Composed, comfortable and quick, but the 2-series Gran Coupe is short on dynamic flair
If SUVs and crossovers have been the biggest automotive craze of recent years, then four-door coupes have to be a close second. What began with cars such as the Mercedes-Benz CLS and Volkswagen Passat CC has expanded across the market, suffixed with badges such as ‘coupe’ and ‘fastback’.
BMW’s suffix of choice is Gran Coupe, and after appearing on 4-series, 6-series and 8-series models, it’s now appended to the 2-series too. With no proper coupe model of the 1-series planned, this is the sleekest the new front-wheel-drive-based car is likely to get, and comes with a modest range of engines, from a turbocharged three-cylinder through a four-pot diesel and on to the range-topping M235i xDrive.
Until now we’ve been most familiar with the sportiest version of the 1-series, the M135i, and in all but shape the M235i is largely the same. Unfortunately, that means it falls short of our expectations, for while it’s undoubtedly a fast and capable car, it’s not as entertaining as rivals, nor feels as special as the old six-cylinder, rear-drive models.
Plenty of customers will doubtless be happy with their 2-series purchases, but where once you could make a case for the smallest BMWs offering something no other rival did, the latest car gives you little reason to choose it over a Mercedes-Benz CLA.
As with the previous 1-series and 2-series (the latter of which remains on sale, for the time being), the current entry-level 2-series Gran Coupe is the 218i, using a Mini-derived 1499cc three-cylinder engine, boosted by a turbocharger. It’s good for 103kW and 220Nm of torque, sent through either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Next up is the 220d Gran Coupe, moving up to a 2-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel with 140kW and 400Nm of torque. Again it’s front-wheel drive, though the sole transmission option this time is an eight-speed automatic.
Mechanically the range-topping M235i packs the same 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and all-wheel-drive set-up as the M135i. Power comes in at 225kW from 5000 to 6200rpm, with 450Nm of torque developed over a 1750-4500rpm spread.
xDrive all-wheel drive is standard, as is an eight-speed automatic transmission and a limited-slip differential at the front axle. With the latest 2-series Gran Coupe based on a Mini platform the car is predominantly front-wheel drive, though the car’s electronic brain can send power to the rear wheels within a few milliseconds – though only to a maximum 50:50 torque split.
Structurally, think 1-series, but with some extra metal poking out beyond the rear axle. That gives the front-wheel-drive 218i a kerb weight of 1375kg, rising to a hefty 1570kg for the M235i xDrive, 45kg more than the M135i hatchback.
BMW has given the M235i in particular a slightly softer set-up than the hatchback, for a slightly more ‘grown-up’ dynamic personality. It’s as sophisticated under the skin – the latest 1 and 2’s bodies are stiffer than their predecessors, there’s a multi-link rear axle, and the M models ride 10mm lower than standard 2-series models – but given the M135i is far from our favourite all-wheel-drive hatch, a softer set-up doesn’t bode well for the M235i.
The model at the bottom of the price sheets is also slowest off the line, though the days of ten-second-plus 0-62mph times are long behind us, with the 218i Gran Coupe scrabbling there in 8.7sec. Top speed is 215kmh, which in turn is 6mph behind the 220d. The diesel also manages to hit 100kmh from rest in a respectable 7.5sec – hot hatchback pace once upon a time.
If you’re looking for a 0-100kmh benchmark in the 2-series Gran Coupe range then you can add a figure of 4.9sec to your mental filing cabinet for the M235i, with the usual electronically limited top speed of 250kmh.
At low throttle inputs it’s as refined as any three, but revving it harder isn’t as enjoyable as it is in say, a three-cylinder supermini, with the 2-series carrying perhaps a little too much weight for the 1.5 to feel lively. The three-pod’s dual-clutch transmission comes without paddles too, so if you want to swap cogs yourself, you’ll have to work the stubby selector lever – or have bought the manual.
BMW has certainly hit its maturity targets. Both 2-series Gran Coupes we’ve tried ride well, rounding off the worst bumps yet maintaining control of their faculties over cambers and undulations. The sharp steering has decent weight and both engines are smooth and responsive, and their gearboxes shift cleanly.
Thing is, the 2-series just isn’t that fun. There’s plenty of everything you’d expect from a car like this, with strong pace, ample traction and lateral grip, a precise front end, good mid-corner balance, and strong brakes that are easy to modulate.
But their engines are also largely characterless, even with the M235i’s in its rowdier Sport mode. The three-cylinder strains while the four-cylinder drones, neither having any verve to their delivery, and there’s not quite enough feedback through the otherwise well-judged controls to involve you in the act of driving.
If you’re wondering why both petrols are being lumped into those descriptions, it’s because whether driving a basic 218i or the sporty M235i, they actually share plenty of characteristics. The M235i is faster and firmer than the 218i certainly, but not notably more involving to drive.
There’s a sense that the M235i has probably hit a bunch of objective internal measures within BMW and given the go-ahead as a result. Without the six-cylinder engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and available manual gearbox of its predecessor though, it has to work much harder for our affections, and instead it feels like BMW has done the bare minimum. The outgoing, five-year-old Golf R is more fun, and the current Mercedes-AMG CLA35 and A35 saloon more engaging. Antony Ingram