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First drive: BMW M235i Gran Coupe. Image by BMW AG.

First drive: BMW M235i Gran Coupe
So here it is: the latest addition to the BMW Gran Coupe canon. Can the M235i overcome its looks to win us over?

 



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BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

BMW expands the 2 Series family with the most practical model since the Active and Gran Tourers broke cover, in the form of the 'F44' Gran Coupe. It follows the four-door, swoopy roof formula of the 4 Series, 6 Series and 8 Series Gran Coupes before it, and this one is the top version of three launch models, using the 306hp engine from the X2 M35i as its motive force. But, by crikey, the M235i xDrive Gran Coupe is going to have to drive very well indeed, if it is to make up for those looks...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe
Pricing: 2 Series Gran Coupe range from 25,815, M235i xDrive from 37,255
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: xDrive all-wheel drive, eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic
Body style: four-door performance coupe-saloon
CO2 emissions: 162g/km (VED Band 151-170: 530 first 12 months, then 145 annually thereafter; NEDC-correlated)
Combined economy: 39.8mpg (NEDC-correlated)
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Power: 306hp at 5,000-6,250rpm
Torque: 450Nm at 1,750-4,500rpm
Boot space: 430 litres

What's this?

Looks, in any aspect of life, are subjective. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; one man's meat is another man's poison; to each their own; there's no accounting for taste; and so on. The appearance of this new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, therefore, is no exception to the vagaries of humankind and their qualities of aesthetic appreciation, and so we are well aware there will be plenty of people in the world looking at this car and thoroughly appreciating its distinctive lines. And good on them, too.

Not us, though. Dear lord, not us. In fact, we think this is the ugliest car BMW has ever put on sale. We have now spent a long time walking around the 2 Series Gran Coupe, standing up, crouching down, viewing it from dead-on front, appraising it from the rear three-quarters, loitering at the side of it, squinting at it, sucking air over our teeth, shaking our head forlornly... and it doesn't matter what we do nor where we stand, it's just dire in every aspect.

Particular bugbears of this dreadful design are: way too much metal above the wheel arches, which is especially noticeable at the front of the car when viewed in profile; front-end details which are oversized and outlandish compared to the wings sitting behind and to either side of them; the back of the Gran Coupe, which is busy beyond belief with so many contrasting details, none of which seem happy to co-exist with each other; the strangely stunted and high look of the roof, as the designers tried (in vain) to cram a swooping GC lid onto a car that's only 4.5 metres long and with a wheelbase of less than 2.7 metres; and then the misshapen, sheer chunkiness of it all. This is never better in evidence than when you realise that this flagship M235i xDrive model rolls on at least 18-inch alloys, which look like castors in those rear arches, such is the vast expanse of metal in that gargantuan rear flank. BMW's product line-up is hardly the prettiest portfolio on sale today, but to try and fathom how this car is related in any way, shape or form to the current 8 Series makes your head spin in sickening confusion. About the most savage indictment we can fling the way of the 2 GC is that it somehow, incomprehensibly, manages to make the X6 Mk3 look almost well-judged and proportional. Astonishing.

Ahem. Wiping the speckles of rabid foam from our chin, we'll try and move on with the review - as the critique of the exterior is just our opinion, put down for the record. It won't matter one jot to how well this car performs, because it's a prestige product with a prestige badge on its nose and so it will sell regardless of how many people decry its appearance. And all is not lost when you climb aboard, because it's another excellent BMW interior. Yes, it's all a bit 'inside, same same, but different, but still the same' with everything else in the Bavarian marque's range, and we're yet to be convinced by BMW's insistence on using all of the angles for its Live Cockpit Professional digital instrument cluster. But the Operating System 7.0 infotainment remains the best in the business, the ergonomics of the driver's position are spot on the money, there's great visibility out in all directions (even when looking over your shoulder from the front seats, thanks to glass quarter-lights cutting into the C-pillars) and the entire reason the GC exists in the first place is justified by a roomy back row of seats (33mm more kneeroom, plus more headroom than you'd credit it for, considering that roofline), as well as a 430-litre boot augmented by 40:20:40 split backrests in the rear. Yep, it's more practical than the old 2 Series Coupe. Great. But does it add a lot, over and above a Mk3 'F40' 1 Series? Debatable.

A three-strong launch line-up will be available for the 2 Series Gran Coupe, which (of course) sits on the UKL platform that underpins the compact BMWs like the 1 Series, X1 and the X2, as well as the MINI family. And that, in turn, means that unless there's an 'xDrive' badge on your 2 GC, it'll be the front wheels doing all the work. A three-cylinder, 1.5-litre, 140hp 218i kicks things off and is the only Gran Coupe you can have with a manual gearbox, while there's still a place for diesel with the 190hp, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 220d. This only comes with the eight-speed Steptronic auto that is a cost option on the 218i, although the turbodiesel remains FWD. At the top of the pile sits this M235i xDrive, which also uses the Steptronic and which has some of its torque going to the rear axle; it costs less than 38,000 basic, which is impressive for an M Performance vehicle, and it'll run 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds with a limited top speed of 155mph. But, after the shock of the 2 GC's uncompromising styling, it needs to drive amazingly to win the day from this position...

How does it drive?

Thankfully, like any modern BMW, the engineering which has gone into the M235i is top-notch. It drives very nicely indeed. Indeed, it's particularly good at the mundane, day-to-day stuff, as the ride quality is excellent for a car on big alloys, low-profile tyres and M Performance suspension - the BMW smooths out minor imperfections to a remarkable degree and it even copes with large compressions of the springs with an elegant grace, too. Noise suppression of the potential contributors to cabin discord is highly effective, while the eight-speed Steptronic is one of the great gearboxes of our time. So brilliant is it that you notice precisely nothing it is doing, which is about the highest accolade you can pay a self-shifter.

There's also little doubt that, although it's a good 11,500 more than a base 218i Sport manual, the M235i is the pick of the launch cars. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is unquestionably the star performer, in more ways than just being the fastest. It's the sweetest to rev, it sounds fantastic (if a touch too augmented in Sport mode) and it has a wonderful, crisp reach to it through the gears. Seemingly lag-free and capable of channelling all of its grunt so mighty effectively through the transmission, the result is that this is a seriously quick-feeling car when you're behind the wheel.

It's also the best 2 GC in the corners, but it's not going to go down as BMW's finest dynamic hour. With push at the back, the M235i xDrive negates the nose-heavy tendencies of the front-driven Gran Coupes, while it also better balances out the rather hefty 1,645kg mass of the car. There's masses of grip at both ends of the car and a resistance to understeer that's most endearing, while rigid body control teamed to good, supple damping allows the Gran Coupe to maximise its cross-country pace to the nth degree; it breathes with lumpen surfaces and keeps unnecessary weight transfer to the barest minimum, so you can really link a series of corners together and get some reward from it.

The problem is, not quite as much reward as if it had been rear-wheel drive in the first place, like its M240i six-cylinder Two Coupe predecessor. At no point does the M235i do much in the bends, other than grip tenaciously and then go rapidly. And if you're thinking that sounds more like a quattro-equipped Audi than a BMW, then... you'd be bang on the right lines. It simply feels like anyone could get the best of the M235i within minutes of driving it for the first time, because it's so stable, so solid and so safe. And that last word probably tells you that it is, by contrast, not thrilling. The steering, too, needs addressing, because the weighting is needlessly heavy and strangely stodgy in Sport mode, and it lacks for feel, too. This is an issue exacerbated by another one of those BMW M Sport steering wheels which has a preposterously fat rim, which robs any last vestiges of feedback that you might have otherwise been able to discern. Gripping it is like driving in oven mitts.

So the M235i is fast. And it's fun, too. But only to a certain degree. Overall, it doesn't feel that much more rewarding to drive than an M135i or an X2 M35i, and surely the kinematic experience had to be sharper and more invigorating on this car to make up for its unsightly appearance and its supposed coupe leanings? In truth, it feels a bit like a vehicle BMW made merely to tidy up its even-number model series: as it had Four, Six and Eight GCs in its back catalogue, it had to create the 2 GC to balance up the universe, as it were. That's not the sort of product gestation steeped in love and care, now is it?

Verdict

Nothing the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe does can make up for the way it looks, regrettably. It's a fine car in many respects, with a classy and spacious cabin, superb refinement, good daily-driving manners and a decently talented chassis. It also has a stonking four-cylinder drivetrain and oodles of mechanical grip, but those things do not make for an overtly BMW-esque driving experience and it doesn't seem to bring anything additional to the table that some of its related, in-house products haven't already shown us. Save for its utterly frightful design. Obviously.

1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 1.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 19 Feb 2020









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2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.

2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe first drive. Image by BMW AG.








 

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