What is a BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe? Glad you asked, because there are a few different valid answers from different viewpoints.
It’s a four-door, but it’s not technically a derivative of the existing two-door rear-driven 2 Series coupe. And it's not anything like the old 2 Series Active Tourer mini people mover.
No, it’s essentially the freshly re-imagined 1 Series hatchback, with its newly adopted transverse engine arrangement and front-drive skew, in sedan form… If with a coupe-style roof line.
Another angle is that, according to BMW Australia, it’s the “missing link” between, you guessed it, the 1 and 3 Series, and as an entirely new model. Indeed, its 4526mm/1420mm length/height measures land in between the small-segment ‘1’ hatch and mid-segment ‘3’ sedan, and at 430L of boot space it’s precisely 50L more and less than that of its immediate peers.
That said, it shares a wheelbase (2670mm) with, and is just one millimetre wider (1800mm) than, the 1 Series hatch because, well, of reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Interestingly, the new 2GC, as I’ll call it in brevity, is damn close in measures to the fondly regarded E46 generation of the 3 Series and could, even should, be viewed as a contemporary reboot in size and packaging. By BMW Australia’s own stats, the 2GC is 56mm longer if 55mm shorter in wheelbase, while offering similar front-row space, but 33mm extra rear leg room compared with the ‘classic’ 3er.
It is really whatever you want it to be. And at $47,990 before on-roads, the entry 218i will be an affordable way into practical motoring with the Munich marque’s badge on the boot lid if you’re not (X1/X2) SUV-inclined.
Meanwhile, the M235i xDrive, at $69,990, sits as the M-lite performance flagship in what’s currently a two-variant 2GC range, and BMW Australia had both versions on hand to sample at its local launch.
Each variant presents well in the flesh, even if the four-door-coupe design, which extends front and rear overhangs for its length spurt over the 1 Series, doesn’t lend itself to the sweetest proportions in the BMW range.
M Sport styling augmentation is standard issue – bodykit, wheels, seats, steering wheel – and there are also lashings of tech-savviness, funky styling, and it's brimming with active safety and driver-assistance features that tick big boxes for what is, in the case of the 218i, a ‘cut-priced Euro premium’ budget.
Even the entry variant’s cabin brims with eye candy, including dual 10.25-inch driver’s instrumentation and passenger infotainment systems, the latter featuring BMW Connected Package Professional using the latest 7.0-version operating system that includes Apple CarPlay – Android Auto is coming later this year – and inductive wireless phone charging.
From the novel textured ambient lighting effect to the seat trim effect that successfully masks its humble cloth and fake leather origins, presentation is top notch.
If anything, in the case of the 218i, the heavily sculpted front buckets are a bit too sport-focused and the wheel rim is awfully chunky for what’s clearly no rocketship in intent.
The M235i version ups the ante further with more elaborate M Sport pews with electric adjustment and genuine leather trim throughout the cabin, though apart from the Harman Kardon 16-speaker sound, the interior fit-out is otherwise identical. At least the flagship version has the potential to match the go with the show.
Whereas the first row feels largely convincing in its pitch for genuinely premium BMW ambience and spaciousness in either variant, row two feels more compromised in packaging and execution.
Leg and head room are tight to say the least, and the rear bench’s base and backrest are flat and only moderately comfortable for my 180cm frame. For adult-sized accommodation, it’s not a patch on the latest 3 Series – there aren’t even rear air vents in the 218i.
Despite a ludicrously short boot lid, the quite generous 430L of boot space is deep and practically proportioned, and offers handy 40:20:40 load-through. It’s also measurably larger than the 380L offered in its 1 Series hatchback twin.
Some might argue a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder has no place in the premium four-door coupe, but its 103kW and 220Nm outputs are respectable and it doesn’t struggle to get the 218i’s modest 1375kg moving with enthusiasm, complete with a neat triple-pot rort to the soundtrack.
It’s paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that’s cleaner, smoother and more responsive than some similar applications on the market: proof that BMW is well on top of its small-capacity powertrain game.
While the 218i’s 8.7sec 0–100km/h prowess mightn’t be something you’d brag about down at the pub, BMW’s claim is that the three-piston package should return combined fuel consumption in the high fives, though we didn’t get a chance to test its validity on our brief local-launch road test. Push come to shove, it’ll also run on cheapo 91RON, though BMW recommends 95RON.
It's perhaps not surprising that the 218i GC rides similarly to the 118i hatch, which is way too fidgety and terse for its general-purpose aspirations. Sure, it looks ‘M Sport’, but with that modest powertrain it’s not reasonably expected to go very ‘M Sport’, so perhaps fitting 10mm lower and categorically stiff damping is a little ill-conceived.
Compounding matters is that our test car fitted optional 19-inch wheels and lower-profile rubber as part of a $3400 Enhancement Pack. The standard-fitment 18s might’ve tempered its rigid ways, even by a touch.
That said, it’s a nice thing to drive, with a nice and clear connection with the road. It’s grippy, responsive to driver inputs, and if there’s much of a markdown anywhere, it’s that once you hook into a corner, there’s virtually no genuine feedback through that thick-rimmed wheel.
The M235i xDrive is a characteristically similar machine, just with a lot more purpose and a bit more polish. Its 225kW and 450Nm 2.0-litre turbo four produces over double the 218i’s outputs and feels as potent – in fact, it’s the most powerful four BMW currently produces.
Its acceleration time isn’t quite half, but at 4.9sec 0–100km/h it’s fairly bloody swift, even if, Sport mode activated, it’s slightly tardy off the mark prior to seemingly harnessing full boost. But once on the boil, it covers ground and marches forth with more than enough vigour for some buyers' tastes.
Unlike the 218i, you get paddle shifters and eight forward ratios in its conventional automatic. The transmission is perhaps a finer all-rounder than it is a crackerjack sports unit, though response and shift times are quite quick. Although, strangely, we couldn’t find a way to display a gear selector in the head-up system, which was annoying.
Its combined consumption claim is in the high sixes, just a litre-per-hundred worse off than the 218i, but with our brief drive and few corners to explore we weren’t out for frugality. With its combination of grip, poise, all-paw traction and powerful braking ability, the M235i is impressively swift along a twisty road.
Better still, its rather portly 1570kg kerb weight – nigh on 200kg more than the 218i – really helps settle the ride once you get a hustle on across lumpy road surfaces.
Again, unsurprisingly, there’s a kinship between this Gran Coupe and its 1 Series hatchback equivalent: it’s more dynamically benign that other performance small cars commanding circa-$70K outlays, and there’s a real absence of genuine steering feel that leaves you guessing how much front-end purchase you’re working with. But it certainly gets its boogie on when you want it to.
The flagship 2GC still gets passive rather than adaptive suspension, which can be optioned for $400 only on this M235i version and, strangely, only if you fit 18-inch wheels, effectively downsizing from the standard-issue 19s. How is that possible? Well, that’s another option: the M Performance Package that, at $2200, brings smaller forged black wheels and a smattering of extra appearance kit outside, as fitted to our test car.
Regardless of fiddling with extras, what’s lacking in both the 2GC and 1 Series family is the fundamental dynamic goodness of the big brother 3 Series: a wonderfully balanced, interactive and more fulfilling driving machine at its core.
The stalwart mid-sized BMW – a segment benchmarker – is also roomier, comfier and a measurably more mature prospect, and I don’t need one on hand for comparison purposes to confirm as much.
And that’s the elephant in the showroom: would you opt for an M235i xDrive Gran Coupe when a 330i sedan is, at $71,900 list, under two-grand more expensive?
Sure, they’re plainly different BMWs aimed at different buyer types. And the 2 Series Gran Coupe is undoubtedly a little quicker than the 330i. But BMW Australia reckons the two four-doors won’t be cross-shopped and that the 2GC will be as popular as the 1 Series with customers. And I have my personal doubts on both counts. That I’ve rated this new range 7.6 overall, compared with my 8.3 overall for the then new 3 Series a year ago, clearly illustrates where my personal favoritism lies.
(Note: the 2GC is currently unrated by ANCAP, and thus gets an automatic seven out of 10 in safety rating according to our ratings practice. However, given its technical twin, the 1 Series, is currently a full five-star prospect and this untested range looks brimming with the ‘right stuff’ – plus BMW’s confidence of a best-case assessment – this rating could likely skyrocket north in a future review. We recently rated the 1 Series at 8.9/10 for safety.)