The 218d engine revs freely and has ample power [PH]
But with expected UK sales of 4,000-5,000 in the first full year and most of those sales likely to be to new BMW customers there is more than a little logic in the decision.
BMW might be one of the last major manufacturers to offer an MPV in its line-up but practical, capacious and compact cars are clearly popular for those with active lifestyles or toddlers.
With its wedge-shaped profile, low-set kidney grill, subtle body contours and typically short overhangs the Active Tourer is considerably better looking than most if not all of its rivals.
Initially it will be available in 218i and 218d guises with the option of a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic.
The 218i is powered by a new 134bhp 1.5-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine similar to that found in BMW’s hybrid i8 supercar, taking it from 0 to 60mph in 9.2 seconds before going on to a top speed of 127mph. Fuel consumption is 57.7mpg while emissions are 115g/km.
However BMW predicts that the 218d with its 148bhp 2.0-litre turbo-diesel will be the most popular model. It covers the 0 to 60mph sprint in 8.9 seconds before topping out at 129mph while returning a claimed 68.9mpg and 109g/km.
On the road, though, our 218d test car returned a somewhat thirstier 43.5mpg, admittedly on hilly terrain.
Those requiring something more parsimonious should note that a three-cylinder 216d will join the Active Tourer range later in the year.
For those who want more space a seven-seater variant with an extended rear end is due in 2015.
However you don’t have to drive the 218 far to realise how smooth, quiet and refined it is. At speed on the motorway there is no need to speak louder because little wind or road noise infiltrates the cabin.
There are no qualms about ride quality either. The smooth road surfaces on our test route notwithstanding, the suspension has been carefully tuned to provide firm body control in corners and an impressively compliant ride (BMW has spent months refining the suspension to suit British roads).
The steering is well-weighted and responsive, and in normal driving, the fact that the Active Tourer is front-wheel drive is largely irrelevant.
Braking is also beyond reproach. Despite its MPV credentials the Active Tourer feels both secure and agile. It may look a bit like a minivan but it feels and drives like a saloon – and a good one at that.
The 218d engine revs freely, has ample power and pulls with respectable grunt from low revs. With more passengers and payload you may need to stir the manual’s gearstick more frequently to maintain good speed.
The Active Tourer is considerably better looking than most if not all of its rivals [PH]
The gear change has quite a long throw and feels a bit springy and imprecise.
In common with other current models BMW’s popular xDrive all-wheel-drive system will become available on the Active Tourer before long.
Inside there is plenty of space and comfort in the front along with generous leg and headroom in the rear.
The dash is to BMW’s typically high standards with good quality soft-touch plastics and on our Sport-spec car a no-cost option piano-black finish that looks appropriately classy.
The rear bench seat slides back and forth to increase boot space or legroom but while it seats three a trio of adults in the rear would be a squeeze.
The rear seatbacks conveniently fold flat at the touch of a button, increasing luggage space from 468 to 1,510 litres, including the useful storage area under the folding boot floor. All versions have an electric tailgate as standard.
Prices start at £22,125 for a 218i Active Tourer in entry-level SE spec. This comes as standard with dual-zone air-con, rear park distance control, Bluetooth with USB and audio streaming, a 6.5-inch screen with iDrive, digital DAB radio and more.
The interior is suitably classy for BMW [PH]
An extra £1,250 buys the better-equipped Sport, a further £750 secures a leather-upholstered Luxury model, while another £1,000 will see you in an even higher spec M Sport available later this year.
A comprehensive and tempting variety of optional extras will doubtless prise buyers’ wallets open still further.
Dynamically BMW has ensured that its new Active Tourer comfortably exceeds what is expected of any MPV, while it is suitably practical, economical and attractive.
But in a market that is already awash with SUVs (BMW’s own X1 included), crossovers and other lifestyle/family cars, one has to wonder why BMW took quite so long to enter this particular fray and has it come too late?
Our guess is that the Active Tourer’s appeal coupled with such strong brand magnetism will ensure its success regardless.
Model: BMW 2-Series Active Tourer
On sale: Next month
Price range: £22,125-£27,205
Engine range: Petrol – 1.5-litre turbo; Turbo-diesel – 2.0-litre
Performance: 0 to 60mph in 8.9 seconds, 129mph top speed (2.0TD)
Average fuel economy: 68.9 (2.0TD)
CO2 emissions range: 109-124 g /k m
Rivals : Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Volkswagen Golf SV, Citroën C4 Picasso