2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe 218i and M235i Review

For far too long, BMW has been watching rivals Mercedes-Benz and Audi racking in from the lucrative compact premium market. Mercedes’ A-Class and CLA-Class have brought a whole new group of young buyers to a brand once only accessible to wealthy older buyers, while the strong-selling Audi A3 hatch and sedan have helped boost the company’s market share to new heights.

Sure, BMW has had the 1 Series since 2004, but it was only available in hatch, coupe and convertible forms, the latter two subsequently became the 2 Series. While rivals have been predominantly front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive fitted to performance variants, the 1 Series was rear-wheel drive only, making it a little more costly to build and therefore pricier than rivals.

BMW is done sitting on the fence. The 1 Series and 2 Series range has been completely rethought and out comes the new 1 Series hatch to rival the A-Class and A3 hatch, and – finally – a sleeker alternative in the form of a 2 Series Gran Coupe to face off the CLA-Class and A3 sedan.

Yes, both models have adopted front-wheel drive to better match the competition both in terms of packaging and pricing, with all-wheel drive offered in range-topping M Performance specs.

If this platform seems familiar, that’s because it also underpins the BMW X1 and MINI Countryman. The UKL2 modular architecture is designed specifically to suit a range of compact front and all-wheel drive models. It’s adaptable for electrified powertrains so we might see some sort of hybrid 1 Series and 2 Series Gran Coupe further down the track.

Now, before you traditional BMW fans go knocking on the wall, here’s good news: entry-level rear-wheel drive BMWs are here to stay and will continue to wear the 2 Series (non Gran Coupe) moniker. The next-generation 2er coupe will launch in early 2021, with a convertible derivative to follow suit later in the same year. Yup, this means the M2 gets to live on in its current front-engined, rear-drive form, too.

We have driven the new 1 Series hatch earlier this year and the impression was largely positive, but it’s the 2 Series Gran Coupe that is getting us really excited. Pricing for the first ever booted four-door compact BMW starts at $49,990 for the 218i Gran Coupe, a $7,000 premium over its hatch sibling (such is the price to pay for sexier styling). The top-spec M235i xDrive Gran Coupe asks for $72,990, a whopping $9,000 more than the hatch. Later in Q3 this year, the mid-spec 220i Gran Coupe will join the line-up priced at $53,990. All prices are exclusive of on-road costs.

Style is everything

If the 2 Series Gran Coupe is to succeed in this segment, it needs to get one thing right – styling. It’s by far one of the most important criteria for this segment’s demographic, which is the young, 20s to 30s stepping up from the mainstream to the premium space. And we are glad to report that the 2 Series Gran Coupe has got this nailed.

This whole gran coupe concept – kicked started by BMW with the 4 Series Gran Coupe – is about merging the lusty coupe shape with the practicality of four doors. Hence, you get a low-slung coupe-ish roofline that is slightly stretched to accommodate a pair of rear doors. The nose is low and the roof tapers down to a raised rear deck for that truly sleek coupe silhouette.

Mix it in with frameless windows all-round, the 2 Series Gran Coupe does spell sexiness to wicked effect.

Little differentiates the design of the 218i and M235i, with the former featuring gloss black front bumper accent and silver kidney grille, and the latter sporting ‘Cerium grey’ (that looks like matte grey) details on the front side intakes, side mirrors and kidney grille with an inner mesh design. While we all appreciate the unique M Performance details on the M235i, some of us in the team do prefer the gloss black garnishing and conventional slated kidney grille on the lesser 218i. We also universally think the M235i could have been given a better wheel design. The standard 19-inch matte grey wheels just don’t quite pop for a performance model. Fortunately, you can option up the much better-looking jet black / polished silver bi-colour double spoke wheels of the same size. The 218i rolls on 18-inch wheels.

The best interior in class?

Pop inside the 2 Series Gran Coupe and one thing becomes immediately obvious. The cabin is not what you’d expect from an entry-level BMW model. There’s a real sense of quality and sophistication in here, with hard surfaces kept to the minimum and tucked away in the lower trim pieces, out of sight and touch. Yes, the CLA-Class’ interior may still have more glamour, but the BMW feels more solid and better put together. This is a major step up from before.

The layered dashboard is driver oriented, while the driving position is low and tight, giving a sporty driving feel. The sports seats not only look great but are also contoured almost perfectly to the body, affording superb support and comfort.

Unlike conventional downward facing light bar inserted into trim pieces, the cabin mood lighting is created using illuminated patterned strip on the doors and dash. The night ambiance is cool and unique, kudos to BMW for trying something different.

Most of the tech in the 2 Series Gran Coupe is filtered down from higher end models in the BMW line-up. This means you get the latest iDrive 7 operating system with a 10.25-inch centre touchscreen, accompanied with an identically sized fully digital instrumentation cluster (with those quirky C shaped dials that we aren’t much of a fan of).

BMW’s iDrive system has evolved to become one of the best in the premium space. The interface is ultra-high resolution and the menu structure is easy to navigate around. The voice command feature gets it right all the time, too. Gesture Control is available as an option but it’s one that we wouldn’t be bothered with. Steering wheel buttons are there for a reason – so that you can keep your hands on the wheel. And Gesture Control seems to defeat that purpose.

Another oddity worth noting is the support for Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto. The latter is said to be in the works and expected to be rolled out later this year.

Across the range, DAB+ digital radio, wireless phone charging, and head-up display are all standard fare, making the 2 Series Gran Coupe one of the better equipped premium cars out of the box.

The ‘Gran Coupe’ moniker means style is put forth of practicality. So, it’s no surprise the 2 Series Gran Coupe has limited space in the back. The sloping roof line means if you’re approaching 6 feet or taller, you’ll need to duck a bit to get into the back seats. The small rear doors don’t help either.

Once inside, tall passengers will find the top of their heads just brushing the headlining if seated upright against the seatback. It’s no issue for children or those below the average adult height.

The boot though, is a handy 430-litres with a flat floor and low lip. Lift the boot floor and you’ll find more storage spaces underneath for the bits and bobs.

Not just a pretty face

Let’s start with the 218i – the range’s volume seller for the time being until the 220i arrives later this year. It’s powered by a pint-sized three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine that develops 103kW and 220Nm. Yup, it’s the same mill that also motivates a range of MINI models.

Three cylinders? Well, that’s what we thought too at first. But the truth is, after a week of poking this thing around, it’s entirely adequate for what it’s designed to do. While there isn’t much power to boot, it’s offset by that strong peak torque which arrives as early as 1480rpm and hangs around until 4200rpm. Its more than enough to cover for anything the daily grind throws at it.

Admittedly, the three pot does get vocal at the top end, and from the outside there’s even a tinge of diesel in its note, but look past those the small powerplant is always eager to get down to work and serve up all it’s got. Due to its small size – and equally tiny turbo – lag is virtually non-existent and response is sharp.

While the 0-100km/h sprint time of 8.7 seconds isn’t much to shout about, the 218i does feel energetic and lively enough to keep you entertained for the most part.

The idle stop/start is rough though, which is not unexpected given a three pot isn’t usually the best configuration for refinement.

In contrast, the 7-speed dual clutch automatic is fabulous. It’s as smooth as a torque converter in traffic, with almost no noticeable clunkiness – a trait typical of DCTs. The closely stacked ratios give good off-the-line acceleration, while its direct linkages with the driven wheels keep drivetrain losses to the minimum.

Now, on to the fast one. The M235i xDrive is a big step up from the 218i in terms of outright performance. Power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol rated at a meaty 225kW and 450Nm, putting the M235i right in the mix of hi-po compacts like Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 and Audi S3 sedan.

Getting off the line, the larger engine in the M235i has more lag than the smaller unit in the 218i, but once spooled up the midrange punch is savage. With peak torque coming in at a slightly higher 1750rpm but doesn’t stop until 4500rpm, the turbo four feels muscular and potent across the rev range.

Instead of a DCT, the M235i makes do with an 8-speed torque converter auto, which is just fine because it shifts nearly as quick. It’s properly calibrated, too, with every upshift dropping the needle right back in the torque and power band

The all-wheel drive, which has a standard-fit mechanical Torsen limited-slip differential at the front axle, ensures the M235i takes off cleanly from standstill every time and on to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds. The accompanying soundtrack is deep and enthusiastic but far not tantalising.

BMW handling, of a different feel

For a marque so well known for rear-wheel drive dynamics and handling, where does it leave us with the front/all-wheel drive 2 Series Gran Coupe? The short answer is different but familiar.

The front-wheel drive 218i is one of the most well-balanced front drivers we have ever experienced. The nose is wonderfully locked down, there’s very little push even at the limit, and the car rotates eagerly at your input. In fact, it’s lighter front end (thanks to the small engine) results in a slightly more neutral handling compared to the heftier M235i. Somehow, BMW has managed to preserve its dynamic edge even in a front-drive setup and that’s something very commendable.

Around town, the ride leans on the firm side but still has an underlying suppleness to deal with pimply surfaces so common of our roads.

The all-wheel drive M235i naturally has a much higher level of traction, especially in the wet. You can get on the power real early and slingshot out of a bend at warp speeds toward the next. The special tune M Sport steering is quick and direction changes are neat and swift.

While the drive is safe, secure and superbly controlled for the most part, it’s not one that you’d describe as engaging. The steering, while adequately weighted, doesn’t offer much in terms of road feel – certainly not to the standard that we’d have come to expect from an M Performance model, and further aback there aren’t much pop and crackles from the dual-tipped M Sport exhaust, either.

Make no mistake, the M235i is an amazingly fast and capable all-weather sports coupe, but it just feels a tad over-civilised for its own good. Then again, it’s no M car and most owners will be satisfied with what it has to offer.

Ride comfort is better than expected for a sports model, and despite rolling on lower profile tyres it feels just slightly firmer than the 218i. At above 80km/h, it really settles down to about the same level of smoothness of its lesser sibling thanks to its added weight.

In terms of fuel economy, the 218i’s remarkable three-cylinder efficiency saw it returned a real-world tested average of 6.8L/100km against the rated 5.9L/100km. The M235i wasn’t too shabby, either, managing 8.0L/100km compared to the brochure’s 7.6L/100km.

Verdict

Design & Comfort

8.0/10

Performance & Handling

8.0/10

Quality

8.0/10

Economy

8.5/10

Equipment & Features

7.5/10

OUR SCORE

4.0/5

Our Score: 4/5

+ Plus

  • Sporty coupe looks
  • Refined interior
  • Punchy M235i powertrain
  • Sharp dynamics

Minus

  • Quirky digital instrumentation
  • Significant premium over 1 Series
  • Tight rear seat space

Overall

There’s no doubt the chic styling of the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe will resonate well with deep-pocketed, image-conscious young buyers who don’t want to be seen driving an all-too-familiar-looking hatch. But in this niche yet competitive segment, looks must be backed by substance and on that the 2 Series Gran Coupe does not disappoint, for it’s an admirable package that strikes a fine balance between design, practicality and dynamics.

2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe Pricing and Specification

Price (Excl. on-road costs):From: $49,990

218i: $49,990

M235i xDrive: $72,990

Warranty:3 years/Unlimited kilometers
Country of Origin:Germany
Service Intervals:Variable
Engine:1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol (218i):

103kW @ 6500rpm; 220Nm @ 1480-4200rpm

2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol (M235i):

225kW @ 6250rpm; 450Nm @ 1750-4500rpm

Transmission:7-speed dual clutch automatic (218i) / 8-speed automatic (M235i)
Drivetrain:Front-wheel drive (218i) / All-wheel drive (M235i)
Power to Weight Ratio (W/kg):76 (218i) / 146.1 (M235i)
0-100km/h (s):8.7 (218i) / 4.9 (M235i)
Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):Claimed: 5.9 (218i) / 7.6 (M235i)

Tested: 6.8 (218i) / 8.0 (M235i)

RON Rating:95 (218i) / 98 (M235i)
Fuel Capacity (L):50
Body:4-door coupe, 5 seats
Safety:5-star ANCAP, 6 Airbags, Adaptive Cruise Control, Head-Up Display, Driving Assistant, incl. Lane Departure Warning, Lane Change Warning, Approach Control Warning with city-braking intervention, Rear Cross Traffic Warning, Rear Collision Prevention and Speed Limit Info, Parking Assistant, incl. PDC front and rear, Rear View Camera, Reversing Assistant, Hill Descent Control (HDC), ABS, BA, TCS, EBD
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:4526/1800/1420/2670
Tare Mass (kg):1,355-1,540
Towing Capacity (kg):Braked: 1,300kg / Unbraked: 710kg (218i)
Entertainment:Navigation system Professional with 10.25-inch colour touch display, 6-speakers (Harman Kardon surround 16-speakers for M235i), Bluetooth/USB, Apple CarPlay

Competitors:

Audi A3 sedan, Audi S3 sedan, Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, Mercedes-AMG CLA 35

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