What is it?
This is BMW’s new plug-in hybrid version of the 2 Series Active Tourer. Although it is currently in final testing, this pre-production example is very close to showroom tune. BMW won’t say when the car will go on sale, but spring 2016 seems like the best bet.
As you might expect from BMW, there’s an impressive elegance and clarity of thought behind the conversion to a hybrid powertrain, as well as the promise of very swift-reacting all-wheel drive, substantial performance and up to 23 miles of pure electric running.
Fundamentally, the front-wheel-drive 2 Series layout has been retained. The turbocharged 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox. However, the transmission gets the addition of a starter/generator.
This performs three tasks. It can be used as a charger to top up the 2 Series’ battery pack, and it makes for very swift and smooth restarting, when the engine has stopped. It can also be used to boost performance at the front wheels, putting an extra 20bhp and 111lb ft into the system.
Charge from the generator is directed to the rear of the 2 Series via high-voltage cables to the compact lithium ion battery pack. With a modest 7.7kWh capacity, the battery is mounted in the same under-seat space as the fuel tank.
As a result, the fuel tank has been shrunk to 36 litres. It’s now also made of steel and is pressurised to allow the petrol to be stored safely over longer periods if the 2 Series is run mostly on battery power.
The car’s rear end is the familiar Z-axle, with more or less the same rear differential and driveshafts as those of the all-wheel-drive 2 Series. The rear electric motor is mounted aft of the rear axle, directly driving the rear wheels via the differential.
Aside from the charger flap in the front wing and the loss of the 50-litre storage space under the boot floor, this looks like any other 2 Series.
What’s it like?
This is a hybrid with two unexpected qualities. First, it’s pretty fleet of foot and, thanks to all-wheel drive (combustion engine driving the front wheels and the electric motor the rears), feels very well planted with the two engines operating at full power.
Second, the all-wheel drive system is claimed to be especially quick-reacting and sensitive to the under-wheel conditions. BMW demonstrated this by driving this pre-production model up a 50% incline with a loose surface.
Even with three adults on board, the car’s complex transmission was able to sit stationary on the slope and then pull away without any kind of hesitation or discernible activation of the traction control system.
Certainly, a typical 2 Series owner is unlikely to be heading down loose gravel tracks. But the demonstration showed the impressive sensitivity of this petrol-electric all-wheel drive system far better than could be achieved on asphalt.
A couple of fast laps of the BMW track couldn’t tell us too much about the 2 Series’ ride quality in the real world, but it did give a decent taster.
One of the best things about the eDrive 2 Series is that it uses a conventional transmission, rather than a CVT. This means it feels like a brisk normal car and any assistance from the electrically driven rear axle is extremely subtle.
Certainly, there’s a distinctive whine from the electric motor in the cabin and you know you are in a hybrid when the car pulls away on battery power alone. BMW says the 2 Series can get up to 50mph on battery power alone before the petrol engine kicks in.
Punted around the track, the 2 Series Active Tourer seems to have been polished nicely compared with the launch cars of 12 months ago. It corners nice and flat, it’s stable at speed and the steering seems to be usefully direct and positive through tight curves.
Using Max eDrive, which brings both power sources in together, not only delivers handy pace but also really gives the Active Touter a sense of tied-down stability which you wouldn’t get in a front-driver, even with many of the latest part-time all-wheel drive systems.
The sensation is accentuated because the seating position is higher than normal and the 2 Series doesn’t have any sense of being on tip-toe through quick corners.
For the rest of the time, this car just feels like a very good, conventional front-driver. The Auto eDrive mode, which has the car shuttling between petrol and battery power in the most efficient way it sees fit, is the car’s default setting and it appears to work admirably.
Should I buy one?
BMW says the price of the 2 Series eDrive will be similar to a mainstream Active Tourer model with similar performance – probably the 225i xDrive. And it’s a car with an extraordinary range of abilities. It can run on pure EV power in city centres, offers an impressive all-wheel drive system, delivers poke and stability in Max eDrive mode and runs as a fuel-sipping hybrid in normal conditions.
All that and the fact that the car doesn’t feel anything less than conventional to drive – unlike, say, the Toyota Prius or Chevrolet Volt – makes it a very intriguing proposition.
With the 2 Series eDrive, BMW has managed to introduce hybrid power and exploit the benefits of electric traction for more than just pure economy. It’s a clever and compelling car.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer eDrive
Location Germany; On sale Spring 2016 (est); Price £33,000 (est); Engine 3 cyls, 1496cc, petrol, plus electric motor; Power 221bhp (combined); Torque 284lb ft (combined); Gearbox 6-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1735kg (est); Top speed127mph; Economy 112mpg (combined); 0-62mph 6.5sec; CO2/tax band “Less than 50g/km”, 5%
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