2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe Prototype Drive

Come next spring you may do a double-take when the new BMW 2 Series drives by. Now sporting four doors and the Gran Coupe badging, BMW is taking the 2 Series mainstream. What used to be a sporty coupe – and one of the most enthusiast-friendly vehicles in BMW’s lineup – is going toe-to-toe with the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3 with an entry-level four-door that brings the brand to a wider audience.

We drove a pre-production 2 Series Gran Coupe during an event at BMW’s Performance Centre in South Carolina. While the car is covered in a camouflage wrap, the interior was open for photography, and the driving experience was pretty much dialled in and ready for prime-time. Pricing and fuel economy figures have yet to be confirmed but we have a good chunk of on-road experience to share.

In particular, we drove the M235i xDrive version of the vehicle, meaning there’s a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine under the hood making 301 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. Similar to what is found in the X2 M235i, the motor is punchy and powerful, although it has a bit of lag. Completing the powerplant is an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, helping the small car hit highway speeds in 4.8 seconds. Acceleration is met with a gruff soundtrack that’s full of bass, but thank the speakers for that, as the vehicle fakes the whole production. The torque pushes you back in your seat nicely, and an optional performance package will provide an over-boost function that should satisfy speed demons. BMW will also offer a 228i xDrive Gran Coupe, which uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, allowing for a sprint to highway speeds in 6.1 seconds.

The automaker is bringing a few new handling features in the 2 Series, namely something called the near-actuator wheel slip limitation (ARB) system, which is borrowed from the electric i3. Put simply, this system is designed to reduce understeer quickly and efficiently.

That might leave you wondering: Why would the new 2 Series understeer? Well, this generation is based on a front-wheel-drive platform, and while the models coming to Canada will feature all-wheel drive, the architecture and layout of a vehicle are still hard to negate, so the technology is important here to make the 2 Series feel natural on the road, especially when the speed picks up and the roads get twisty. While ARB handles understeer, there’s also a Torsen limited-slip differential on the front axle of M235i models, which will ensure that power is hitting the pavement as needed. This will help prevent torque steer, and true to its word, the 2 Series felt very happy at full throttle. BMW promises that drivers will get full torque in first and second gear, something that is becoming more common for high-horsepower front-wheel-drive-based vehicles.

That all-wheel drive system in this M235i seems front-biased but can evenly split the power between the front and rear axles when needed. This seems like a downgrade from the slide-happy mechanics found in the former rear-wheel-drive-based coupe, and one that many enthusiasts would say epitomized BMW’s mantra of delivering the Ultimate Driving Machine. Few critics had anything negative to say about the prior 2 Series, so why change it up? Front-wheel-drive-based platforms are always compromised and less balanced than rear-wheel-drive platforms, so it’s clear that BMW is shying away from its core fans with this new 2 Series. Then again, the new 2 could be more agile than we anticipate, we haven’t taken the car on-track for testing.

Steering is responsive and the chassis is firm without being too stiff and uncomfortable. The M235i has a ton of bracing to help it feel so engaging. This much attention to detail and extra gear helps to dispel worries of flimsy front-wheel-drive-based cars. The handling on the road is solid. Through our brief drive in town and on the highway, the 2 Series complied with every input and didn’t disappoint. As usual, there are a few different driving modes to spice up (Sport mode) or sedate (Eco Pro) the experience.

The interior is where the new 2 Series makes another strong statement. While a bit cramped in the rear seats, the design is very BMW, with a similar layout and style to the brand’s larger and more premium vehicles. The rear seats can also fold flat for additional cargo room. Our pre-production model featured a high-tech digital display, a head-up display; and BMW promises a large 10-inch infotainment system will be offered as well. It also has the BMW voice-activated assistant, which can respond to natural commands like “I’m cold” to turn up the heating.

While other automakers limit the amount of technology and features in this class, BMW seems like it will have no reservations giving buyers everything they want. Our tester also featured a wireless phone charger and will be offered with handy safety features like blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control. The automaker also promises a selection of parking assistance features, including parking sensors and cameras, as well as automatic parallel and perpendicular parking.

Materials also seem pretty good, and BMW will offer the upholstery in a variety of shades, though only the M235i will get real leather. Buyers can also get slick ambient lighting to enhance the premium aura of the BMW.

With the new 2 Series Gran Coupe, BMW finally has a true competitor to the popular Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class. Based on our quick drive with it, the BMW feels engaging and high-end, packing a lot of technology in a mainstream segment. However, much of the success of this vehicle will depend on its availability and pricing. We’ll find out how much it’ll cost to get into this new four-door BMW soon, likely at the 2019 LA Auto Show.

Mainstream enthusiasm 11/6/2019 10:00:00 AM