BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe 220d Road Test Review
India is a diverse country and that also makes it a rather unique marketplace. What may work globally may not find appeal in India and vice versa. One of the examples of that fact is the compact luxury space. While all the accessible entry-level cars from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been runaway successes in the global market, India has given them a bit of a lukewarm response. We don't associate luxury with a hatchback body style and so the A-Class or the 1 Series failed to make an impact. Sedans do make the cut, but the CLA four-door coupé didn't get the kind of response Mercedes-Benz would have liked and so the new CLA is not even on the Indian roadmap anymore. There is the belief that a more traditional three-box sedan would work better and hence it's the A-Class limousine which will come to India in place of the CLA. Of course, some might argue that the Audi A3 sedan was a classic three-box and after the initial splash, it too disappeared into people's blind spots. But so did the A4, so let's just blame it on Audi's current design language. Well, BMW has been struggling with its designs too, but they seem to understand this entry-level segment and it's customer rather well - think Mini or the X1 which is the best selling compact luxury crossover in India. Now, they believe they have a sedan that could make a difference in this space.
They are calling it the 2 Series Gran Coupé. The 2 Series is a new model line for India, but in the BMW universe, this is the second generation of it. The Gran Coupé suffix means that this too is a four-door coupé like the CLA and this body style is all-new for a BMW of this size or nomenclature. The first-generation 2 Series had an Active Tourer variant, much like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, which thankfully didn't come to India. But the primary variant was the two-door coupé, and we got a glimpse of it with the M2 Competizione. It was a stunning car, both in the way it performed and in the way it looked. The 2 Series Gran Coupé doesn't look as sharp, though.
Despite marrying the styling cues of the new 8 Series to the compact size derived from the 1 Series hatchback, the 2 GC has ended up looking quite blunt and the face has a very upright and chubby appearance to it. Blame it to the Z4/8 Series inspired headlights - the detailing of which makes them look more vertical than horizontal. Adding further to that effect is the kidney grille which sits lower than the headlamps, robbing the 2 GC of the low-slung look we usually associate with BMW's saloons.
This problem is typically seen on sedans that are derived out of hatchbacks, where the nose looks a tad bit stubby and upright for the kind of proportions you expect on a three-box style (and we have a whole crop of sub-4m sedans that are apt examples of that). Don't call me a hypocrite when I'm saying this, but I also believe that the 2 Series could have looked better if it had a larger and wider grille that flowed into the headlamps. My final bit of complaint is with the design of the headlamps - which seems fine when seen upfront, but from the side profile or the rear three quarter, it has a very ungainly, frog-eye bulge to it (just the way the outgoing CLA did).
That said, the 2 GC looks a whole lot better in the flesh than in the images, so if you are shopping in this space, do give this car a chance to win you over in the real world. The side profile has balanced visual proportions and with the 18-inch wheels and the fat 225 section tyres, it even looks like a premium sedan. In my opinion, the best angle to view the car from is the rear three quarter though, from where it looks like a stylish sport sedan fit to wear the Bavarian roundel. The big air dams and M Sport styling bits work well at the front, but its the rear that looks more dramatic with the two (functional) exhaust barrels, the sleek diffuser, the even sleeker taillights and the gloss black appliqué running between them.
I also like how the boot lid sweeps up to create a spoiler effect and that complements the coupé roofline. Unlike the 4 Series Gran Coupé sold internationally, the 2 GC avoids a hatch opening to save costs. The conventional boot lid hides away a sizeable 430l litres of cargo space and that gives the car respectable touring credentials. Should you catch a puncture during your travels, a space saver is neatly tucked into the floor so it doesn't compromise on the luggage space. Furthermore, a 12V socket conveniently placed near the boot opening allows you to use the inflator within or around the boot itself, without having to run the cables all the way to the dash.
The coupé roofline is complemented by frameless doors, fore and aft, and ingress and egress aren't too cumbersome. While tall passengers will find the rear headroom to be a bit of a concern (my 5'8" frame had about an inch of headroom), space in the rear is generally good for two adults and a kid. It is comparable, in fact, to the E90 3 Series despite the 2 Series GC riding on a smaller wheelbase. Thank that to new-age packaging and more importantly to the fact that this isn't a rear-wheel driven Bimmer. Don't go away just yet - we will come back to this configuration in a bit.
The 2 Series is targeted at those with a young bent of mind and that shows in the cabin layout. Of course, it's typical BMW with a driver-centric layout and all controls and the screen angled towards the driver's seat. But there are no wood inlays in here, what you get instead are textures and materials that feel sporty or techy in their appeal. And to that effect, it gets exposed ambient lighting elements, the BMW voice assistance and even the much-talked-about gesture controls - all of which ups the premium quotient.
On the range-topping M Sport trim seen here, there is fully digital instrumentation too (again, Z4 inspired with the reverse tachometer). You can choose to have a heads up display as well. What you cannot have is Android auto. Apple users get wireless CarPlay but apparently, it is a paid feature from the second year of ownership. The infotainment screen may not be the biggest in the business, but it's easy to read and slick to operate. It doesn't get an embedded SIM for connected features, though. I like the design and the placement of the cassette type wireless charger, which has a rubber liner to protect your phone from scratches while keeping the screen out of your sight to avoid distraction while driving.
Driving dynamics and performance
Despite the slightly bulbous bonnet and the high set dashboard, the visibility is excellent. Like a typical BMW sedan, you get the feeling of being a part of the powertrain and not riding atop it. I wish the push-button starter was placed on the dash though, as I often pressed it accidentally while trying to engage sport mode. The placement of these switches is more or less identical to the 3 Series, but somehow these didn't fall easily at hand the way they did in the 3er. Speaking of driving modes, the 2 GC gets the basic set - Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport, which alter the responses of the engine, gearbox, air-conditioning and steering by making it mellow or sharp as you cycle through. I have chosen to start by talking about driving modes because it actually makes a lot of difference to how much you will like this car.
As I mentioned before, the 2 Series Gran Coupé 220d rides on a front-wheel-drive configuration (or an all-wheel-drive on the M235i xDrive variant that is unlikely for India). It is fed power from the familiar 2.0l four-cylinder turbo-diesel, via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The transversely mounted diesel has exceptional refinement levels and is the only engine option for now, but a petrol variant is likely to be introduced by the end of 2020 or early 2021. The 220d M Sport tested here puts out 190PS and 400Nm with a claimed 0-100kmph sprint time of 7.5s (7.7s tested). The engine is mated to a piece of BMW tech called the ARB or actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation system, which essentially controls understeer that results out of excessive power/torque that is fed to the front wheels. It is a common problem on front-wheel driven cars, but with new-age electronics that can work faster than ever and using sensors across all inputs like the accelerator and steering and using inertial measurement, the car's ECU can prevent or preempt excessive understeer - meaning you don't have to bee too measured with the throttle. That said, I found the Sport mode to be a bit too eager and in turn, summoning the electronic intervention far too often. The Comfort mode, therefore, is the more enjoyable mode to be in.
You don't need to read the brochure or be more talented than the electronics to tell that this car is front-wheel driven, though. Hard acceleration out of corners or even while pulling overtakes at moderate city speeds can tell that the tyres and the electronics are at work to maintain the line you intend to take. The system can also brake the inner wheels during cornering for a cleaner line. Add to it BMW's typical 50:50 weight distribution setup and you have a car that 'almost' feels like a mid-engined car with the front seats feeling like the pivot point of the cornering action. Of course, it doesn't feel as natural or joyous as a typical BMW sports sedan, but it doesn't feel like the kind of compromise a compromise that a front-wheel-driven configuration would suggest.
If anything, it also has honest steering that is just as chatty as any other Bimmer and will tell you exactly what is happening at the wheels. The downside is that on the lumpy tarmac typical to Indian roads, or over mid-corner bumps, the preciseness of the steering messes with the efforts of the electronics and that can often upset the dynamics. But it is marginal, and not something that will push you into the roadside ditch or the side of a truck when powering out of corners or overtaking manoeuvres.
The 2 Series has excellent braking manners too and the eight-speed automatic complements it with precise engine braking. The gearbox isn't as intuitive as the ZF transmissions in the higher-spec BMW sedans, but this Aisin unit seems to be tuned for slightly quicker responses than its counterpart in the X1.
While the 2 Series is targeted for those with a sportier bent of mind, its suspension is set up for a cushier ride. There are no adaptive dampers to firm things up, but you won't have to complain about the stock setup. As you may have realised already, comparisons with the CLA are imperative, and from that perspective, the 2 Series has a softer ride than the outgoing Merc, and better ground clearance too. What you have to be careful about are the low-profile wheels on poor road conditions. But these are premium car tantrums one cannot avoid in India and it is a caution you have to exercise for being a part of the luxury club.
In a nutshell, then, the 2 Series is certainly a better buy than the CLA was because it also has a sprightlier engine, better dynamics and a more comfortable cabin. Furthermore, it has enough tech to keep you entertained and ensure that you don't feel shortchanged for the Bavarian badge. It is also more accessible than a BMW X1 (diesel), which makes it a sweet deal that will attract a lot of newcomers to the brand.
But will it give birth to a whole new generation of BMW followers? Maybe not in the same way the rear-wheel-driven, tail-happy, 3 Series did (or does), but given how well it is specced for the price, the 2 GC is an uncompromising ticket to the BMW owner's club despite all the differences it comes with compared to its siblings.
Photography: Anis Shaikh
Check out our video review of the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe
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