UNDERSTANDING a car name used to be easy. Now, however, as the traditional lines between saloon, hatchback, coupe, SUV, and MPV blur, the car makers have to stretch their nomenclature to the limits and, well, it doesn’t make the life of the ordinary car buyer very easy.

BMW is at the forefront of inventing new model niches, so it has had to expand on its relatively easy-to-understand numbering system of late to accommodate the new entrants. One of those is the 225xe Active Tourer.

To explain what it’s all about, we need to go back a few years, to 2007. That’s when the 1 Series spawned coupe and convertible variants. Those cars were replaced in 2014 by all-new models called the 2 Series coupe and convertible, the new number said to represent a move upmarket to distance the sportier offerings from their regular hatchback siblings.

And then, curiously, they were joined by the 2 Series Active Tourer. It’s a tall, five-seat compact people carrier, the first of its kind to wear a BMW badge. Not only that, it was also the first ever front-wheel drive car from the brand, so it shares very little with its slinkier relatives.

Right, we’re half-way there; the 225xe is part of that 2 Series Active Tourer family (which, incidentally, also includes a Gran Tourer with seven seats). We’re all used to d for diesel and i for petrol from BMW (eg, the 520d or the 340i), so what’s the XE part all about? Well, E is for electrification, as this car is a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) and X signifies that it has four-wheel drive capability.

We got there eventually, in only a few short paragraphs, but we reckon a potential buyer’s eyes will glaze over long before a BMW salesman can explain to them what this car is all about. Best to just toss them the keys, point them to the exit and wait for them to come back with questions.

On opening the driver’s door, they’ll notice how easy it is to get into the 2 Series Active Tourer thanks to the elevated seating. That leads to great visibility too.

If they take time to get to know it a bit better before going for a drive they’ll note how many useful cubbyholes and storage areas there are dotted around the high-quality cabin.

BMW family sports tourer perfect for city commuters

This car may only seat five, but it’s clearly designed to be used by those that spend a lot of time in it and/or those with families. The back doors open wide and there’s good space in the outer two rear seats, while the boot holds 400 litres —or you can fold the seats down to hold a lot more.

The uninitiated may fumble a bit before they move off, as the 225xe’s engine doesn’t usually start up from the off. Instead, the instruments show that the car is ready to go, you slot the automatic shifter into D for drive and away you go.

In eerie silence. It’s essentially an electric car in this guise, with a quoted 41 kilometres of range between charge-ups and, get this, the ability to break our 120km/h motorway speed limit.

Naturally you’ll not get that range if you do that too often, but around town, 40km is plenty for most commutes. Not only does it mean no local pollution (the electricity has to come from somewhere, remember), it makes for an incredibly relaxing driving experience. Some town buyers might never use the petrol engine, so long as they regimentally plug the car into a charger at every opportunity.

And that’s how BMW can quote a faintly ludicrous official fuel economy figure of 141.2mpg — the test cycle is not long and much of it is at low speed following a charge-up.

Nonetheless, sales of pure electric cars reveal that most buyers aren’t happy with the limited range and relatively long recharging times, so the 225xe’s petrol engine will be welcome. It’s a turbocharged 1.5-litre unit that is quiet when it starts up and always smooth, yet makes a lovely distinctive noise if you feel the need to test its full performance. And that is an experience.

BMW quotes just 6.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h benchmark sprint, which makes it faster than all the diesel versions of the 2 Series Active Tourer and second fastest of the petrol options.

We’d believe it too and it comes as a massive surprise the first time you hold the throttle pedal all the way down. What’s more, this performance is seemingly effortless thanks to the noiseless instant torque of the electric motor and the four-wheel drive traction.

BMW has cleverly dispensed with any physical link between the front and rear axles here, as the electric motor drives the rear wheels and the petrol engine drives the front via an automatic transmission. It’s an efficient set-up shared, somewhat surprisingly, with BMW’s i8 sports car. The i8’s engine is in the back and the motor up front, but same idea really.

Naturally nobody expects a compact MPV to handle like a low-slung sports car, but BMW has given it a good go. The suspension will be a little firm for some, especially in its natural urban environment, but it does mean iron-fisted control of unwanted body and wheel movements on the open road. Really, we think BMW should have gone for a softer, more comfortable set-up.

Having discovered all this, our fictional potential car buyer would probably come back from their test drive a little mystified. One of the first questions they’ll ask is “how much?”

Thanks to an SEAI grant of €5,000 and VRT relief of €2,500, the 225xe starts at €42,790 on-the-road. That puts it in the middle of the most popular diesel options.

Only the 220d can be had with xDrive four-wheel drive, yet that costs nearly €4,000 more and is slower and less refined, which makes the hybrid seem good value in a way. Saying that, prices for the 2 Series Active Tourer start at a rather more modest €36,070, so the 225xe will only appeal to those considering spending a little more in any case.

As it is, BMW has created a semi-practical family car with ultra low running costs, yet driving dynamics and performance that would put some hot hatches to shame. It’s impressive, but we can’t quite understand who it’s aimed at.

AT A GLANCE

Pricing starts at: €42,790 on-the-road (including VRT relief and SEAI grant)

Engine: 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol and electric motor (224hp, 385Nm)

Emissions: from 46g/km (€170 per year)

Rivals: Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Renault Scenic, Volkswagen Golf SV


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