For many years, it was easy to recognize a BMW at first glance. The familiar kidney grille adorned only a handful of sedans, coupes and convertibles, all pumping power to the rear wheels.
In recent years, the BMW line-up has been rapidly proliferating, the grille and spinner logo have been showing up on all manner of sports cars, SUVs – Sport Activity Vehicles, in BMW-speak – and even harder to define GT body styles. It has also been rolling out an ever-increasing number of all-wheel-drive packages, in keeping with the latest luxury segment trends.
But now, it seems, BMW is set to break the final barrier, to some the ultimate taboo, and launch its first ever front-wheel-drive model, the 2-Series Active Tourer set to make its debut at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show.
(Click Here to check out the new BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe.)
We got a sense of what was coming from the concept version shown at the Paris Motor Show in autumn 2012, and the production model set to debut next month doesn’t stray far. It’s the closest BMW has come to what some may dub a minivan, though following European form the term MPV is probably more appropriate.
The basic look is decidedly different from the BMW’s the world has come to know, at least based on these first official images. Instead of the long snout traditionally associated with a rear-wheel-drive layout, the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer adopts a shorter, more steeply raked hood. The proportions can only be described as cab-forward.
But as several of our colleagues have pointed out, there are still plenty of classic BMW cues, starting with the kidney grille and spinner logo and including the classed Hofmeister kink in the C-pillars and chamfered wheel arches. There are those heavily browed headlights, as well, with the LED accent strips giving the new Active Tourer an almost menacing face.
(Take a test drive in the new BMW M235i. Click Here for the review.)
The new model measures 171.0 inches, nose-to-tail, or nearly an inch longer than the 1-Series hatchback – and almost exactly the length of the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class. It’s 70.9 inches wide and 61.2 inches tall, or 2.2 inches and 5.3 inches wider and taller than the 1-Series hatch.
The interior reportedly gets more room, especially for rear-seat passengers, thanks to its front-drive layout and more upright seats. Initially offered in a 5-seat configuration, it will boast 16.5 cubic feet of trunk space – 43.3 cf after folding down the rear seats. That’s a bit less than the Mercedes B-Class which also will be coming to the States, albeit only in battery-electric configuration.
Speaking of powertrains, there will be three engine options for Europe, where sales begin later this year, including the 225i Active Tourer’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. That package will make 231 horsepower and launch the MPV from 0 to 62 kmh (0 to 62.5 mph) in 6.8 seconds, with a top speed of 146 mph. It’s rated at 39.2 mpg in the European cycle which would typically mean a fair bit less in the U.S. EPA ratings.
Also on tap, a 218d model fitted with a new turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four making 148 hp and 243 pound-feet of torque. It’s rated at 8.9 seconds 0 to 100 kmh and 57.3 mpg.
BMW says it has an assortment of other engine options on tap for the next several years, but perhaps the most interesting, available at the European launch, will be the 218i Active Tourer’s 1.5-liter three-cylinder powertrain. It’s the same 1.5-liter I-3 we recently saw debut under the head of the all-new Mini Cooper Hardtop, and will make 134 hp and 162 lb-ft, with a 0 to 100 kmh launch of 9.1 seconds, a 124 mph top speed and an estimated 48.0 mpg EU combined fuel economy rating.
The three-cylinder powertrain will be paired with either a 6-speed stick or 6-speed automatic. Four-cylinder models will be mated to 8-speed automatics. And BMW says all models will feature standard-issue Stop/Start function, while automatics will also get a feature which disengages the engine when coasting to improve mileage.
For those who just can’t conceive of a front-drive BMW, the maker will also offer its all-wheel-drive xDrive technology.
While the idea of primarily designing a car to put the power through the front wheels might seen anathema to some luxury buyers, it is becoming ever more common. Forget Lincoln, look at Audi which has more than proved the FWD layout, with or without Quattro, can deliver solid handling and performance.
(Click Here for a first look at the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG.)
Meanwhile, Mercedes has hit the proverbial home run with its own new FWD model, the coupe-like CLA sedan, which arguably has had one of the best launches in the brand’s history.
Whether the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer will knock another one out of the park or take three strikes remains to be seen.