The new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé, it’s safe to say, is a car that no BMW fan of old ever expected to see. For a brand that fiercely stuck with the drivers’ favourite longitudinal front-engined, rear-wheel drive layout for its sedans in particular, the new 2er is throwing deuces up at tradition.
Sharing a platform with the BMW X1, it features a transversely-mounted engine, front-wheel drive as standard with the option of ‘xDrive‘ all-wheel drive on selected variants, and is called a Gran Coupé despite being a true sedan. If the E30 3 Series is your idea of what a small BMW sedan should be like, this one might not be for you, you might think.
However, while the times have certainly changed, dismissing this car based of presumptions alone would be pointless, particularly in the case of this range-topping M Performance version – the M235i – as while this car is unlike any other BMW sedan that has come before it, that isn’t to say it’s not a properly good thing to drive.
As a millennial, I’m squarely in the crosshairs of BMW’s marketing aim with this car, as the television commercials for both it and the related 1 Series will tell you exactly who the company envisions buying one of these from the dealership. This isn’t for the middle-aged business executives or the senile old golfers – this is for hip, trendy, fashion-conscious, cashed-up Gen Y-ers.
But while I may be in the right age demographic for this car, I’m not really any of those things – plus, I must admit to being a bit of an old-school BMW tragic, the sort who rabbits on about the whole ‘ultimate driving machine’ mantra and so on – but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate just what this car offers up.
Think of this not as some pure, driver’s-car BMW, but rather as a Subaru WRX for grown-ups. A Mitsubishi Evo wearing a suit, tailored. It’s youthful hooliganism made chic. It’s just what BMW needs to get the average twenty-something interested.
Allow me to explain what I mean. With the Evo dead and the WRX getting on in years, the M235i is comparable in size and presents a similarly low-fuss interior, but it looks and feels thoroughly modern – enough to make the Japanese heroes of old look rather old-hat, if still obviously very desirable to us in the petrolhead crowd.
On the tech front, there is admittedly a fair amount, with a digital gauge cluster, massive infotainment screen with wireless Apple CarPlay, a head-up display, and all the other mod-cons you’re used to, but the presentation is still simple and ultimately sporty. It’s tight and the seating position is low-slung, and the dashboard layout is as driver-focused as you’d expect from BMW.
Admittedly, I do have a couple of gripes with the interior kit – the wireless phone charger, for instance, is too small for larger modern phones such as my iPhone 11 Pro Max – and the list of standard equipment – adaptive cruise control and AEB not being standard on what is a $73,990 car in base form ($77,870 as tested; a cheaper M235i xDrive Pure model is also available for $67,990) is a bit poor these days – but overall, the low-fuss approach on the inside means there isn’t much room for negatives to slip in.
But as with any BMW bearing an M badge on the back – even if this isn’t a full-fat M model, something which is not set to ever materialise – it’s the way that this car drives which was always going to be the biggest talking point. Thankfully, in my eyes at least, the M235i is not a let-down despite my admitted fears.
Packing a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot petrol engine under the bonnet, its 225kW and 450Nm outputs are certainly on the healthy side – particularly in regards to torque, compared to its rivals – and enough to help it rocket from 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.9 seconds, although you’ll quickly find videos on YouTube of it being tested as actually shaving nearly half a second off that in reality.
Paired to an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission made by Aisin, it channels the power to the wheels through a Haldex-type all-wheel drive system, meaning that it’ll drive the front wheels normally until it detects slip or a heavy enough throttle input to require up to 50 percent of the power being channeled rearwards.
While a glorified front-drive BMW sedan alone might have been enough to make me worried as to how it would drive, the fact I was left slightly disappointed in some regards by its twin-under-the-skin – the M135i hatch – which I drove earlier in the year was definitely enough to make me nervous. However, much to my surprise, the M235i feels like a definite improvement in some ways over its hatchback sibling.
As far as straight line speed is concerned, this is one area where the two don’t differ. Bury the loud pedal deep in the carpet and this thing fires off like a bullet, with its turbo donk feeling eager and athletic, and it really relishes in being held in the upper reaches of the rev range. It sounds fantastic, too, with a deep and aggressive tone accompanied by plenty of burbles and crackles – a sure reminder, when compared to its other German rivals, that BMW has always been the country’s sportiest marque.
Area number one where it’s an improvement over the hatch, though, is when it comes to the way it handles itself on a twisty road. Pitching it at some of the tight hairpin-laden roads I’m blessed to be near in the Adelaide Hills, it manages to feel more pointed and balanced through the bends, turning in quicker and remaining flatter.
At first, it almost felt to me like it had a longer wheelbase, but that’s not actually the case – as such, I’d chalk this up to its notably longer sedan body offering up better weight distribution and more inherent rigidity. Admittedly, it’ll still tend towards understeer when pushed to the limit, but you’ve got to push it mighty hard to reach it.
Area number two is on a similar note, and perhaps a more important one, as the M235i handles far better in the wet than the hatch did. While as soon as the road got wet and greasier the M135i would suffer from bucketloads of understeer and torque steer when you pitched it into a wet corner and tried to feed in the throttle on the way out.
Whether it’s the tyres – the M135i I tested was rolling on Continental rubber, while this M235i was wearing Bridgestone liquorice straps – or a retuned all-wheel drive system, I’m not sure, but when I took it out right in the middle of a massive downpour to see how it handled itself, it was as drama-free and confident as it felt in the dry.
I’ve got to give credit to the eight-speed ‘box, too, as while around town it slurs the gear changes to make it feel as imperceptibly smooth as you’d hope, while when you put it into Sport mode and you take over control of it with the flappy paddles it really does bang into the next gear at an impressive pace for a torque converter unit.
Now, admittedly not all is perfect with the M235i. The steering still feels far too heavy when in Sport mode – although configuring its Sport Individual mode to have the steering in comfort, as I did, alleviates this issue – and the ride is definitively on the firmer side, and the road noise can become a bit tiresome on longer freeway stints, but when you consider this car’s aim, you can easily forgive it for that.
Think of it not as a sideways-sliding monster or an expression of purity and minimalism, but a rapid and grippy car with a lively engine that’s designed to feel thoroughly modern and of the moment and it really does start to make a lot of sense.
It might not feel BMW-ish in the traditional sense, but the crowd this is aimed at won’t exactly know or care what a BMW is ‘meant’ to feel like. For them, the fact that this is fast, loud, and presents itself with that BMW swagger is more than enough.
2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupé List Price: $73,990 | As Tested: $77,870
Pros: Goes like a bullet, handles corners deftly and displays impressive levels of grip, feels youthfully fun but presents itself with a sense of maturity
Cons: Ride might feel too firm for some, AEB not fitted as standard, doesn’t feel like a BMW in the traditional sense
In a nutshell: The M235i xDrive Gran Coupé might mark a drastic departure from BMW’s sports sedans of old, there’s no doubt that it’s still a great deal of fun to thrash, and a car that’s perfectly executed given its target market.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by BMW Australia for five days with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.