The new BMW 2-series Active Tourer 225xe is the smallest of Munich’s now five-strong plug-in hybrid range. This MPV – which is available to order now for £35,155 – arrives with the 330e and 740e, and joins the existing X5 xDrive40e and i8 variants.
All combine a petrol combustion engine with an electric motor and a battery pack that can be plugged in to a charge point or domestic socket, granting pure electric drive for limited periods. There are, however, various concepts at play.
Perhaps surprisingly, the 2-series MPV has most in common with the i8 petrol/electric supercar; it uses the same drivetrain concept but reversed 180 degrees. Hence the 225xe’s three-cylinder petrol engine (134bhp/163lb ft) is located under the bonnet, while an electric motor (87bhp/122lb ft) and lithium-ion battery is packaged at the rear and drives the rear axle for a combined 221bhp and 285bhp.
That’s just a little less power and a little more torque than the £3k-cheaper 225i xDrive, but the claimed efficiency takes a quantum leap to 141mpg and CO2 emissions drop to 46g/km (225i: 44.1mpg, 152g/km). Keep the batteries charged and you won’t use any fuel at all; BMW claims 3hr 15min to charge the PHEV from a domestic socket, or 2hr 15min from a BMW Wallbox.
Let me guess: more batteries, less boot space.
Surprisingly, you won’t notice too much of a change. Despite the hybrid kit, you only lose 50 litres of storage space beneath the boot floor. The fuel tank is also significantly smaller at 36 litres to accommodate the new tech; it’s a specially pressurised steel tank, allowing petrol to be stored safely for longer if you drive around on e-power most of the time.
How does the hybrid system work, then?
BMW’s Jorg Mollmann is responsible for the integration of the petrol and electric motors, and explains there are three driver-selectable electric modes: Auto eDrive, Max eDrive and Save Battery.
Auto eDrive, claims Mollmann, allows travel for up to 24 miles at up to 50mph. Max E Mode, meanwhile, allows all-electric power at up to 78mph for shorter, faster commutes, and automatically brings in the petrol engine if you push through the throttle stop.
That might be handy if you need to accelerate hard for a gap in traffic. Save Battery either maintains the charge of the battery if already depleted, or can raise it to over 50% during a journey by harvesting wasted energy during braking or coasting.
BMW’s Driving Experience Control switch is also present to add yet more modes: Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro tailor steering assistance and the response of the fossil-fuelled three-pot.
So what’s the 225xe like to drive?
The 225xe defaults to Auto e Mode. Off the line and in the mid-range, it accelerates with the energetic urgency we’ve come to expect from e-boosted cars, and the claimed 6.7sec dash to 62mph certainly feels believable; performance is strong.
The two powertrains are also very neatly integrated: there’s a very light whirring as you slow down and the energy regeneration kicks in, but the transition between petrol and electric is so smooth that you need to pay attention to spot it. That’s perhaps why four blue arrows light up on the dash during e-mode to warn you that, should you press harder on the throttle, you’ll awaken the petrol engine.
Shame the driving experience is ho-hum. The steering is feel-free, the body rolls, and the Active Tourer understeers and feels very much front-wheel drive, despite power going to all four wheels. You feel the 150kg penalty it carries over the 225i, and, well, 1735kg is pretty chunky.
We drove at the Miramas test facility in France, which clearly exaggerates speeds compared with typical road use, so the 225xe will probably feel fine as a daily driver, but it’s no ultimate driving machine – and no Mini for that matter.
More impressive was the 225xe’s performance off-road: we crawled up a loose 45-degree incline with total ease, and the BMW’s composure was retained even as we stopped and pulled off again at the midway point.
A car worth considering, then?
As a technical exercise the 225xe is incredibly impressive and the integration and packaging of the drivetrain in particular is very neat. For many of us, this BMW could offer all the benefits of an electric car, with none of the drawbacks. Just keep your expectations in check when you try and string together a few corners.