► BMW 2-series Gran Coupe review
► All three engines tested
► Four doors, front- or all-wheel drive
Here’s the smallest application yet of BMW’s Gran Coupe formula: a sort-of swoopy, kind-of coupe-like roofline on a three-box saloon shape, with four doors. It started with the 6-series Gran Coupe in 2012, and it’s been followed by 4- and 8-series GCs. Now there’s a 2-series version too, the most compact Gran Coupe to date (albeit with a full-size grille).
Isn’t the 2-series just the two-door version of the 1-series?
It still is, in that you can still buy the outgoing F22-series 2-series for now, but it’s soon to be put out to pasture. There’ll be a brand-new two-door 2-series to replace it, but that’s not expected to be along until 2021. To the perking up of petrolheads everywhere, the next two-door 2 will remain rear-wheel drive, on a slightly different platform to that of this 2-series Gran Coupe. Confused? So are we...
The four-door Gran Coupe is front-wheel-drive, since it’s built upon the exact same transverse-engined architecture as the current-generation 1-series. The top M235i xDrive version adds on-demand all-wheel drive, however.
Righto. What’s this one like?
Unsurprisingly, much like a 1-series: same wheelbase, similar nose, virtually the same cabin in the front. At the back there’s a saloon boot instead of a tailgate hatchback, so you can’t fit tall things in so easily, but it’s still deep and roomy with the use of split-folding rear seats.
The back seats don’t accommodate tall people quite so easily as the 1-series, on account of there being a lower roof and a lower rear window in the way.
If you’re approaching 6ft or taller, you need to duck a bit to get under the cant rail and you’ll find the top and the back of your head brushes the roofline if you settle back into the headrest, which will niggle on a long journey. It’s fine for shorter ones - or for shorter humans, in fact - and there’s plenty of knee room even if you’re sat behind a rangy driver.
Talk me through the range
In the UK there are two ‘regular’ engines available: the 218i (1.5-litre, three-cylinder petrol), and the 220d (2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel), both front-wheel-drive.
You can have these in two trim levels: Sport and M Sport. The latter adds larger 18-inch wheels (Sport versions get 17s, 19s are an option), 10mm lower M Sport suspension set-up, heated leather seats, an M Sport steering wheel and a larger media screen.
BMW expects 218i versions in M Sport trim to be the most popular sellers in the UK.
Then there’s the aforementioned range-topping, really rather potent M235i.
This is an M Performance model rather than a full M car – that’ll be the M2 replacement, still some way from release – and is a natural rival to the likes of the Mercedes-AMG A35 saloon and Audi S3 saloon.
Let’s start with the regular models. What are they like?
We’ve tested both the 220d diesel and 218i petrol in M Sport spec.
The 220d’s engine produces 187bhp and takes 7.5 seconds to get from 0-62mph. While it’s a little grumbly by modern diesel standards, it’s rich with torque and gets down the road swiftly enough
While the 218i can be had with a manual gearbox, the 220d is only available with an eight-speed auto. As with many current BMWs, it’s sweetly calibrated and does a nice job of picking the right gear for the right moment without recourse to the override paddles.
We also tried the 218i petrol with the automatic gearbox, and despite it being the least powerful engine on offer, it delivers all 138bhp in a punchy manner. Sure, it’s working harder than all the other engines to get up to speed, but it’s sweet to rev out and also sounds pleasingly thrummy, taking 8.7 seconds to sprint from 0-62mph – just don’t expect any huge fuel-saving advantages when you do so.
Other than some tweaks to account for the longer rear overhang and mildly different weight distribution than the 1-series, the suspension set-up is broadly the same.
All versions use multi-link rear suspension, and body control is top-drawer, absorbing mid-corner bumps without fuss or deviation, but ride comfort on the M Sport suspension really is tough on rough roads.
It improves at higher speeds, but in town, it’s worth a back-to-back test drive with the smaller-wheeled Sport and any other short-listed candidates to make sure you’d be happy to live with it.
It’s curious that the ride felt so jiggly in this M Sport car, as BMW’s chassis engineers have aimed to give the Gran Coupe a tuning more towards ride comfort than hot-hatch alertness, concentrating particularly on ‘wheel comfort’ as opposed to ‘body comfort’. We’re yet to drive the Sport-spec suspension, which may be more in line with their aims.
The 2-series Gran Coupe also has been set up with slightly less effort for the power steering at low speeds, to make it a little more relaxing to drive than the 1-series.
The interior is largely identical to that of the 1-series, echoing the posher 3- and 8 Series. There’s a choice of mood lighting colours to illuminate the spangly trim inserts and broadly intuitive ergonomics, including the touch-the-screen, twist-the-dial or Hey-BMW-voice-control iDrive system. The latter is a bit hit and miss in operation.
Android Auto will be available from July 2020 and will integrate with the optional head-up display – expect that function to come to Apple CarPlay in the near future too.
Right, the fast one. What’s the M235i like?
The interior is only a small step up from a regular 218i or 220d in M Sport trim, with some go-faster-striped seatbelts, sports seats and extra Alcantara being the main highlights. But it drives like a different car.
On narrow, undulating roads, the M235i turns in and changes direction like a horizontal yoyo, with great response from the front Pirellis (in the dry at least).
Like the regular 220d, the steering set-up is very fast, with little need to move your hands from quarter-to-three. The response just past the straight ahead is instant, but it manages to avoid feeling nervous.
On optional adaptive dampers, this car enjoyed better ride quality than the 220d, despite higher spring rates – perhaps a function of the stiffer body bracing on the M235i, which gets an additional strut brace at the front and ‘boomerang brace’ at the rear to go with stiffer anti-roll bars.
The extra fortification’s aim is to get a more immediate response from the rear end as well as the front, which manifests itself in a neat pivot-around-the-middle moment when pushing on.
Otherwise, testing a model with optional 19-inch wheels and conventional dampers resulted in a jittery low-speed ride. Road noise is also quite high, but this is less of a surprise given the extremely low-profile Pirelli tyres fitted. It’s certainly not as hushed in the cabin as a 3 Series, but refinement is very good elsewhere – the drivetrain is smooth and there’s little engine or wind noise at motorway speeds.
A standard-fit mechanical Torsen limited-slip diff at the front helps the M235i stay on target, something the engineering team had to fight hard for given the additional unit cost to each car. There’s plenty of grip on offer, but, just like its other all-wheel drive rivals, this entry-level Gran Coupe does feel a little inert.
It safe, secure and you have confidence in the high levels of traction on offer, but it understeers a little sooner in the wet than you’d might expect. It feels quite light on its feet and the quick steering certainly betters the Mercedes-AMG A35 and outgoing S3 saloon, but it’s still not a car that will be remembered for excitement - even if there is some smile-inducing lift-off oversteer fun to be had.
Because of that, the M235i Gran Coupe joins the other 300bhp+ all-wheel drive saloons as being an effective all-weather tool, but remains a little blunt. It’s just that this BMW has been sanded down to have a slightly sharper edge over the others.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo has a muscular, deep note (partially enhanced by the cabin speakers in Sport mode), and feels most potent in its mid-range, dipping in and out of the 332lb ft groundswell of torque. Almost like a diesel, but a fun one that’s also happy to rev out.
To handle all that torque it uses a regular torque converter auto rather than a dual-clutch, which shifts smoothly and swiftly in both manual or auto modes.
Is the new, all-wheel-drive M235i as much fun as the old, rear-wheel drive M235i and M240i? Well, no – it’s not quite as raw, or as exciting. But it is more polished, more usable in the wet and a great deal of fun in its own right. And if it’s not quite fun enough for you, there’ll be a proper rear-driven successor along down the line.
The regular 2-series Gran Coupe variant has most of the strengths of the 1-series, minus a bit of its rear headroom (but retaining a genuinely practical boot), and with some extra swagger in its style – provided you can get on with the styling (and the tough ride quality in M Sport spec).
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