Behold, the Active Tourists who will buy BMW’s new compact MPV

Behold, the Active Tourists who will buy BMW's new compact MPV

Munich’s embracing of front-wheel-drive might be hard for some to accept, but it makes sound commercial sense

The launch of the new BMW 2-series Active Tourer took place in the very pleasant Tirol region in Austria. You can read Hilton Holloway’s driving impressions of the first full production front-wheel-drive offering from BMW here.

When I sampled the car last Friday, the main roads into the Alps were packed with Germans and Austrians heading off for long weekends in the mountains near Innsbruck.

It was late morning on a sunny day, and the amount of people not working took me aback. It dawned on me that the collective British workforce might graft a little bit too hard in comparison to our continental peers…

Another thing that struck me was that the majority of the healthy looking damen und herren driving to the Alpine countryside were the sort of people BMW is targeting with the 2-series Active Tourer.

They are, I suppose, Active Tourists. In other words: adventurous, affluent folk who want to sling the bikes/pets/kids/tent into the back of a capacious, comfortable vehicle and head to the chocolate-box scenery.

I’m not convinced many of those people care as much about whether their car drives its front wheels, rear wheels or maybe just the near-side ones except on Sundays. They want a tidy car created by an aspirational brand they recognise.

Viewed purely as a commercial decision, then, there can be little argument with BMW’s desire to grow its presence in small-premium vehicle markets.

Herbert Diess, BMW’s development chief, says: “We expect the premium segment to grow strongly over the next ten years, especially within the smaller vehicle classes.

“With our new models we are aiming for a share in this development. Today, there are customers who really would like to drive a BMW, but we still do not have an appropriate model for them. So the BMW 2-series Active Tourer will open up new target groups for BMW.”

Having driven the 218d Active Tourer, I’m not sure I swallow the manufacturer’s party line about the 2-series Active Tourer “standing for driving pleasure” like any other BMW. It’s very good at what it does, but I can’t imagine the chaps at M division are salivating at the prospect of fettling a cooking version. Although they probably enjoy a challenge.

Then again, there’s a more compelling argument for front-wheel drive. Diess says: “Front-wheel drive in this vehicle class provides conceptual advantages thanks to the transverse front-mounted engine. For example, in the interior we are able to offer a raised seating position, a large amount of space with a luggage compartment capacity of up to 1510 litres.”

Will BMW’s new front-wheel-drive strategy tarnish the sheen of the rear-drive ‘ultimate driving machines’?

Perhaps for some enthusiasts it will. However, as with Porsche’s decision to build the original Cayenne in the early 2000s, the 2-series Active Tourer is likely to turn a tidy profit for BMW – cash that can be ploughed back into future development of the rear-drive performance cars that we know and love.

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