FIRST DRIVE: 2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe Prototype

2 Series, Test Drives | July 23rd, 2019 by 29
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Starting in early 2020, the new family of BMW cars using a front-wheel drive architecture will gain another member. After the recently unveiled, all-new 1 Series Hatchback, and after the popular X1 and X2 models, the 2 Series Gran Coupe will come to fill a niche in the BMW lineup. The four-door premium compact coupe has been rumored for years and it is now almost ready for primetime. During my recent trip to Munich for the #NextGen event, BMW invited me to sample a nearly-ready for production 2 Series Gran Coupe model, in two guises – the 228i and the top of the line M235i xDrive.

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The 2 Series Gran Coupe will cater to customers wanting a smaller sedan than the 3 Series and in some markets, might even be a replacement for the 1 Series. It will be a front-wheel drive car at its core, but with all-wheel drive on offer as well, which is similar to what the new 1 Series brings to the table. At the briefing before the pre-drive, BMW said that with every new car they bring to the market, the goal now is to offer their own character. So with the 2 Series Gran Coupe, the three top requirements of the project were design, space and driving dynamics.

“When we started off with our spec sheet, big interior space and also achieve proper BMW driving dynamics, we were looking into all the technical solutions we had”, said Bernhard van der Meer, Project Manager BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe Driving Dynamics. “So we chose our front-wheel drive platform because it enabled us to use a rear suspension setup that in the end provided us with large boot space. Also, the rear subframe is mounted rigidly to the body  which is good for vehicle dynamics  and because it’s such a slender design, it enables us, even with the front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, that we have a low boot floor and therefore increasing the boot space.”

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The Design

Even though no official photos are available now, I had the chance to see the car fully unveiled, even sat in it and played around with its features. The new 2 Series Gran Coupe is exactly what you’d expect from a car in this class – a compact four-door coupe with an attractive roofline, and of course, a shorter bonnet due to the FWD architecture. The front-end resembles the one seen on the new 1 Series, so not many surprises there, but with a few light touches that will differentiate it enough from its smaller brother. Just like the 1 Series’ M135i model, the M235i will have a mesh grille, as opposed to the vertical bars on the 228i.

Arguably, the rear-end is the star of the 2 Series Gran Coupe, thanks to a very sleek boot and a subtle spoiler. The car is also quite wide in the rear, so it has a great stance when seen from behind. Only for visual purposes, a set of small vents sit behind the rear wheels.

As you might have seen in previous teasers, the taillights retain the typical BMW L-shape, just not as pronounced as on larger models. They are sleek, narrowish and with some great graphics. The frameless windows certainly make the side view more attractive and it’s not a staple on BMW’s Gran Coupes.

BMW will offer 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheel options and a panoramic moonroof.

Inside, not a big surprise as well. It has a 1 Series interior design, just a bit more spacious and comfortable for the driver. The 2 Series Gran Coupe had some cool sport seats in Alcantara and even at 6″3 (1.90 meters), I had plenty of headroom. With the seat pushed quite far back, the rear knee room is also adequate. BMW says that it has 33mm more knee room than a 2 Series Coupe. Haven’t done the math against a 1 Series hatchback, but it’s fair to say that there is slightly more room in the 2er Gran Coupe. As a test for the increased interior space, I also sat in the back seat to measure the headroom, which provided good space for my height. BMW also mentioned about a 1cm more headroom than the coupe for the rear passengers.

Overall, the design of the 2 Series Gran Coupe is quite attractive and it should bring new customers to the brand. The interior is also premium enough to justify its price tag which will likely be above the 1 Series, but below the 3er.

Cargo Space

Clearly one of the selling points of the 2 Series Gran Coupe will also be the cargo space, in the end, that was one of the reason for a front-wheel drive platform. Senol Kapici, Head of Project BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, mentioned a cargo space of 450 liters – around 40 liters more than the current 2 Series Coupe. If you really wanna move your house with the 2er Gran Coupe, then you can simply fold the rear seats and the cargo space extends to a whooping 850 liters, enough for a small recliner or a coffee table. Furthermore, there is also a large, under-floor storage bin in the 2er Gran Coupe.

Just to put things in perspective with the new 1 Series, the cargo space in the new hatchback starts at 380 liters.

Yet despite being a gran coupe and compared to the 4 Series Gran Coupe, the new 2er GC does not have a liftback.

The Chassis Setup

With the additional cargo space solution in place, the attention turned to driving dynamics. At the front, the car uses a strut suspension, so that’s a great base for the driving dynamics. On the M235i Gran Coupe model, BMW fitted additional bracing which goes from the struts all the way to the windscreen scuttle. Furthermore, the connection on the M235i Gran Coupe of this brace to the strut is done with three bolts  (one single bolt on the 228i Gran Coupe), so that stiffens up the front-end and makes use of all the engine power.

In the rear, a very profound strut goes from one sill in the front of the rear wheel, all the way to the back in the middle and connects to the rear subframe, and across to other side, so it looks like a boomerang. These elements and engineering are used to scale the rigidity of the whole package and therefore to offer proper driving dynamics worth of a BMW – more on that shortly.

Also, when comparing the 228i to the M235i, the more expensive model gets a specific EPS tune with the clear goal of achieving very good centering feel and a linear increase of the steering force you’re required to input. Yet, this is not the final tune for the steering and additional work will be done before the market launch. The M235i model also gets bigger antiroll bars and Variable Damper Control.

With the optional Adaptive Suspension, you’re getting two different driving modes – Comfort and Sport, along with three settings for the DSC – Dynamic Stability Control: full on, DTC and all traction systems off. Just like with the 1 Series, there is also a larger gap now between the Comfort driving mode and Sport.

“We tried to make it obvious that you press a button and it’s different, and there is a whole philosophy behind – it’s not just about increasing the steering force requirement, it’s also heavyweight, sporty and trying to achieve a better feedback of what’s going between steering wheel and tire,” added van der Meer.

It doesn’t change the ratio of the steering wheel, though. The M Sport Steering Wheel has a quicker ratio than the normal one. The steering feedback also depends on the velocity, if you drive slow then it’s a bit softer, if you increase the speed, it becomes stiffer and heavier. 

BMW offers two suspension setups – Sport and Adaptive – both are lowering the car by 10mm.

The weight distribution you might ask? BMW engineers say they achieved 60-40, regardless of which wheels are spinning.

ARB

One of the biggest topics with the new front-wheel architecture is the addition of the ARB, short for actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation, known from the BMW i3s. The idea behind ARB is to improve the extra grip at the front wheels and reduce understeer. It works in two steps. Firstly, it calculates the perfect slip on the situation you’re in – acceleration, condition of the road and other factors – and it’s calculated into BMW’s own made algorithm. Secondly, the controller which reduces the engine torque is sitting in the engine, so the latency from DSC to the controller is reduced by three fold. And the controller’s output speed is ten times faster. Now, basically the engine knows immediately what rpm is needed in every situation when the wheels start slipping.

In the end, the ARB aims to eliminate understeer completely and integrate the rear-end more actively in the suspension setup, for more agile driving dynamics.

The slip angle also varies between the driving modes, so in the Sport mode and with xDrive, it’s a little more rear biased, and if you push DTC button, all the systems will provide more fun, so you can even drift inside a corner.

Driving Experience

Now it’s time to jump behind the wheel to complete a short loop around Garching and see what the new 2 Series Gran Coupe is made of. The test kicks off with the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe, dressed up in a flashy camouflage, which is surely to attract lots of eyeballs. BMW hasn’t released the specs on the engine for the 228i Gran Coupe, but it’s fair to assume that it’s powered by the 2.0 liter four-cylinder unit from the X2 xDrive28i with a similar output – 228 horsepower.

The loop takes me first onto the Autobahn where I get up to some decent speeds and where the car performs as you’d expect – a comfortable ride, suitable for city and highway driving, without getting in your way. The steering wheel is fairly light at low speeds – especially in the Comfort mode – but it quickly stiffens up when you’re back in Sport and at higher speeds.

The next segment takes me back to familiar backroads so I can have a bit more fun. While the M235i xDrive I drove next is clearly the more dynamic model, the 228i Gran Coupe does the job right for its position in the segment. The drive is less spirited than in the top model, a bit less engaging – by design – which makes it a good commuting car. You can, of course, throw it into some corners and it will perform well, but don’t expect a breakthrough performance. The ARB intervention can be sensed at times, but it’s usually there for a few tenths of a second before it disappears. It seems to be a bit more present in the 228i model, likely because the front-end is not as stiff as in the M235i, so a bit more work has to go into controlling the slip.

Since it lacks the M Performance exhaust, the notes are less aggressive which is typical of a “normal” four-cylinder BMW engine.

The true test of the 2 Series Gran Coupe lineup really becomes relevant, at least for the US market, with the M235i xDrive model. The car has been mostly developed with the US market and customer in mind, hence why the xDrive system will be available standard on this side of the pond. From the moment you turn on the car, there will be a noticeable difference. Firstly, you’re getting more pleasing exhaust and engine notes, the car feels alive and eager to be driven. The stance is also a bit more aggressive, thanks also to the square wheel setup – 19 inch 235/35. Behind the large wheels hides an M Performance braking system with fixed front calipers with four pistons.

Same as the 228i Gran Coupe, no engine specs were given, but the M135i tells us what’s under the hood -a higher tuned 2.0-liter displacement with 306 horsepower and around 450 Nm (332 lb-ft) of torque. All the power is sent to the four wheels via an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. BMW promises the M235i xDrive will hit 62 mph (100 km/h) from rest in under five seconds.

The ride back to Garching is set through the same backroads I came in, so by now, I know my way back and where to push the car. Using the shift paddles on the steering, while in Sport mode, I throw the car into corners with the confidence of a small, sporty sedan. Pardon me, four-door coupe.

The M235i xDrive delivers a balanced setup and all the engineering tricks and solutions put in place now come forward. The ARB feels less intrusive and it does the job well behind the scenes, keeping the car on a proper line through tight corners. Working together with the BMW Performance Control and the Torsen limited-slip, it gives the M235i xDrive more agility at high speeds and less wheelspin, and certainly better handling than the 228i. It simply feels like the better car, the more fun to drive.

In some situations – at fairly high speeds – the outer wheel had less patch contact than the inner one, so that’s when you would feel the anti-sleep system kicking in and doing the proper power transfer to catch some grip. Having an all-wheel drive system onboard with a bit more rear bias was rewarding as well, allowing some play in tight corners. The steering input is quite precise and it demonstrates again BMW’s commitment to constantly improving their steerings. It has a good amount of road feedback and the input are seamless and quite precise. Just like the engineers explained in our workshop, the steering gets heavier as the speeds increase with a neutral steering behavior, and it’s best sampled in the Sport mode.

Since I recently drove the M135i xDrive, a short comparison between the two is in order. I’m still not sold on the idea floated around by some journalists that there will be a customer overlap between the two models, but nonetheless, someone will eventually compare the two cars. So here it is…

If you’d like to have a more spirited and fun drive, reminiscing of small cars, then the M135i xDrive is your best bet. Thanks to its smaller size and more compact design, the ride is a bit tighter than in the M235i Gran Coupe. Not by much though. The 1er naturally feels lighter, so the engine pulls harder than in the Gran Coupe. It’s your typical hot hatch sans the rear-wheel drive setup.

On the other hand, the 2 Series Gran Coupe has the character of a sedan, only not your typical RWD BMW sedan. It’s the car that clearly provides more comfort to the driver and passengers, but without sacrificing the driving fun. It’s a bit heavier, so it will turn a bit slower and with a slight more bodyroll, but that’s only obvious at not-so-legal velocities.

Conclusion

I can see the 2 Series Gran Coupe, and especially the M235i xDrive model, being a great seller in the US, considering that it will have an entry-level price point paired with good performance, good quality interior and all-wheel drive, which makes it great for the snowbelt states. It’s likely to attract new customers to the brand and steal some of the Mercedes CLA’s thunder. To the younger crowd, it will be the foray into the BMW world, and from there, you can only go up and rear-wheel drive, if needed.

BMW will debut the the 2 Series Gran Coupe in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show, before it goes on sale in early 2020.

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