BMW’s Concept Active Tourer proves that MPVs can be sexy

One of the highlights of this year’s Paris Motor Show will be this, BMW’s first foray into the MPV sector – the Concept Active Tourer. It’s a front-wheel drive plug-in hybrid, shorter in length than an X1, but around as wide as a 5 Series.

Some people have focused on it being the first BMW to feature a compact transverse engine with front-wheel drive – although the electric drive i3 Concept has already let BMW’s front-wheel drive aspirations out of the bag.

But it’s the shape of the Concept Active Tourer that is perhaps its most distinctive feature. BMW don’t do MPVs nor offer transverse mounted engines (MINI excepted), but this could spawn a whole range of MPVs across the BMW range, making use of the packaging advantages of a new generation of premium compact cars.

Of course Mercedes has been here already, with its B-Class and R-Class. At 4353mm in length, 1834mm in width and 1560mm in height, the five-seat Concept Active Tourer is 9mm shorter, 48mm wider and 29mm shorter in wheelbase than Merc’s B-Class. There’s only a 3mm difference between them in height (in the Merc’s favour), so think of the Concept Active Tourer as a B-Class that’s been to the gym and gained a little muscle.

Powertrain

If their footprint on the road is similar, then their means of propulsion is where the two car differ most (although the BMW is a concept).

The BMW Concept Active Tourer (or ‘1 GT’ as is rumoured) has been designed as a so-called plug-in hybrid – ideally combining the benefits of electric drive with those of a classic combustion engine.

The combustion engine in question is the new 1.5-litre BMW TwinPower Turbo 3-cylinder, which will be produced at BMW’s Hams Hall engine plant, near Birmingham. Derived from BMW’s award-winning 6-cylinder engine, it uses the latest generation of high precision fuel injection and fully variable Valvetronic valve control, combined with TwinPower turbocharging.

It’s the same engine which will be used in BMW’s R8-rivalling i8 sports car, where it is mounted longitudinally.

It’s an engine which will form the basis of BMW’s future Efficient Dynamics models, because it offers the unique benefits of smooth running, high revving power, instantaneous response and a dynamic, sporty sound. Since there are no first and second-order inertia forces with a 3-cylinder engine layout, it offers an especially high level of comfort in terms of noise and vibration. The level of roll torque is lower than that of a 4-cylinder, compensated for by a single counterbalance shaft, making it extremely smooth-running at low engine speeds.

Accompanying the 3-cylinder petrol engine is a synchronous electric motor, that has a maximum range of more than 20 miles when running on electric power alone. This offers the potential for zero emission motoring for local journeys, but the electric motor can also be used to boost performance of the petrol engine during acceleration. The electric motor can provide a maximum torque of 148lb-ft (200 Nm) from the rest, providing a welcome and noticeable performance boost.

Combined power is 187bhp, with each axle being driven in a pseudo four-wheel drive orientation. In all-electric mode, the Concept Active Tourer is rear-wheel drive, while the transverse mounted petrol engine pulls from the front.

BMW quote zero to 62mph acceleration in less than 8.0 seconds, with a top speed of around 120mph. Combined fuel economy is in excess of 113 mpg, CO2 emissions level of less than 60 g/km.

A lithium-ion battery stores the energy harvested from both axes of the BMW Concept Active Tourer, and can be charged at any 220 volt household power socket.

Design

The looks and road presence of the Concept Active Tourer serves as a shot across the bows of Mercedes’ frumpy B-Class. Buyers downsizing from larger premium saloons expect the same authority, but within a more efficient package, BMW’s new concept is perhaps the first sign of what should be on offer, and may perhaps send its rival scurrying back to the drawing board.

BMW’s new MPV is also likely to eat into sales of the X1, whose awkward lines have never sat well with buyers. But it’s not just the aesthetic appeal that will win customers over, inside the Concept Active Tourer offers a sense of space and practicality, combined with features such as a variable tinting “Cool Shade” panorama roof, and a 10.25-inch integrated screen (containing information on speed, engine speed, fuel level and oil temperature) replacing the conventional instrument cluster.

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