The new BMW 2-Series Active Tourer was never intended to set the world on fire. For a company with as broad a portfolio as BMW, the car is more about filling every last nook and cranny in the line-up than it is about making a piece of sleek, ultra-desirable automotive design.

For a start, the Active Tourer is front wheel drive, the very first BMW to be powered by this traditionally 'less sporting' arrangement. For decades, the German company has traded on a reputation of perfectly balanced, finely honed sporting machines, so why upset a hard-won defining brand characteristic? The prosaic answer involves things like spreadsheets and platform sharing and the need to balance the company's varied line-up with some common parts underneath the bodywork.

It helps substantially that BMW already makes a perfectly competent sporting front-wheel drive machine; the MINI. And that's what you'll find under the Active Tourer's skin - a specially engineered platform that also forms the core of the current third generation MINI and its siblings.

With all that mechanical politics out of the way, what is the Active Tourer actually like? Its nearest rival is the Mercedes B-Class, with whom it shares both a physical and customer profile - rather staid and sedate. This is the car as pure function; compact, no-nonsense, technologically advanced, and with admirable commitment to just doing something well.

BMW is not afraid to shoehorn its design cues into unconventional packages - witness the ungainly X5 and X6 - and all the 'classic signs' are there, the kidney grille, the Hofmeister kink shape in the rear window and what could be termed the 'Van Hooijdonk lozenge' to describe the headlights and air vents. 

Despite the lack of exterior thrills the interior is exceptional, confirming BMW's status as probably the current world leader in in-car electronics. If you want all the toys you're going to have to pay for them, but if you do you'll get a car that's driver-focused, easy to live with and entertaining simply to sit in. The screens are large, the graphics excellent, the menus intuitive - far more than can be said for some of its rivals.

In the next year a 7-seater version will be along to bolster its family-friendly, multi-functional image even more, although it's confusing that the 2-Series Active Tourer is mechanically unrelated to the other cars in the 2-Series range, the neat Coupé and Convertible. What this isn't - and can never be - is a swift sporting BMW in the traditional sense. But for many, the Active Tourer is the ideal car, a vehicle that deliberately forgets its cultural baggage. 

TAGS: BMW, TRANSPORT