Cover up the badges and you wouldn't necessarily guess this to be a BMW, but begin to examine the details and the Bavarian influences begin to shine through. The short overhangs and long wheelbase, the wedgy profile, the L-shaped rear lights, the crisp contours and the smart swage lines all point to this Munich maker. It also seems sportier than you might expect a car of this kind to be, courtesy of things like the steeply raked windscreen and the way that the distinctive double kidney grille is positioned lower than the headlights.
Only at the rear does practicality assume priority, though even here, there are hi-tech touches. Examples include the vertical air-deflecting blades that sit on either side of the tailgate glass. And the way the rear wiper is neatly hidden in the rear spoiler. It's attention to detail of this sort that explains this BMW's impressively sleek 0.26Cd drag factor. Plenty then, to disguise the sensible virtues that a car of this kind should have. But could this Active Tourer model really cut the mustard in the muddy dog, smelly gym kit and family holiday-friendly world of the mini-MPV. Could you really live with one?
Lift the standard electrically-operated tailgate and first impressions are encouraging. There's a low sill, a wide aperture and a decently sized boot offering 468-litres, which in BMW terms is about 30% larger than a five-door 1 Series, about 10% larger than an X1 and only a touch smaller than a much bigger 3 Series Touring model. You'll also want to compare in terms of the wider market though and here, you're talking of a space that's close to what you'd get in a Mercedes B-Class - or indeed a conventional Ford Focus or Vauxhall Astra estate. But slightly further removed from the total capacity served up by the kind of more practically-orientated compact MPV a buyer of this car might consider - something like a Volkswagen Golf SV.
Forget the comparisons though. What matters is that this luggage bay is big enough to be everyday-usable. So bulky items like baby buggies that you might struggle to get into some of BMW's other compact five-door family cars - say something like a 1 Series - will here fit in quite easily. There are lashing points and bag hooks on either side of the luggage bay, plus an optional 'extended storage' pack offers attachments like a load net to help keep things in place should you get a bit carried away on the journey back from the supermarket. Valuables are better housed in this concealed space below the floor, the folding top concealing a handy multi-function tray.
If you need more room, then your first option is to take advantage of the sliding/reclining rear bench functionality and either push the back seat forward or angle it into a more upright position. If that's not enough, then the split-folding backrest divides 40:20:40, so the middle part can be flattened if, for example, you want to transport something long like a set of skis in between a couple of rear seat folk. If you really need to super-size your space, then the rear bench drops electronically at the touch of a button to create a completely flat 1,510-litre cargo area that can be even further extended if you've opted for the extra cost fold-flat front passenger seat. With this in place, your Active Tourer could swallow items up to 2.4m long.
Switch your focus from packages to people and, by and large, the news is equally good, with decent space for three fully-sized adults, even on longer trips - though the unfortunate middle occupant will need to sit with legs astride the kind of raised transmission tunnel you'd think you wouldn't need on a front-driven car. Certainly, the tightly drawn roof line and high sides can make the cabin feel a little enclosed but the large glass area compensates with an airy feel you can add to with an optional opening panoramic glass roof. As for the seats, well they're not of the removable kind - the sort of thing you'd get on mainstream MPV rivals like Renault's Scenic and Citroen's C4 Picasso. But then we don't think many potential Active Tourer buyers will be cross-shopping against cars of that kind.
In any case, as mentioned earlier, this rear bench does slide (in a 60:40 split) and when in its rearmost position, offers impressively generous standards of legroom. This is further aided by the fact there's plenty of room beneath the front seats, so even the largest pair of shoes will be able to slide under. We also mentioned the backrest's reclining function too, which gives greater comfort on longer journeys.
Arguably though, we've left the best bit until last. We're guessing that it's the upfront experience that'll really sell people this car. Light, spacious and beautifully appointed, it's a level of quality removed from any other compact MPV we've ever sat in. It's based around an imposing layered dashboard that on plusher models curves into the cabin in a symmetrical wave garnished with leather, wood and bright work. The only slight issue with the layered moulding is that some taller front seat passengers may find their knees knocking against the lower section of the dash. There's also a minor issue in the way that the gearstick slightly obscures the climate controls.
As usual in the brand's modern models, the iDrive infotainment set-up's freestanding multifunction colour screen takes pride of place in the middle of the fascia, though the display is not of the current trendy touchscreen variety, controlled instead by this circular rotary dial down by the gearstick. Still, if there's a better, more intuitive system of this sort currently on the market, then we've not tried it.
In terms of the driving position, well it's almost SUV-like. We mentioned earlier that you're sat higher than you would be in the brand's X1 Crossover model - a full 30mm higher to be exact, which means that the view out is commandingly MPV-like and makes this a fine urban runabout. Or at least it would be if the large pillars either side of the windscreen didn't slightly restrict your visibility at junctions. There are chunky pillars at the rear too, so it's just as well that BMW fits rear parking sensors as standard. These are issues that you quickly adjust to though and it's certainly easy to get an ideal driving position, thanks to plenty of rake and reach adjustment from a smart leather-trimmed steering wheel through which you view the usual crystal clear set of BMW dials.
The cabin's practical too - as that of any MPV should be. So there are decently-sized door bins and cleverly staggered cup holders in the centre console. You also get a large space under the armrest that can be used to charge your 'phone. And a neat hidden compartment in the centre stack.
Most of the 2 Series Active Tourer buyers in our owners' survey were very happy with their cars, but inevitably, there were a few issues, though these tended to relate to relatively minor things. On one car for example, the glovebox catch mechanism collapsed. This is a car that will have been subjected to family use, so check the interior condition carefully for wear and tear, including scratching of the plastics and stains on the seats. Also make sure the seats all fold away and flip up as they should, especially those that are operated electrically. Check the paintwork for scuff marks and the wheels for kerb damage, as these cars will have been used in town car parks and on school runs.
Look out for trouble with a blocked diesel particulate filter (DPF), especially on cars that might have been used for short, city journeys. Otherwise, there have been a few reports of interior trim creaking and some issues with the plastic flaps in the boot working loose, but nothing really large enough to worry about. The engines and mechanicals are proven from other BMW models, and their reputation is good. As usual, make sure that servicing has been correctly carried out at a BMW main dealer.
(approx based on a 2015 2 Series Active Tourer 218i excl. VAT) An air filter costs in the £4 to £21 bracket, an oil filter is around £10-£12 (or around £31) for a pricier brand) and a fuel filter costs around £25. Front brake pads sit in the £30 to £37 bracket for a set (or up to £82 for a pricier brand); for a rear set, it's £16-£19 (or up to £56 for a pricier brand). Front brake discs cost around £170; for a rear pair, you're looking at around £45. Wiper blades cost around £10.
On the move, we were - given the front-driven layout - expecting this car to be far more MINI-like than most of the time it actually is. The Munich men have intentionally dumbed the responses of this 2 Series model down a little, mindful perhaps that a Cooper-style 'go kart-like' feel is less appealing to BMW buyers - and might be even less well received in the MPV segment. That said, this Active Tourer still represents a firmer-riding and more driver-orientated choice than many Scenic or C-MAX-style buyers will be used to, whatever the choice made of settings from the standard 'Drive Performance Control' system, the rocker switch for which you'll find down here by the gearstick.
Under the bonnet, the range begins with the same 1.5-litre three cylinder petrol and diesel units you'll find in a MINI, powering the most affordable 136bhp 218i and 116bhp 216d Active Tourer derivatives. Our preference though, is for the variant that accounted for the majority of sales of this car, the 218d. Under the bonnet here, there's a larger, more conventional four cylinder powerplant offering 150bhp and far pokier performance, with 62mph just 8.9s away en route to 129mph. To be honest, we can't really see why you might want to go much faster in this car, but should that be your desire, then BMW will wheel out a 190bhp 220d variant. Here, there's the option of BMW's xDrive 4WD system, a set-up that really comes into its own in the winter months, distributing as it can almost 100 per cent of power to either axle - or a mix between both front and rear. Either way, the car will be kept firmly planted through the tightest bends in the foulest weather. The extra xDrive traction aids performance too, the 0-62mph sprint time improving from the 7.6s showing you get in the 2WD 220d model to just 6.8s.
There are pokier petrol variants too. First up the 190bhp 220i, which uses the MINI Cooper S hot hatch's turbo 2.0-litre unit to make 62mph in 7.5s en route to 143mph. And beyond that, the fastest variant in the range, the top 225i model, which needs the additional traction of xDrive to harness its 231 braked horses. Here, 62mph is 6.3s away from rest on the way to 147mph. Automatic transmission is a non-negotiable here, an 8-speed 'Sport' set-up that features launch control and paddleshifters. There's also a more basic version of this 8-speeder offered as an option on all four cylinder derivatives. A separate 6-speed auto 'box has been developed for the three cylinder engines. BMW also offered a rare 225xe petrol/electric hybrid version.
Did you ever expect to see a BMW model range built around front wheel drive with an MPV body shape and offering the option of a three cylinder engine? We're not sure we ever did. But then we weren't really ready for an electrified BMW supercar either and we've got one of those. So this Bavarian brand is evolving - and so must the Scenic and C-MAX-style five-seat compact MPV segment in which this 2 Series Active Tourer competes. After all, even MPV buyers now realise that style and driving dynamics aren't incompatible with family versatility. Cars like this one are driving that change.
Of course the front-driven layout gives it a less driver-orientated feel than you'd find in other BMW models. The brand's traditional buyers may not like that, so it's just as well that this car isn't aimed at them. No, you'll be interested in a 2 Series Active Tourer if your need for practicality is greater than your need for a BMW. But you'd still rather like one. If that makes sense to you, then this car will too. Its closest rival, the Mercedes B-Class, doesn't have the same kind of spark and the only other alternative is a much frumpier more conventional mainstream brand MPV.
All of which means that BMW's appealing spin on ordinary family motoring will probably continue to attract a ready audience. People who probably never thought they'd be buying from this Munich maker. They won't be getting 'the ultimate driving machine' because that's not what they need. Getting instead what may very well be 'the ultimate small people carrier' will suit them very well indeed.