It’s bad enough that everyone is buying crossovers these days. But now here comes BMW with an entry-level sedan based on a front-wheel drive platform, one that is also shared with the X1 and X2 crossover and the MINI Countryman. BMW must be hoping that enough people will forgive this offense to the driving gods to make it worth the savings in shared parts.
The new 2 Series Gran Coupe finally gives BMW a direct competitor to the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz CLA, and like those small sedans, it starts under $40k. Other countries will get a front-wheel drive 2 Series, but U.S. models will all feature xDrive — BMW-speak for all-wheel drive.
With its prominent kidney front grille, the 2 Series GC is very much a BMW, but the overall design lacks cohesiveness. The rear-end looks like it was just stolen off the back of an X4 crossover, itself not the most elegant design.
The 2 Series GC is available in two different flavors: the base 228i and the more sporty M235i. I recently had the chance to drive them both to see whether this new small sedan has the performance and luxury buyers expect from a BMW.
M235i: A reasonable take on a sports sedan
With bright red leather seats, alpine white paint, and 19-inch forged alloy wheels, our M235i test car sure looks the part of a sports sedan. The key question is whether it drives like one.
Both the 228i and M235i come with a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission (a manual is sadly not available). In the M235i, this engine is tuned to put out an impressive 301 horsepower and 332 lb-ft torque.
There is a bit of initial lag, but once the turbo spins up, there is ample thrust, and the abundance of torque makes for effortless merging and passing. Like most turbo fours, the engine has all the sonic appeal of a kitchen appliance, but at least the exhaust has some character, punctuating each upshift with a satisfying brap.
Take the M235i out for a spin on a favorite back road, and any thoughts of it being a stellar small sports sedan start to fade. The car handles fine when cruising around, but kick it up a notch, and you just get lots of speed-robbing understeer at the limit. A 3,600-pound curb weight is one culprit, as is the FWD architecture, but even then, the chassis feels conservatively tuned.
Fortunately, the rest of the car is ready for spirited driving, should the inspiration strike. The M sport brakes are powerful, and the M sport suspension is well balanced, firm but not overly so.
A starting price of $46,495 isn’t cheap, but given that an M340i costs $10k more, the M235i is a decent value. For someone who just wants to be able to dust the kid in a 15-year-old Mustang lined up next to them on an on-ramp, rather than keep up with a Miata on the local back road, the M235i could be just the ticket.
228i: A competitive small luxury sedan, but gets pricey when optioned
The base 228i GC is what you’d expect for an entry-level model from a luxury brand. Not overtly sporty or particularly plush, but also not a de-contented appliance on wheels.
One pleasant surprise is that even with a de-tuned motor that makes 228 hp, the 228i is still quite quick. Much of the credit should go to the quick-shifting eight-speed transmission that does a great job of maximizing available power.
Our test car featured the M Sport package, a four thousand dollar option that tightens up the steering and suspension. Although this helps the car handle better, it would have been nice to see how a base version drives.
The 228i with the M Sport package feels quite similar behind the wheel to the M235i. A set of narrower all-season tires means grip levels are even lower, but otherwise, the difference isn’t huge.
As a luxury sedan, the 228i is competitive for the price point. The interior is very similar to the more expensive 3 Series, just without the extra rear seat room. Our test car also featured the premium package, which gets you a bunch of nice creature comforts for another three thousand dollars.
The 228i also has all the modern safety features and other cool tech that the kids expect these days. An 8.8-inch touchscreen sits prominently on the dash, and there is a same-sized digital instrument cluster. The latest iDrive software can seem complicated, with too many menus and layers. Nevertheless, it works well.
At a starting price of $38,495, the 228i Gran Coupe is a decent value, but you have to be careful with the options sheet. The Storm Bay metallic paint and Mocha perforated leather seats tack on another $2,650, which combined with the M Sport and Premium packages push the price to over $48,000. For less money, you can drive off in a 330i, a bigger and better handling sedan.
Verdict: The 2 Series Gran Coupe is a decent luxury sport sedan, but why not buy an X1 or X2 instead?
Altogether, the new 2 Series Gran Coupe is a solid effort. But it does point to the reason why so many folks are buying crossovers. If a sedan is not going to handle that much better, why not drive something more practical?
Having also recently tested an X1, I can’t think of a single reason why I’d buy a 228i instead. The X1 handles well, is roomy on the inside, and is arguably better looking. And even the M235i faces the same dilemma, as the X2 M35i has the same potent engine and won’t embarrass itself when hustling down a back road.
For sedan stalwarts, the 2 Series GC is a competitive option, but I’ll be surprised if BMW sells all that many.
|2020 228i xDrive GC||2019 M235i xDrive GC|
|MSRP (incl. destination)||$38,495||$46,495|
|Price as tested||$48,495||$51,295|
|Engine||2.0L turbo 4-cylinder||2.0L turbo 4-cylinder|
|Power (hp)||228 @ 5000 – 6000 rpm||301 @ 5000 – 6250 rpm|
|Torque (lb-ft)||258 @ 1450 – 4500 rpm||332 @ 1750 – 4500 rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|Drivetrain layout||all-wheel-drive||all-wheel drive|
|Curb weight||3,534 lbs.||3,605 lbs.|
|EPA-estimated fuel economy||tbd||tbd|
|Wheelbase||105.1 inches||105.1 inches|
|Length x width x height||178.5 x 70.9 x 55.9 inches||178.5 x 70.9 x 55.9 inches|
|Ground clearance||6.0 inches||6.0 inches.|
|0 – 60 mph||6.0 seconds||4.7 seconds|