BMW has trotted out its impeccably preserved compact sporting car at a media launch of its smallest sports coupe to hammer home the point that part of BMW’s DNA will always be to have the best-driving road cars that remain practical daily options.
Nearly half a century since the 2002 became the forerunner to the compact sports sedan idea that gave us the 3 Series, cars have gotten bigger, nearly in tandem with the size of people, especially here, in America, where the new 2 Series is being tested.
A process that began in 2004 with the 1 Series to give us what is not a sports car per se, but a regular car that drives well, now sees even more differentiation in the mix with the 2er Coupe cutting a niche away from the three- or five-door 1 Series hatches it shares a platform with.
Surrounded by oversized burgers, ribs and steaks, the newly-launched 2 Series looks positively diminutive. When the M235i runs along the Las Vegas Speedway behind a Z4 pace car, it’s hard to think of it as being any larger. At just over 1.5 tonnes, it’s only 50 kg heavier than the two-seater roadster.
The 2 Coupe improves on everything, and BMW engineers have seemingly completed the transformation with the launch of the 2er. That’s right, if you’re not up to reading another 1,500 words or so, and prefer to skip to the pictures, then the short of it is that this is everything you’d want in a four-seater sports coupe.
Whatever vestiges of strange ride and handling from the 1 Series has disappeared as if massaged out of the car’s spine and it provides a better-than-expected legroom and comfort in the cabin, with a whopping 390 litres of bootspace (read: roadtripping heaven in the erratic backroads of Malaysia).
As for the sports bits, this car might not have the blinding pace of proper M cars, but it’s fast, it’s easy to go fast, and it’s tough to crash when going fast.
It does the ton in 4.8 seconds, or 5-flat if you opt for the manual instead of the very composed eight-speed Steptronic auto, which like many modern automatic transmissions, is more efficient than the human stick shifter. And really, how much faster do you want to go? The new M6 does 4.2 seconds, the old one 4.6 seconds. Wanting anything more than this in a road car meant for regular use is just greedy.
Especially so when the turbocharged 3.0 litre engine hands you 450 Nm (as much as the top-of-the-line diesel variant) from a near idling 1,300 rpm all the way up to 4,500 revolutions. There’s acceleration across the range all the way up to 190 km/h before it starts to inch towards a top speed of 250.
And all the way into the three digits, the car handles with ease. While the 30 mm of wheelbase add better ride, its grip is also improved over the 1 Coupe with help from over four centimetres of added track width, both front and back.
More than that, the five-millimetre lower body’s rigidity helps it wheel from corner to corner with seamless weight transfer. But it’ll take a driver with a significantly lower desire to live than me to figure how much better an M car can sweep around corners than this.
See, at “just” 326 hp (still 20-odd more ponies than its predecessor), it doesn’t quite qualify as one of those killer M cars. The M235i is one of just a handful of cars (mainly xDrive variants of bigger series) that are “M Performance” models, made to offer an improved driving experience without diluting the M division’s exacting entry requirements.
It makes sense. Just barely. Actually, it probably doesn’t. Sure, this is not one of those beastly engines that seem intent on propelling you into the boot every time you prod the accelerator, but the M235i does come with the most powerful petrol-driven member of the M Performance lineup.
But with all the M Performance parts already stuck on, the lower centre of gravity, wider track and 50:50 weight distribution, I’m not sure this car could possibly do any better around the bends.
All fogginess in the steering from the 135i Coupe all those years ago in Sweden were vapourised in the Nevada desert. The M235i points and shoots, with the only possible complaint about the driving experience being the slightly reluctant brakes.
Nonetheless, the 2 Series – which will also come in two other petrol and three diesel variants (including a 218 hp, 450 Nm two-litre turbo) which aren’t likely to ever touch Malaysian shores for at least two years, since Euro IV diesel is still a distant hope and prayer – feels complete.
This is helped by several creature comforts which aid rather than distract from the driving experience. Climate control comes standard and the iDrive operating system, while still a bit wonky, offers a navigation system in an eye-pleasing flatscreen display.
Best of all is still the Heads-Up Display, which tells you exactly where you need to turn on your navigated route and how fast you’re hurtling towards the trouble you’re going to get into with the cops.
Everything from the steering feel, the gear shifts and the amount of space in the car gives anyone who can afford it very little reason to say no.
All these improvements in the car is explained by Driving Dynamics guru Sebastian Sauerbrei as part of the project team’s multidisciplinary and consultative approach. Each member is schooled in more than just one area of car engineering, so they don’t work in silos but consider the impact of any change across the different design considerations. “Everyone drives the car and gives their input on the entire car, not just one aspect,” he said.
The kind of innovations this results in is seen in the adaptive damping system, which is not just about the various comfort and sport settings and how they are mapped, but how they adjust within their settings depending on current speed, angle of turn, surface, lateral forces and who knows, maybe even the weather report. The car is just as pleasing from outside. The highlights on both front and rear ends focus on the road.
From headlights, which point at the signature BMW kidney grilles and stare at you from under stern eyebrows, to the diffusers which seem to reach to the ground, to the incredibly short butt, there is a sense that this is a car that’s going to be understated but immediately obedient to your command.
It’s not the prettiest car on the road, and not even the prettiest BMW coupe out there. Some in its segment are classier or sexier, but this is not a car for a showoff, but for someone who is calm, calculated and self-confident.
It’s not going to offer you the hairy excitement of a light-as-air roadster, or a muscular supercar, but it’s going to be your friend on some very enjoyable drives.
But hey, if you’re gonna spend an expected half-a-million, then it better be friendly, right? BMW Malaysia expects to bring in just 10 units of the 2 Series, so it’ll be a unique friend to have as well.
If you’d rather have the kind of friend that plays practical jokes on you, instead, then maybe opt for the limited-slip differential jointly made with Drexler for the 2, one of many M Performance parts available.
When the dynamic stability control is flipped off, the ability to come out of a bend “dynamically” is “enhanced”, if you get my “drift.”
This nifty piece of mechanics comes stock standard with the M235i Racing, which throws out a lot of stuff from the car, puts in a roll-cage and another seven horses. The limited edition car is BMW’s new offer for entry-level racing, aimed at the VLN Endurance Championship and the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
“The basis our engineers had to start with when developing the racing version of the BMW M235i Racing was exceptionally good,” said BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt.
So unlike the previous M3 GT4 (which, of course, comes with more muscle), the 2 racer didn’t need much modification, and rolls out of Germany cheaply at under 60,000 euros.
I’m pretty sure that variant, while interesting and points to an inherent drivability in the 2 Series, won’t be the sort of thing that will make commercial sense in Malaysia, though. Instead, I figure we should lobby BMW to bring in the two-litre turbos instead.
The 228i and 220i offer 245 hp and 350 Nm, and 184 hp and 270 Nm respectively, ensuring they’re both still pretty quick. The 228i, for example still hits 100 km/h from standstill in 5.6 seconds.
Across the range, fuel consumption is excellent. The M235i itself sips only 7.6 litres per 100 km, which is over 17% less than its predecessor while the two lower-end petrols actually qualify as energy-efficient vehicles (EEV) under our new National Automotive Policy, meaning tax breaks and all sorts of incentives if BMW choose to CKD them.
That seems unlikely of course, but one can dream, and the 2 Series isn’t even the sort of dream one would consider idle, or pipe. Instead, if we’re to become the open and liberalised market the government says it wants us to be, then this is exactly the sort of thing we can expect to be traversing our, well, multifaceted roads, no?