The honeymoon is supposed to be the best trip of your life: relaxing, rewarding, indulgent. Six months after our wedding my wife and I ventured out to Italy’s Amalfi Coast and had an experience that was all of the above and more. It was my wife’s first time in this specific region and my first time in Europe. Appropriately I had to rent us a quirky Euro-market car for the trip.
BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer fits the bill. A front-wheel-drive, diesel-powered hatchback with a manual transmission. Drool-worthy, forbidden fruit? Not so much. But something that can’t be experienced on our home turf? Absolutely.
(Note: This was originally posted 10/2019 but seems to have been lost in the long-past changeover to our new server. I’m reposting it now so it doesn’t disappear forever, but mostly because I desperately miss traveling.)
After twenty hours of travel, we finally arrived at the Naples airport. We found the Sixt hub and maybe it was the jet lag, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Initial inspection of our rental car revealed it was clean and didn’t smell like smoke or anything worse. A good start. Deducing that my downloaded Google Maps directions weren’t populating in real-time as quickly as would be ideal, I looked to BMW’s iDrive and its built-in navigation system. Using the center screen would, of course, be easier than my relying on my phone.
Long lauded for its over-complexity and interactive difficulties, iDrive has gotten better but it’s still not perfect. Toggling through towns and streets still requires far more steps than it should. This wasn’t helped by my inability to figure out how to change the language to English, but the nearby Sixt employee was more than happy to help. Directions figured out and finally fully understandable, we hit the road.
Right from the start the 2’s turning radius and reasonably small size worked wonders for maneuverability. People had told me the roads were tight in Italy but even the parking lots immediately proved correspondingly so. Before we had left the vicinity of NAP, the 2’s good visibility and a solid amount of steering angle afforded proved helpful in getting around. The same traits would be rather beneficial in both navigating the tiny towns as well as for dicing through the Amalfi mountain roads.
Once out on the main roads, it was somewhat hard to focus on the 2 itself. Some credit absolutely goes to how easy the 2 is to drive. But the majority goes to the Italian landscape that I was setting my eyes on for the first time. Heading south from the airport brings a jumbled mix of extreme wealth juxtaposed with homes and streets stuck in decades and centuries of yore. One minute you’re eyeing a brand-new Audi parked alongside a gorgeous, modern home; the next, you’re wedged between a twenty-year-old Renault and a home constructed well before Renault itself even existed. And yet, much of what we passed exists somewhere in the middle. Small, front-drive hatches adorn the countryside as often and frequently as do old, decrepit, or supremely worn apartments. That is still somehow extremely picturesque.
And yet, the little BMW never felt out of place. The bland styling plays into this and the paint color here isn’t doing it any favors. Barring that, the 2 was just another car putting along the Italian roads. The fact that it was a BMW made no difference whatsoever.
In renting the BMW I wasn’t expecting a dynamic superhero and the 2 certainly is not so. But that was good: the ease of use allowed me to enjoy the scenery and experience even more than had I been fully focused solely on driving the car. Make no mistakes though, and don’t let the badge fool you the 2 is not sporty. Not in any way. The steering is numb as if you’re telling it what to do from the other side of a mountain. The gearbox is mushy. The suspension isolated rather than connects. Even when hustling the car as quickly as I felt safe, it in no way inspired me to drive harder. Rather, it just scurried along quietly and without drama.
On the bright side, the car’s pedestrian intentions make for an extremely light steering effort. Turning the wheel requires little to no input or force. This makes it great for tight roads and tiny parking lots. The clutch grabs at the top and has something resembling weight, but the shifter has absolutely zero feedback whatsoever. Only intuition guides what gear you up-or-downshift into. And while the fuel economy was strong, the engine is slow, wheezy, and fairly responsive in both low-speed mountain road and high-speed highway operation alike. It’s precisely what you’d expect from a small diesel focused on efficiency. The 2 never felt underpowered but it surely never felt quick. Merging onto the highway was not a thoughtless process but it wasn’t as scary slow as other economy-minded cars I’ve driven. And once up to cruising speed, it had no problem keeping up in the fast lane when driven in a “we’re going to miss our connecting transportation” manner.
The key here with the 2 Series Active Tourer is the ease of use engineered into its bones. It cruises along on the highway with not a care in the world and deals with tight city and mountainside life as if it was made for it. And, of course, that’s because it was. While it dwarfs many other cars more commonly seen on the Amalfi Coast it’s still plenty manageable and, short of iDrive, is incredibly easy to operate and drive. The same ease-of-use mojo goes for the packaging on the inside which has clever spots for everything you can bring with you. The seats are comfortable, the seating position more minivan-like than a traditional car, and the visibility fantastic. Convenience and intelligent usability above all else.
Truth be told, I like the 2 Series Active Tourer. Or, at least, I liked my time with it. It’s good at its intended purpose and was supremely easy to get accustomed to on very unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar country, after a weird sleep cycle and having traveled for nearly a day. Get in, take one minute to familiarize myself with the car, and go. Expect nothing more than a good-riding, fuel-efficient hatchback and it’s by no means disappointing. Fun? No. Sporty? No. But is the 2 Series Active Tourer a good honeymoon chariot? And a simple, easy-to-acclimate-to companion for a first-time trip out of the country? Given these circumstances, it was exactly what we needed.
As for Italy? We wouldn’t hesitate to go back. In fact, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Our trip was the perfect combination of relaxing and adventurous. As a whole, it was an incredible experience, especially for my first time in Europe. The Amalfi Coast is simply a must-do for an Italian adventure. And will forever hold a special place in my heart.
And if my words don’t do it justice, maybe the pictures do.