BMW has no direct precedent in making one-box MPVs, but the 2 Series Active Tourer is still able to trace its lineage back through the company's history. The closest that it has to parents are probably the Touring versions of the 'New Class' 1600 and 1500-2 saloons, introduced as they were in the 1970s.

These weren't BMW Tourings as the tag would later be applied, but compact three-door hatchbacks designed to be affordable, practical and small.

Nic Cackett

Nic Cackett

Road tester
Can't spot the rear wiper? It's roof-hinged and hidden away under the trailing edge of the roof spoiler. A neat touch.

Much as it might upset brand traditionalists, BMW’s decision to go with front drive for its smallest models is eminently sensible. If the 1 Series proves anything, it’s that driven rear wheels impose at least as much packaging pain on a compact hatchback as they grant dynamic advantage – probably more.

The only way to expand the brief of that hatchback towards greater passenger space, cargo volume and general versatility is to turn the engine through 90deg under the bonnet to make for a longer cabin and do away with the transmission tunnel. In doing that, BMW joins the rest of the car-making world by adopting the mechanical gospel of small car design written by the likes of Alec Issigonis and Dante Giacosa half a century ago.

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The 2 Series Active Tourer, then, uses a transverse-engined, front-drive platform codenamed UKL1. It grants variable wheelbase lengths and hip points, and is shared with the Mini hatchback, Clubman, Convertible, and the BMW X1.

It’s built from high-tensile and ultra-high-tensile multi-phase steels, which keep weight down and add crash strength where appropriate. The front axle represents the biggest departure for BMW in order to do the steering and the driving for the 2 Series. This mixes steel for the subframe and wishbones, with aluminium for the swivel bearings.

The Active Tourer’s electro-mechanical power steering set-up is new, too. BMW describes it as a ‘single pinion’ set-up, because the electric motor assistance servo acts directly on the steering gear rather than via a secondary gearset. This reduces both weight and friction in the system and enhances the response time and directional accuracy.

Power comes from a mix of new three-cylinder and four-cylinder turbocharged engines and drive from gearboxes newly developed for the front-drive layout.

Petrol options range from the 134bhp 218i to the all-paw 228bhp 225i auto, which also includes a hybrid version as well. Diesels start with a 114bhp, sub-100g/km 216d and end with a 187bhp 220d.

Measuring just longer than 4.3m and just under 1.6m tall, the Active Tourer is a five-seat hatchback, although those looking for seven-seats are catered for with the Gran Tourer. Packaging bang for the buck is its reason for being. Although square and upright, it’s shorter and squatter than a Mercedes-Benz B-Class and shorter even than a Ford Focus.

The success of BMW’s styling effort can be debated. Our conclusion is that the overall result isn’t brilliant, but it’s very acceptable. Grafting a sporting identity on to a car like this is a fool’s errand, but the Active Tourer is more business smart than power suit, and the better for it.

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