BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 220i and 223i 2022 Review : Tango & Flash
Malaga, Spain - It’s 2022. Does a fine-driving, good-looking, not-soul-destroying MPV exist?
When compared to the smorgasbord of SUVs now available, probably not, but if you want a package that ticks the above boxes and still keeps the MPV bodystyle, we think BMW’s new 2 Active Tourer could be your last, best hope.
SUVs have toppled sedans from the crown of World’s Favourite Car Style - yes, even in Singapore. Last year, they took 37 percent of the market compared to just 14 percent for MPVs, when in 2019 those numbers were pretty much inverted.
With that in mind, you’d wonder why BMW has bothered with the new 2 Active Tourer, especially since rumours of its demise have spread since 2019. But there has always been plenty to like about the 2 Series MPV, as TG’s own have said - and the bare fact that the first car sold 430,000 units in its lifetime.
2 Legit To Quit
Yes, ask us what we remember about the first 2AT and we suppress a yawn - it was successful in Singapore because it was 1. A BMW 2. An MPV and 3. Had a Cat A COE and 4. Had seven seats (and 5. A BMW, and 6. A BMW and 6.…) with the 216i/d models. It wasn’t terrible, but decent: it was a good first stab at an MPV, but made an easy target for car enthusiasts thanks to it being BMW’s first front-wheel drive car. No, nobody thinks that’s a big deal now and read on to our 230e PHEV story to see how that car takes on this directly.
But the new second-gen one goes beyond that, which is just as well since there is no Number 3 (at launch) and Number 4 reason in sight anymore - BMW’s confirmed it’s not making a seven-seat 2 GT.
There’s a clutch of gasoline-powered models announced: 218i, 220i, 223i, and PHEV 225e and 230e. As of now, only the 218i has been confirmed for Singapore, but our guess is the 220i will also come here. The 218i is the only purely gasoline-powered version, with the 220i and 223i being mild hybrids. BMW reps we spoke to at launch say a 216i is a possibility - at least it’s not ruled out entirely.
The second-gen is based on a new platform (FAAR), has a totally new design, is larger than before, and looks less MPV-like than ever. Want to hear something shocking? The car that it reminds us most of is not the old 2AT, but BMW’s new EV flagship SUV, the iX.
And before you think we’ve been mainlining too much lithium, look at that tall hexagonal grille and consider that just like the iX, there’s active aero-louvres behind it. There’s also a flat floor, flush door handles (like on the 4 Series Gran Coupe) and more gap-sealing everywhere, for a more slippery car - the Cd goes from 0.29 to 0.26.
But the best thing is that the 2AT looks cooler now, with a cleaner, leaner aesthetic and the narrow headlights/taillights seen on the other BMWs mentioned here so far. The key thing here is that it looks better in real life, less MPV like and more crossover-y so to speak - thank the big grille and a much wider (adds 25mm front, 26mm rear) track. It’s not going to set your soul on fire, even in M Sport trim (see the blue car), but it’s good looking in an understated way, and you couldn’t even say that about the previous model.
Drive to arrive
We drove the 220i in Luxury trim (white) and the 223i in M Sport trim (blue). The key difference here is that both of these are 48V mild hybrids, so keep in mind they will have more accelerative power than the 218i. As mentioned, and unlike say, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Singapore-bound 218i is a ‘classic’ gasoline-only model.
What we first notice about the 220i is how much more refined it is. BMW’s triple-cylinder 1.5 has been many good things in its previous iteration, but its key weakness was a vibey nature, especially on the earliest cars with start-stop.
The engine’s 90 percent new, claim BMW, and new engine mounts cancel most of the irritating low-speed judder that was apparent in the previous car, especially during urban driving, and the 48V mild hybrid starter/generator probably helps too.
156hp is the expected ‘20i’ power output for a BMW, but this has the help of the 19hp electric motor nestled in the transmission for a total of 170hp and 280Nm of torque. Hitting the autovia, it’s manifested in smooth, pleasing acceleration.
There’s no MPV-drawback of standing on the gas and getting nothing - something noticeable as we make the ‘classic’ climb into the highlands of the Montes Malaga. While the 2AT has gained a little bit of weight, our feeling is that the added torque from the motor negates that, and you actually have quite a zippy vehicle - 0-100km/h is just over eight seconds, after all.
We’re also pleasantly surprised by the 220i’s B-road manners. The last time we were truly impressed by a MPV’s handling was probably the Ford S-Max circa 2009 (let’s avoid mentioning its sins), and the new 2AT feels similar to that.
The widened track helps stability and eliminates the tippy-over feeling you got when you looked at an apex too fast in the previous 2AT, there’s far more confidence slinging it into bends, and while the steering isn’t the most feelsome, in sport mode it weighs up nicely.
Good handling and great on-road manners, so more engine means more fun, right? Up to a point with the 223i. This one adds a cylinder and 500cc for a 204hp 2.0-litre turbo. Add the electrons to that and it tallies up with a system power of 218hp and grunty 360Nm of torque.
That was excellent to deploy on the highway, with the bassier note of the 2.0-litre engine making a nice backdrop to the quicker overall pace, there’s definitely more muscle behind it. However as we repeated the ascension into B-road heaven, the 223i felt less incisive and eager to turn than the 220i did. That could be down to less weight (25kg) over the front axle, as engine aside, the two are almost identical.
The interior will SHOCK you
But where we are in 2022, you don’t buy an MPV to wildly careen through bends unless you’re very confused about your priorities. Perhaps the eyebrow raiser here is the fact that the 2AT reminds us, again, far more of the iX than the previous car.
Nestle yourself on the inside and it’s EV-like in the sense that you have enormous-feeling screens and an open, practical layout with lots of storage space. The first bit comes from the ‘BMW Widescreen’, which despite the name is actually two discreet displays (10.25-inch instrument panel, 10.7-inch touchscreen control) behind a single glass pane ala the BMW iX.
Importantly, it gives BMW the leg-up in the willy screen-waving competition - 10.7-inches being larger than the usual 10.25-inches we see in the small-mid car segment. More importantly, it’s easy to use and not out of reach, and runs on BMW OS 8, the latest iteration of infotainment (again: see iX).
With the gearshifter now operated by wire, it frees up considerable space and BMW’s added a flourish here with its floating console, on top of which you find the gearshift nub, drive modes, and other controls. But a notable omission here is: Horror, no iDrive controller, unlike the iX’s bejewelled masterpiece. It’s a disappointment, after all having touchscreen-only interfaces is something we’ve decried in other manufacturers, and iDrive was something that grew to touch our hearts as a relatively intuitive solution.
The 2AT makes pains to distract from that loss though. Our test cars were all well-specced, and while we can’t say much about final trim and equipment levels, all of them looked and feel much more luxurious, from the knurling of the air-con vent nubs, to the material choice, and more.
Practicality is perhaps the thing that has changed the least for the car. Boot space is similar to before (415-litres, expanding to 1,415-litres for the 220i, the 218i is 470-litres thanks to no MHEV system) and the seats are 40/20/40 split fold, with adjustable positions and backrest angle. It seems roomier in the second row too.
There are certainly more fun cars to drive, some SUVs that have seven seats and a similar size/price, but BMW’s 2 Series MPV has increased it’s appeal at the very least.
It preserves the best part of the first car - the practicality and the badge - and improves where it was weakest - styling, handling, and refinement. At the very least now the 2AT finally lives up to the ‘active’ part of its name when it comes to going around corners.
Photos BMW, Derryn Wong
BMW 220i Active Tourer Luxury
Engine 1,499cc, inline 3, turbo
Engine Power/rpm 156hp/4700-6500rpm
Engine Torque/rpm 240Nm/4400rpm
Battery 0.96kWh, Li-Ion
Motor power 19hp
System Output 170hp / 280Nm
Transmission 7spd dual-clutch
0-100km/h 8.1 secs
Top Speed 221km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.3L/100km
BMW 223i Active Tourer M Sport
Engine 1,995cc, inline 4, turbo
Engine Power/rpm 204hp/5000-6500rpm
Engine Torque/rpm 320Nm/1500-4000rpm
Battery 0/96kWh Li-Ion
Motor power 19hp
System Output 218hp / 360Nm
Transmission 7spd dual-clutch
0-100km/h 7.0 secs
Top Speed 241km/h
Fuel Consumption 6.3L/100km