There we were, slicing around the backroads of Negros Occidental in the fading afternoon sun, all of us behind the wheel of the latest automobiles from a brand that that represents sheer driving pleasure.
There is, however, something very different about these BMWs: they are all 2 Series Active Tourers, all if which are MPVs and all of which are front-wheel drive.
Just a few hours prior, we had just landed in Bacolod at the invitation of BMW Philippines to drive the all new 2 Series Active Tourer. Quite understandably I was anxious about this new model as it goes against many of BMW's core principles, and understandably so; this is the first time BMW had dabbled in a vehicle that drove its front tires and was technically a multi-purpose vehicle. Is this really a BMW?
Seeing the 2 Series Active Tourer gleaming in the sun dispelled many of those doubts. Few automakers are instantly recognizable just by looking at the front of the car; one of them is BMW. That double kidney grille, the headlights, the way the car seems poised to take on the road is unmistakable. The body is really that of a compact MPV, meaning it's larger and taller than a hatchback like the 1 Series but shorter than a wagon like the Touring models.
We set off from BMW's dealership in Bacolod and made our way for some of the province's wide open roads... or so I thought. Being a BMW Lifestyle Drive, the organizers plotted several stops along the route, first of which was a location that had the remains of a house aptly called The Ruins.
The skeletal remains of the house actually represented a labor of love in Bacolod, as it was built by the original owner for his wife, though it was burned down in the 1940's to avoid it becoming a garrison for invading Japanese troops. The Ruins now stand as one of Bacolod's most visited tourist sites.
While everyone was enjoying the sights and the rather animated narration by the designated tour guide, I took a little more time to get acquainted with the Active Tourer. The doors open with that German air of quality; the leather smells of it too. Settling into the rather comfortable driver's seat, it's easy to get familiarized with the layout of all the controls. The steering offers a full hold and the center console is neatly arranged and intuitive to use. Same goes for the updated iDrive multimedia control system flanking the automatic gearstick to manipulate the many functions of the LCD screen on the dash.
When the group returned to the vehicles, we continued on our way. Negros Occidental is a province known for it's sugarcane, and that's what you can see from the large glass windows of the Active Tourer to the left and right as far as the eyes can see. When the road opened up even more, we were able to stretch the legs of the Active Tourer.
At the heart of this MPV is a 1.5-liter, turbocharged 3-cylinder motor makes it's compact but peppy presence known. It may be small but it's got what counts: 136 horsepower at 4400 rpm and 220 Nm of fuel-saving torque starting at 1250 rpm. The engine combined with a 6-speed automatic and the company's fuel saving tech holds a lot of promise. Overtaking slower vehicles is a breeze, thanks to the performance of the drivetrain. The engine may be small but the Active Tourer is no slouch, able to dispatch 100 km/h from naught in just 9.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 210 km/h.
Out of the straight provincial highways and onto Negros Occidental's twisty mountain roads, the 218i Active Tourer shows us why it deserves the Munich's badge of automotive honor. It may be a front driver but it's handling on these roads defies expectations; the reason being is that Active Tourer shares much of its chassis architecture with another BMW subsidiary that specializes in front wheel drive cars: MINI. As a result the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer behaves like a fun little hot hatchback instead of a boring MPV, meaning everyone can have a little fun when twisty roads are encountered. Isn't that what a BMW is all-about?
As we got closer to our destination, the Punta Bulata Resort in Negros Occidental, what BMW is trying to tell us with the 2 Series Active Tourer becomes just that little bit clearer. Anything they do will be unmistakably their own, and that holds especially true when they change their signature recipe so radically like what they did with this MPV. This Active Tourer opens up the BMW experience to a potentially wide customer base, one that cares not for rear wheel drive but cares more for practicality, efficiency, versatility and all around usability.
Yes, building an MPV is not BMW's thing but, based on what we've seen and felt on this scenic and fun drive way down south of the archipelago, perhaps the manufacturers of other MPVs can take a page from what Munich has accomplished with the 2 Series Active Tourer.