Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 10, 2019
SPARTANBURG, South Carolina - Can’t say we didn’t see one coming. BMW is on a mission to plug every niche and gap in their automotive portfolio with a brand new model, and it has now unleashed a sedan variant of their beloved 2 Series. Known as the 2 Series Gran Coupé, it is essentially a stretched out, four-door compact sedan with sleek proportions and an upscale interior.
Like the rivaling Mercedes CLA and Audi A3, the 2 Series GC serves as an entry point into the brand, attracting a younger crowd who prefer a smaller footprint and a lower starting price. And while the looks may be a tad more conventional and anonymous than its stablemates, there’s no denying that it’s a BMW with signature kidney grills and frameless windows. Furthermore, the high shoulder lines and wraparound tail lights evoke fond memories of the familial X4 and 8 Series Gran Coupé. Dressed up in vertigo-inducing camouflage, we had a difficult time making out the lines of this pre-production 2 Series GC on our short test drive, but we should be able to see it in person un-camo’ed at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show.
The 2 Series GC will launch in two flavours. First up is the 228i xDrive powered by a 2.0-litre inline-four punching out 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. That’s enough to launch from 0-100 km/h in 6.1 seconds.
And for more performance-oriented flavour, the M235i xDrive steps it up a notch with the same engine but with beefed up internals for 301 hp and 332 lb-ft. That meant a reinforced crankshaft, new pistons and connecting rods, a larger turbocharger, a built-in exhaust manifold, better cooling, and revised fuel injections, all to handle the increased boost and power output. All this allows the M235i xDrive GC to sprint from 0-100 km/h in a speedy 4.8 seconds, and is sliced down to 4.7 seconds with the optional M Performance Package and its overboost function.
There will not be any front- or rear-wheel-drive-only models available in Canada. Only AWD. That said, the 2 Series GC sits on the same FWD platform as the BMW X1 and MINI Countryman, and will send most of its power to the front wheels under normal conditions and apportion a 50:50 split if more traction is required. Utilizing every piece of tech in the BMW dictionary, the 2 Series GC makes use of a new Torsen limited slip differential integrated into the gearbox, brake-based torque vectoring, and a new feature called actuator wheel slip limitation system, essentially a stability control system that acts ten times quicker than a standard unit, and it does this by reducing signal path distance. The 228i receives 18-inch 225/40R18 all-season runflat tires, with available performance non-runflat tires and optional M Sport brakes, while the M235i xDrive on the other hand gets 19-inch 225/35R19 performance non-runflat tires and standard M Sport brakes.
We had the opportunity to pilot a pre-production version of the M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, and while the BMW engineers on deck would not quote what’s left to be done, they assure us that it’s rather close to the final product. First impressions? Well it rides and handles much better than the X2 M35i we drove recently. That’s not only due to its lower center of gravity, but the M235i GC feels better put together for some reason. And for a badge-less pre-production model with loose interior bits dangling about, the overall drive felt cohesive.
The powertrain is tremendously energetic for a four-cylinder, and creamy smooth. The throttle is easy to modulate and without much turbo lag, you could almost call it linear but the moment the boost kicks in, you get a momentary surge of power that can surprise and push you into your seat back. This boost chugging reactor may not be as potent as say, a CLA 45 AMG, but is more than enough for the backroad journey, and those snorts and barks from the exhaust when downshifting brings out the toddler inside all of us.
On our short and limited drive around the outskirts of BMW’s factory plant in Spartanburg, we let the M235i GC flex its muscles. The suspension came off incredibly well sorted: not too firm but serves enough body control to be compliant without taxing occupants. There’s no doubt that this one agile sedan. You can feel that limited slip differential working when entering corners at hot speeds, locking both front wheels for better turn-in and allows you to get on the power much earlier than you would expect.
Our M235i also came equipped with the optional Dynamic Damper Control feature, which lets drivers choose between two different shock settings: Comfort, and Sport. While the difference between them isn’t night and day, the 2 Series GC remains grounded, stable, and sharp in both modes, and on flat and bumpy tarmac. It rides with a whiff of composure that you don’t normally find in the compact segment, and there is significantly less vertical movement translated into the cabin than the X2.
The 8-speed transmission is where it needs some work. There’s a bit of jitteriness and lurching that occurs during upshifts, both at low and high speeds. Oddly enough, this was something we experienced in the X2 M35i as well. Here’s hoping it’s just a software tune away from smooth and polished shifts.
Inside, the 2 Series Gran Coupé follows suit with the new 3 Series design language, which is far from the ritzy swooping designs from Mercedes or Audi, but contemporary enough and comfortingly familiar for anyone who has spent time in a modern BMW. There is a fair amount of digital real estate mixed with an array of physical hard buttons and dials, along with BMW’s heavily praised eight-button shortcut menu running along the center stack. Loaded with the latest gadgets and gizmos, the 2 Series GC includes a 10.25-inch touchscreen that can also be utilized with the rotary dial, an optional 9.2-inch head up display, and the new BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, working much like the “Hey Mercedes” feature, and recognizes commands by verbally summoning it with “Hey BMW”. For example, saying “Hey BMW, I’m cold” will have the systems automatically turn up the cabin temperature and heated seats.
BMW tells us that rear seat legroom is almost as much as the 3 Series Sedan, which isn’t saying much. My six foot figure can find solace in the front seats, but sitting behind myself becomes a game of how far I can contort my torso. The small entry portal doesn’t help either, but at least the seats can be folded down in a 40/20/40 configuration for loading cargo items. The trunk is deep but not very tall, while the unimpeded trunk floor and low loading height will make it easy to shuffle cargo in and out. The standard panoramic roof and six-colour ambient lighting further assist in brightening up the otherwise upscale and reasonably equipped cabin.
The pre-production 2 Series Gran Coupé gave us a good glimpse into the final product, and while it’s not completely finished, we can gladly report that it’s one solid compact sedan with enough tech and performance to satisfy its target audience. There is still some work to do with the transmission tuning, and rear accommodations will (predictably) seem sparse for anyone six feet and over, but the overall driving experience has us excited. Another day, another model, and BMW has aced this one.