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The early omens for BMW's people movers didn't look particularly encouraging. Now they are getting a mid-life refresh.
Cruise control with braking function, hill-start assist, autonomous emergency braking, rear park distance control, LED daytime running lights and front fog lights, keyless go, sat-nav, dual zone automatic air conditioning, automatic tailgate
When BMW first launched the 2 Series Active Tourer and Gran Tourer MPVs with five and seven seats respectively, it caused a bit of a stir among purists, as they were the first front-wheel drive cars ever produced by the brand.
Of far more concern to BMW was the fact that the arrival of these cars coincided with a seismic shift in buyers' habits, and they were launching into a market segment that was losing sales hand over fist to SUVs.
Despite this backdrop, the first-generation models still managed to rack up more than 30,000 UK sales between them, spurring BMW into the decision to press ahead with facelifted versions.
For 2018, both models get exterior styling tweaks, including a bolder front grille and a larger front air intake, while a new range of materials has been introduced to the interiors. Additionally, changes designed to improve efficiency have been engineered into the engine line-up, which includes petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid options. With the Active Tourer forming the bulk of UK sales, that's the model we sampled, in mid-range Sport trim.
Despite its family car brief, there's nothing particularly utilitarian about the 2 Series' cabin, with a judiciously chosen blend of soft-touch materials and high-quality plastics contributing to a premium look and feel.
You also get BMW's familiar and easy-to-use iDrive infotainment set-up, complete with its large rotary controller that makes scrolling through functions far easier while driving than manically jabbing at a touchscreen. Additionally, all the seats offer a good level of comfort and support, and there's ample legroom for five to travel in comfort, while that relatively straight roofline ensures rear headroom won't be an issue unless you're well over 6ft.
The 468-litre boot is a practical, square shape, and it's low and easy to access with next-to-no load lip to overcome, making it a doddle to load larger items.
On the road
The well-engineered feel continues on engine start-up, especially if you go for the middle diesel option in the range. It's a 150hp, 2.0-litre unit that's impressively refined - quiet at a cruise and without too much noise or vibration even when flooring the accelerator. It also produces pretty vivid performance, and when allied to the smooth shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox, it moves the 2 Series along at a properly focused rate.
The driving experience does become a bit more in line with MPV tradition when you get to a corner, with a discernable amount of roll, but on the plus side the steering is nicely weighted and accurate to help you place the car on the road with neat precision.
The ride does feel a bit jiggly around town, especially when driving solo - this will no doubt improve with a few folk on board - but things feel far more comfortable at higher speeds. That said, road noise does increase quite markedly once up to a motorway cruise.
Overall, the 2 Series Active Tourer does much to impress. If you're looking for a practical, well-made MPV, that retains a high degree of driver involvement, this may well be the car for you.