BMW 2 Series Joins Select Gran Coupe Family

By Lee Pang Seng

BMW has this select group of Gran Coupes that recently saw its newest member in the 2 Series Gran Coupe. First premiered worldwide at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November last year, the 2 Series Gran Coupe would be available for delivery in global markets from March onwards. A good guess would put the second or third quarter for its entry to Malaysia.

The exclusivity of this select line is that not every model in the BMW Group could lay claim to a Gran Coupe variant. For the moment, there are only four, including the new 2 Series Gran Coupe. A Gran Coupe is defined by the fact that it is a four-door coupe that blends fast looks with practical motoring (meaning good interior space and large loads).

The success story of the Gran Coupe began with the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe in 2012. This was followed two years later in the 4 Series Gran Coupe before the 8 Series Gran Coupe was made available in September 2019. BMW says the 2020 2 Series Gran Coupe completes the family. Coincidentally or intentionally, the Gran Coupe models are in the even number model series.

The three earlier models contributed to more than 400,000 Gran Coupes sold; the 6 Series Gran Coupe saw sales of 69,670 during its six-year span and the 4 Series Gran Coupe scored the highest sales of 305,757 from 2014-2019. Sales of the 8 Series Gran Coupe are said to be encouraging.

The 2 Series Gran Coupe, which is built exclusively in Leipzig, serves as the entry level model to this family line. Its world premiere in the US indicates BMW’s expectations of selling 20 per cent of the 2 Series Gran Coupe there. It expects 15 per cent to be sold in China and six per cent each in Germany and the UK. Apart from China where the car would be launched in 2021, the other Asian markets are expected to account for a third of this model’s overall sales.

As expected, the 2 Series Gran Coupe carries many premium aesthetics from its bigger stablemates that include the contoured kidney grille with a mesh grille for the flagship variant, the M235i xDrive (all-wheel drive). What stands it apart is the new design of the rear lamps that extend well to the centre of the rear panel. This flows into a high-gloss black band that encircles the centrally located BMW badge. This rear lamp combination and connecting elements are said to make a horizontal statement and accentuate the width of the rear.

The 2 Series Gran Coupe is seen as bridging the gap between the 2 Series and 3 Series segments. There are BMW customers who want a compact size Beemer that could offer more in interior space and luggage room without losing the zing in strong performance and driving dynamics.

While our first glance at the 2 Series Gran Coupe suggested vehicle dimensions that could be similar to the 3 Series, closer inspection of the specification details proved otherwise. Firstly, the 2 Series Gran Coupe runs on a wheelbase of 2670mm, which is about 180mm shorter. This is the same wheelbase as the two-door 2 Series Coupe. (This model range also includes the 2 Series Gran Tourer, an MPV type variant, which was introduced in early 2015.)

Being a four-door Gran Coupe, the body dimensions are tailored to fit that design. It is thus longer than the Coupe by 220mm with a body length of 4562mm but 130mm lower in overall height at 1420mm to achieve the sporty low-slung coupe look. The overall width for both models stays constant at 1800mm.

What gives it the practical standing in interior room - apart from already gaining in that area with the transversely mounted engine in the front-wheel drive variants – is the better interior room, especially for rear passengers. In addition to easier entry, BMW says rear passengers in the Gran Coupe enjoy 33mm of extra knee room over the 2 Series Coupe. The rear seating is 12mm higher and with the optional panoramic roof, there is 14mm more headroom.

Just as important is the 430 litres of luggage space in the Gran Coupe, which is 40 litres more than the Coupe variant. And with the standard 40:20:40 rear seat arrangement that is typical to BMWs, flexible space is available for the respective needs that might arise.

Similarly, to achieve that Gran Coupe expectation, the 2 Series variant gets top BMW power to match. For now, the 2 Series Gran Coupe comes with three engine variants; two petrol options in the entry-level 1.5-litre three-cylinder unit (218i) and the flagship 2.0-litre four-cylinder (M235i) that is newly developed and described as the BMW Group’s most powerful four-cylinder engine. The third option is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel (220d) although a fourth option exists in a lower output four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol unit (228i) that is only available in the US.

As an example of the modular approach in engine design, the petrol engines are configured with the same bore and stroke dimensions, these being 94.6mm stroke and 82.0mm bore. It is clearly very undersquare in design and for the 1.5-litre unit, the exact displacement is 1499cc and the 2.0-litre is 1998cc, or about 499cc plus per cylinder.

The newly developed 2.0-litre engine  - also featured in the M135i xDrive and X2 M35i xDrive - is said to extract 225kW (306hp) between 5000 and 6250rpm with the help of the BMW TwinPower Turbo technology. A lot of torque, 450Nm, peaks early at 1750rpm and stays there till 4500rpm. The milder 2.0-litre engine for the US market delivers 170kW (231hp) and 350Nm.

The new engine details are the reinforced crankshaft drive with a larger diameter main bearing, new pistons with an altered compression ratio and modified con rods with non-bushed ends. There is also a larger turbocharger with a built-in exhaust manifold and integral diverter valve to increase engine output while retaining its high thermodynamic efficiency (up to 1025 degree Celsius).

Modified injectors are also fitted to increase flow volume and the capacity of the cooling package is maximised with an independent transmission oil cooler that is separated from the engine’s coolant circuit, an electric 850-watt fan, two remote coolant radiators in the wheel arches and an enlarged expansion tank. This is to ensure the M235i could perform under the most demanding conditions.

Adding on to the range-topping engine is a newly-developed dual-branch exhaust system with minimal exhaust backpressure. Another interesting item is the standard Active Sound Design (ASD) system that BMW says amplifies the actual engine sound and modulates it so that the driver is treated to an exhilarating sporting soundtrack when driving the car aggressively.

To put all this in perspective, the M235i xDrive sprints from standstill to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, putting it quite near supercar status while top speed is capped at 250km/h. Yet, BMW says combined fuel consumption is in the 7.1 to 6.7 litres per 100km range (14 to 14.9km/l).

The 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine also sees its share of improvements; a new belt drive for the generator, water pump, torsional vibration damper and air-conditioning compressor with an L-shaped layout; fuel pump and lines modified to enable petrol to be injected at a higher pressure; a revised crankshaft that weighs 1.1kg lighter than the one in the previous engine, among others.

With the new developments, the 1.5-litre engine is 5kg lighter than the outgoing unit and cleaner burning with lower carbon dioxide emissions. Maximum power output is boosted by 3kW (4hp) to 103kW (140hp) between 4600 to 6500rpm. The peak torque of 220Nm is generated early at 1480rpm and stays till 4200rpm. An overboost function briefly generates an extra 10Nm in fourth gear and higher.

Performance details are more down to earth with 0-100km/h sprints in 8.7 seconds or almost four seconds slower than the M235i and a top speed of 215km/h. The 218i’s combined fuel consumption is rated at 5.7 to 5.0 litres per 100km (17.5 to 20km/l).

Although the 218i is specified with a six-speed manual transmission, the model slated for the Malaysian market would see it fitted with the seven-speed Steptronic dual-clutch transmission. We believe the Malaysian variant might even come with steering padding shifts as standard if the price is right. The M235i xDrive comes standard with the eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission with steering wheel paddle shifts.

The body dynamics also sees significant improvements. The rear suspension is now a multi-link design from the central arm system (similar to a torsion bar design) in the 2 Series Coupe. The M235i comes with the option of an M Sport suspension that reduces ride height by 10mm or Adaptive suspension that includes VDC (Variable Damper Control).

Improvements in the car body sees increased rigidity for better performance. This is achieved with bracing elements such as the boomerang-shaped brace and fire-to-wall strut braces to increase stiffness and dynamic performance. The high preload anti-roll bar mountings in the M235i are said to provide flat cornering without affecting ride comfort.

There is also technology transfer from the BMW i3 to achieve what BMW says is ‘Innovative Traction Control’. Among other things, this includes ARB or near-actuator wheel slip limitation as standard, less power understeer through optimised traction and steering feel, and assistance from the BMW Performance Control in the yaw moment distribution.

We had a driving impression of both cars during the international media drive organised by BMW Germany in Lisbon, Portugal. Although our focus should be on the 218i since this is the model that would be introduced to Malaysia, we were given the keys to the M235i for the first leg of the drive.

Unlike the previous BMW drive events that we had taken part in, the overall route was a lot shorter this time, being below 100km to and from the car changeover point. The start point was Lisbon and mid-point was Ribeira d’llhas, a world surfing paradise. Although the route map suggested winding roads through the countryside to and fro, the return drive turned out to be all highway driving. Either that or we chose the wrong route on the car’s navigation system.

In any case, our first go in the 2 Series M235i xDrive gave us an insight into the dynamic improvements through the winding road route. There were actually twisty stretches that allowed us to drive up to 90km/h but the narrowness of the road gave us second thoughts, although we did attempt it once or twice.

It also took into consideration that we didn’t play with the steering wheel paddles to engage the gears manually. We just left the eight-speed Steptronic Sports transmission to select the best gear as per our accelerator input. Earlier as a passenger, we noted that the electronic transmission control worked well in selecting a gear for the respective corner.

Moreover, we were encouraged by the strong and flat 450Nm torque that comes on early at 1750rpm that we felt was sufficient to keep the wheels planted on the road during cornering. Of course, the xDrive all-wheel drive architecture was reassuring as well. This combined dynamics was fully enjoyed as we tried to push the M235i as fast as we dared, given the light-traffic but narrow, tight and twisty sections.

We had the front right wheel off the road once during the early stages of adjusting to the car’s 1800mm width. We soon found good front wheel direction coming through the steering wheel to raise our confidence (for a point-and-scoot drive experience) and the flat cornering was another booster. The M235i did lean a bit but so marginally, you won’t notice it initially. In a way, it was almost like driving a kart!

After sitting in the rear earlier, we concurred that the car’s superb handling dynamics didn’t compromise ride comfort. There was no jolting moment when running over bumps or uneven roads, and we could enjoy the M235i’s quality ride as passengers too. Of course, as a rear passenger we need to brace ourselves against the motions and with no overhead hand grab, we found the foldable centre armrest and door armrest useful.

A relevant note on legroom in this respect is that we could travel in reasonable comfort with what was available, especially for our Asian frame as a rear seat passenger. Given that the 2 Series Gran Coupe is targeted at customers of 30-40-year range, possibly with children, the interior space should accommodate the needs required.

Also, it has to be noted that the M235i cars provided to the international media were running on lower profile tyres compared to the vehicle specifications provided. The M235i we drove ran on 235/35 R19 Continental PremiumContact 6 tyres although this car was specified with 240/40 R18 size tyres as standard.

For the 218i, our impression was of its quiet cruising on highways that covered more than 90 per cent of the route. It would have been more informative for us to take the twisty route back and see if this front-wheel drive 2 Series Gran Coupe could handle well dynamically on lower torque output and higher profile tyres. Likewise, the 218i Gran Coupes provided for the international media also ran on lower profile tyres than standard; these were Pirelli P Zero 225/45 R17 although the standard size specified is 205/55 R16.

Short as the drive route might be, we gleaned enough from the experience to tell us that the M235i is indeed a car for those who love to drive fast on the highway and twisty roads without sparing passenger comfort. And we believe the 218i that is coming to Malaysia would live up well to good expectations within its performance ambit.