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How the 2-series Active Tourer got its baffling name

This spring, BMW unveils another 2-series. You know the 2-series. The carmaker’s kicked things off with the 2-series Coupe, which is a two-door variant of the 1-series. So you might imagine that the next 2-series is the convertible.

No it’s not. It’s the 2-series Active Tourer. Huh? You might remember the Active Tourer concept. It’s BMW’s first front-drive car, and a close competitor for the Mercedes-Benz B-class. So why’s it called 2-series?

Basically, it’s a fudge. BMW prepared the ground carefully for making a front-drive car. It first hinted at one several years ago, and the boss Norbert Reithofer said in 2010 that most buyers of low-powered 1-series didn’t care - or even know - that their car was rear-drive.

So for a time we assumed the front-drive car would be the cheapest thing in the BMW range. It will after all share much of its mechanicals with the new Minis. And we guessed it’d be a member of the 1-series.

Yet it’s ended up a 2-series. Which is a paradox, because only last year BMW told us that even numbers (6, 4, and 2) were for the coupés and convertibles. Cars like the 6-series Coupe and Convertible and Gran Coupe, or the X6, the 4-series and now the 2-series Coupe. This year they will also launch the 4-series Gran Coupe and the slope-tailed X4.

Just a year on, BMW’s changed its tune about even numbers being for the coupes and cabrios. It now says the 2-series Active Tourer deserves to be a 2-series because it’s bigger than the 1-series, and will be more expensive.

But there’s another reason. I suggested to a senior BMW manager that to save confusion with the rear-drive coupes, they ought to call it something like the T1 (in the same way they have i3 and X5 and M4). 

Unsurprisingly, he was ahead of me. He said they’d thought of that. And they checked out every single letter of the alphabet. And hit a brick wall. All nameplates with a letter-number combination were, they found, already trademarked by other manufacturers - either car makers or others whose sphere overlaps.

Well, all except one. Y. And they decided (probably wisely) that calling a car the BMW Y1 was just too open to innuendo. So 2-series it is…

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