Reducing conveniently its long-standing, rear-driven ‘Driver’s Car’ remit, highlights Iain Robertson, for one of greater accessibility, provides benefits that some traditionalists will find hard to swallow on BMW’s Mini-related 2-Series Gran Coupe.
While scarcely new to ‘transverstism’ (the mechanical knack of turning an engine and transmission through 90-degrees, in the process turning a vehicle from rear to front-wheel drive), having had the vastly enlarged Mini on its books for the past two decades, the Munich-based legend that is BMW is also slowly but surely waking to the realities of greater space utilisation, even though purer vehicle dynamics will suffer marginally. Much like gender fluidity, this swathe of modernism and tolerance is set to broaden its brand relevance significantly, even though its ‘premium’ status will also maintain pricing on a higher plane.
Personally, while I feel that factoring in a wholly new strata of 2-Series GC models is not a good thing, when consolidation is called for in difficult times, it is also a measure of brand confidence and that of BMW is still peaking. In many ways, the new 2-Series GC is, in size terms at least, more of a spiritual successor to the original 3-Series, which the current ‘3’ has left behind in its wake. As a result, I can foresee swathes of former fans and ‘downsizers’ rushing to BMW showrooms to check out the new contender.
In some ways, BMW has been forced into adopting transverse/front-wheel drive engineering. The technological investment in Mini is one aspect and, while that car is hardly a paragon of good packaging (unlike its Issigonis progenitor), it has proven to BMW the value of the 1.5-litre ‘triple’ and 2.0-litre ‘four’ beneath that series’ investment, which has also been incorporated in the firm’s latest 1-Series range. In a four-door saloon the size of the 2-Series GC (4.5m long, 1.8m wide), an uncorrupted 430-litre boot area and bags of room in the back seats, which also split-fold for even more space, are significant benefits. Mind you, in ‘X’ form, with four-wheel drive, the platform still requires a transmission tunnel, which compromises available foot space for the mid-bench occupant.
Possessing a slightly ‘jacked-up’ rear end, which is balanced by BMW’s demand for larger nasal cavities at the opposite end of the car, it cuts a decent and unmistakably BMW profile. Frameless side windows allow a slightly greater glass area, which aids the overall sleekness. The LED daytime running-lamps’ signature is familiar fayre, its headlamp units angled slightly downwards, as are the lower front bumper and its extremities, ‘flanged’ in M-Sport variants by aero blades. The latter versions can also incorporate the flashes of electric blue enamelled brake callipers, spotted through typical multi-spoke alloy wheels. Even though the mechanical dynamics may be slightly different, the brand design dynamics remain on point.
There is no way that BMW can lay claim to its ‘sometime perfect’ and oft-targeted 50:50 weight distribution. However, in many respects, this does not hamper the 2-Series’ on-road appeal. With more weight across the nose, it is true that its steering responses may feel slightly corrupted over, let’s say, a 3-Series model, but there is no lack of directional stability and it feels as wieldy and willing to change direction as the best of any front-wheel driven saloons. A notionally lighter tail helps in high-speed cornering and, while understeer (a typical front-driven trait) is minimal thanks to the incorporation of an ARB wheel slip limiter, there are no secondary handling quirks to upset a press-on driver. Grip levels are excellent and the ride quality is fine. Having not driven the punchiest variant, I am unable presently to comment on its 4×4 drivetrain.
The body of the 2-Series GC uses aluminium for both bonnet and tailgate, although high-strength grades of steel are used elsewhere, in pursuit of better weight management and to increase body rigidity. The dynamic value is said to be even more pronounced on the range-topping M235i xDrive, combining its specifically tuned M-Sport suspension, M-Sport brakes and M-Sport steering to produce further noticeable increases in the car’s agility and stopping power. Unique to the M235i is the optional adaptive suspension that includes VDC (Variable Damper Control), for two different damper response settings. The Driving Experience Control switch can be selected for either Comfort, or Sport, to improve responses at the helm. The M-Sport brakes are also available optionally for M-Sport specified versions.
Three power units are available from launch, the 218i, M235iX and 220d. Considering its relatively small, 1.5-litres displacement across three cylinders, 140bhp provides a moderate punch, whisking the 218i from 0-60mph in around 8.4s, to a top whack of 134mph, emitting up to 123g/km CO2, up to 47.1mpg and carrying a price tag (pre-options) of £25,815. The 220d (2.0-litre) delivers 190bhp, 7.2s, 146mph, 110g/km, 57.6mpg for £31,355, while performance addicts will revel in the M235i xDrive (also 2.0-litre), its 306bhp, 4.6s, 155mph, 153g/km, 37.2mpg and accompanying £37,255 price tag. A six-speed manual is standard, although the M235i drives through BMW’s 8-speed Steptronic ’box, equipped with Launch Control, if you feel so inclined.
Although I can recall the days when BMW was among the last of all car brands to adopt in-car entertainment, the latest 2-Series GC benefits from an extensive standard equipment list. While 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels are standard, M-Sport trim increases them to 18.0-inches, while up to 19.0-inch alternatives can be specified. Front/rear park distance control, two-zone air-con and a host of ADAS and connectivity features ensure that it is well-equipped and up to the standards of the class. If you tick the Comfort Pack box, you can also benefit from the BMW digital key, which works off Samsung Galaxy mobiles. Holding the phone to the door handle opens the door, even if the phone battery is depleted. The engine can be started as soon as the device is placed within either the smartphone tray, or the wireless charging mat. The ‘talking dashboard’ (‘Hey BMW’), while heavily Americanised, is an intriguing diversion.
Conclusion: Let’s face it, BMW does not produce duffers. Excellent build quality, fine trim details and, these days, better standard equipment levels help to amortise BMW’s profit centres. As a spiritual successor to the original E30, this is a good one.