The new BMW 2 Series Active Tourer isn’t your typical BMW. It’s the company’s first front-wheel-drive car, and its first MPV. You could be forgiven for thinking the wrong badge has been applied to another brand’s people carrier.

For all its inoffensive, family-friendly proportions, that makes the 2 Series Active Tourer a controversial car. Can a front-wheel-drive MPV ever be a proper BMW? And what tow car potential does it have? Last week I had the chance to find out.

There’s a choice of 218i petrol or 218d diesel power, with more engine options arriving next month including four-wheel-drive versions with more muscle and higher towing limits. I drove the 218d turbodiesel, which for now looks to be the pick of the range for towing. 

With 148bhp and 243lb ft of torque there’s plenty of poke for pulling small and mid-sized caravans, and an official combined economy figure of 68.9mpg. The 218d Active Tourer has a kerbweight of 1450kg, rising to 1485kg for the automatic model I drove. That gives an 85% match figure of 1262kg for the auto, which is within the legal towing limit of 1300kg.

On my solo test drive the 218d was responsive and quick. You know you’re driving a diesel from the slight clatter under the bonnet but the engine never sounds obtrusive. Towing on the motorway or hilly roads should be straightforward with such a torquey engine.

So, the 218d is reasonably quick, but it’s the way BMWs go around corners which has made its reputation as a maker of drivers’ cars. There’s more body roll than you’d experience driving a lower-slung BMW, but for an MPV the 2 Series Active Tourer is surprisingly nimble.

The adaptive dampers fitted to the test car certainly help. In ‘Sport’ mode the car feels well tied down, but switch to ‘Comfort’ and lumps and bumps in the road are smoothed away efficiently. It’s still a little firm at low speeds, but far from uncomfortable. This kind of system can be rather expensive, but BMW charges a reasonable £390. If I was buying the car, it’s an option I’d choose.

So, for a boxy MPV the 2 Series Active Tourer does a surprisingly good impression of a proper BMW. On the inside, this BMW does a reasonable interpretation of a boxy MPV.

Certainly, there’s plenty of space. I’m 6ft 3in, and with the driver’s seat set up for me I could sit in the back without my knees touching the front seat. Indentations in the front seat help make the most of every last millimetre of space, and there are vents between the two front seats to make sure conditioned air reaches those travelling in the back.

The 468-litre boot is a reasonable size and a good, square shape, and you can slide the rear seats forward on runners if you need a little more space and your passengers can spare the legroom. With the rear seats folded (achieved at the touch of a button) the capacity increases to 1510 litres, but there’s a gap between the boot floor and the seat back which small items might fall into.

It’s a practical enough car, but the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer misses out on the clever touches you find in some MPVs. There’s no extra storage under rear-seat passengers’ feet, for example, and the likes of the Citroën C4 Picasso offer more boot space (537 litres with the seats up).

There’s also the BMW’s price to consider. The range starts from £22,145, with the 218d costing at least £24,205. My Luxury spec test car had a list price of £25,425, but with the long list of options fitted the total as tested came to £34,535. That’s serious money for a five-seat MPV.

It’s not the best BMW I’ve ever driven or the best MPV I’ve ever sat in, but it is a practical and likeable car. My worry is that the 2 Series Active Tourer falls between two stools. Many die-hard BMW fans won’t accept it, and are there enough MPV buyers prepared to pay for a premium badge? Time will tell.