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BMW's Concept Active Tourer Outdoor takes on 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Near-affluent green car buyers who need a crossover to haul their outdoors gear will soon have a new choice. But are BMW's imaginings for this vehicle a fairy tale?


The new BMW Concept Active Tourer Outdoor is BMW’s take on the upcoming 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek. The BMW will be just a bit shorter, a bit wider, and exactly the same height as Subaru’s new hit compact crossover. The new BMW is slater for a reveal this week at a German outdoors show. In advance of the reveal, BMW has provided us with a look at what it envisions the new Active Tourer Outdoor to be, what it can do, and who it thinks might want one.

The new BMW Concept Active Tourer Outdoor (can we call it CATO to save finger strength?) is a compact crossover about the size of the Subaru Outback Sport, or Impreza we all have known for some time. That means that in the BMW lineup it is sort of a chubby, inflated X1. However, the CATO is front wheel drive in its basic design. Later editions can be released with all-wheel drive included, possibly with the rear wheels driven just by the electric motor, but BMW will likely wait until after the fuel economy numbers are set by the 2WD version for marketing. Sort of the way that Mazda always touts the fuel economy of its front-drive, manual transmission CX-5, of which it sells almost none, while selling the pants off the more powerful, automatic transmission, AWD CX-5. As we have pointed out here, AWD is a gas guzzling option, but in vehicles of this type, buyers want it, practically demand it.

BMW is making a lot of noise about CATO's ability to hold two bicycles inside the cabin on a special carrier. We hope that comes to pass, but a lot of times these concepts have gadgets like that which seem to fall off the options list when the vehicle comes closer to actual sale. Expect the monster 20 inch wheels to go away as well. Those huge gumballs have no place on a plug-in hybrid trying to squeeze every last drop of energy from a gallon of premium unleaded.

BMW must have been peeking at Subaru, because the new Suby XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a very, very similar vehicle. BMW is making the rounds with the CATO in plug-in hybrid form, hoping to post some amazing MPGe numbers (of about 100 mpge), but in practical sales out of American dealerships a more cost effective hybrid might be a bigger sales success. The new Suby can post up about 40 mpg in the US cycle with AWD. That will be a big step forward for the brand, although the conventionally powered 2013 XV Crosstrek gets a very respectable 36 mpg highway now.

Although both Subaru and BMW envision their new crossovers to be all about the outdoors, including a heavy emphasis on biking, BMW and Subaru so far have started down two different bike paths. Subaru markets almost all their vehicles in pictures near a lake or river, with healthy young folks unloading Bass Pro Shop gear on to the pine needle covered ground. The emphasis is mountain biking and kayaking. In its press release package on the CATO BMW told us what it thought these vehicles might be good for saying “…the clever bicycle carrier offers an environmentally friendly mobility option where city centre parking as at a premium; the BMW can be parked outside overcrowded central areas and the journey completed in far more relaxed fashion on two wheels.” Keep in mind this is a fairy tale that will not make as much sense in the US. Here, if there are people who drive towards cities to bike, and imagine that experience is going to be relaxing, they are in for a big surprise the first time they are next to a delivery truck that turns right in front of them or a car door opens and forces them to swerve into the lane where teens get their texting done.

If there is one thing that automakers are good at, it’s copying the successful products pioneered by competitors. We are not claiming this is a bad thing. Drive a Chrysler maxi-van back to back with the Honda Odyssey and you will see that the Honda has improved the breed. Natural selection killed off the weaker members of the herd (GM, Ford, and others). That BMW is bringing to market a direct competitor to a brand that markets to eco-conscious, financially comfortable, suburban car buyers is smart. After all, it is Subaru, not BMW that now offers the best rear wheel drive enthusiast's car for around $ 30K in the US right now. Guess who used to have that market sewn up?