star of the compact MPV world, with tremendous build quality, impressive economy and stand-out tax perks. It’s not best suited to motorway cruising but it rules the city, owns suburbia and reveals itself to be surprisngly fun on B-roads.
Yes, it’s more expensive to buy than other variants but it’s packed with tech and comfort features and, if you have done your sums, could feasibly save you money in the long term. If you’re a business user, it may prove to be a no-brainer. Definitely an MPV to add to your shopping list, mums and dads.
The BMW 225xe Active Tourer is on an extended test – click here for further reports covering the ownership experience in more detail.