Having produced one of the best driver’s cars in recent years with the first-generation 2 Series Coupe, BMW was unlikely to stray too far away from its original engineering formula when it came to its successor. The front-wheel drive platform and transverse engine layout of the four-door 2 Series Gran Coupe were never a serious consideration for the smaller two-door model, said Jos van As, BMW’s head of driving dynamics.
The enthusiastic Dutch engineer is speaking before we head out of BMW’s driver training facility on the outskirts of Munich in a pair of pre-production prototypes to discover if the new 2 Series Coupe can live up to the performance expectations and overall dynamic talents of the model it replaces.
Interestingly, he reveals that development of the new car was partly carried out in combination with the latest Z4; the two cars share powertrains, integral parts of their CLAR (Cluster Architecture) platform and their Macpherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear set-up.
“There is a lot that is shared between the two,” he says. “With the 2 Series Coupe, we’ve managed to increase the stiffness of the body by up to 40% over the old model. It makes a big difference, especially to steering precision because you’ve got a more rigid basis for the rack. Changes to the front suspension also allow us to run greater negative camber. You can really feel it.”
The disguised prototypes we’re here to drive don’t provide many clues to the appearance of the new BMW beyond the fact that you can make out a three-box silhouette with traditional cab-backwards proportions. However, they confirm the 2 Series has grown in size, if only moderately. It also gets a larger footprint - the wheelbase extends by 51mm over the first-generation model and the tracks are up by 52mm and 31mm respectively. Keep looking and you also notice greater volume to the wheelhouses, which van As says now accommodate wheels ranging to 19-in in diametre on standard models.
So far, BMW has confirmed four 2 Series models with either rear- or four-wheel drive depending on the engine. Included in the UK launch line-up is the 220i and 220d as well as the 230i and the M240i xDrive driven here. A mid-range 225i is also planned for selected markets, but it remains unclear whether it will be sold here.
The rear-wheel-drive 230i receives a 245bhp version of BMW’s B48 turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. However, it is the four-wheel drive M240i xDrive with the German car maker’s B58 turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder that is set to take the performance honours when sales of the new BMW begin later this year (until the full-fat M2 arrives). With 374bhp, it offers 19bhp more than its predecessor and 31bhp less than the outgoing M2 Competition.
But we haven’t come to Munich to pore over the specification. We’re here to sample the most powerful standard version of the new 2 Series Coupe on challenging back roads and wide-open autobahns.
Stepping inside, we discover a familiar driving environment, albeit one covered with soft fabric to hide the more intricate details of the cabin until its planned unveiling early next month. The dashboard, instruments, central touch display, controls and trims are all similar in design to those of the 2 Series Gran Coupe. The driving position is spot on - snug and fittingly low.
We’re hardly a mile into our test before the willing properties of the reworked six-cylinder remind us of its remarkable dual character. Despite the added power, it remains deliciously smooth and tractable. With free-revving qualities and 367lb ft of torque, it provides the new M240i xDrive with the sort of all-round athleticism other four-cylinder performance rivals can’t match. It sounds terrific, too.
In this particular prototype, it’s mated to an updated version of the old model’s eight-speed automatic gearbox. Like the engine, it operates in a tremendously smooth manner with outstanding shift quality no matter what the driving mode. BMW is yet to announce any performance claims but you can expect a 0-62mph time of around 4.5sec together with a limited 155mph top speed.
The new BMW coupe is an absolute joy. It lacks the hardened edge of the existing M2. But in most situations it feels every bit as quick as its older performance sibling – itself set to be replaced by an even more powerful successor model based on the new 2 Series Coupe in 2023. BMW has focused a lot of attention at refining the suspension of the new 2 Series Coupe with the addition of a series of new braces and other measures, many similar to those found on the larger 4 Series Coupe.
Their benefit is felt in the handling, which is even more entertaining than before. There’s a sweetly struck balance to the M240i xDrive's on-road qualities. Over challenging roads the body control is excellent; there’s a typical tautness to the action of the M-sport suspension, but it doesn’t come at the expense of ride quality, which remains nicely compliant even in the more sporting driving modes. This is largely thanks to the quick-acting qualities of the adaptive dampers, which will come as an option on the range-topping 2 Series Coupe. The ability of the aluminium-intensive underpinnings to soak up high-frequency bumps is particularly impressive.
The most noticeable improvement from the driver's seat, however, is the steering. It delivers added precision, and the weighting is much more constant off-centre. With that added negative camber for the front wheels, there is added eagerness to the turn-in, too.
The M240i corners in a confident and very neutral manner. Its four-wheel-drive system is programmed to provide the majority of drive to the rear wheels and there's an electronic differential to apportion power to each rear wheel, but there’s always an excess of grip, allowing impressively high cornering speeds, even in the wet, but ensuring it remains engaging as well.
You can switch between Eco, Comfort and Sport modes, altering the amount of steering assistance, throttle sensitivity, gearbox settings and stiffness of the adaptive dampers to suit the conditions. But the M240i xDrive is arguably at its best in Adaptive mode.
Reach a town after a quick run along country roads and it relaxes the properties of the steering, throttle, gearbox and damping as you reduce speed. Get back on it again, and it adopts a tangibly more sporting set-up. This broad set of characteristics ensures the new 2 Series Coupe remains a compelling proposition.
Most importantly, though, it feels like its predecessor in every detail, only better and even more eager on the move. A definitive call on its performance and dynamic properties will have to wait until we get to drive final production version later this year.
Later on, we get a chance to run the rear-wheel-drive 230i over the same roads. It lacks the outright punch of the M240i xDrive but its 245bhp four-cylinder engine still manages to provide BMW’s latest two-door model with satisfying performance when mated to an optional eight-speed automatic gearbox.
We have yet to see the official figures, but van As hints at a 0-62mph time of 5.9sec. By comparison, the latest Volkswagen Golf GTI, which produces similar power, delivers a time of 6.3sec.
The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the new mid-range 2 Series model is quite characterful but it lacks the refinement of the turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder unit used by its M Performance sibling, particularly up high where it does become quite vocal when you choose to hang on to lower gears.
Still, there’s an appealing light-footedness to the 230i that will appeal to enthusiast drivers. With a smaller engine and less weight concentrated over the front axle, as well as standard rear-wheel drive, it is well rounded with delicately balanced handling properties and the ability to entertain when the conditions allow.
It turns into corners eagerly and, with a combination of 18in wheels combined with 225/40 R18 (front) and 255/40 R18 (rear) Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres on the prototype we drove, delivers plenty of grip.
Right now, BMW is busy tooling up its factory in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where all new 2 Series Coupe models will be produced. Sales of standard model, including the M240i xDrive, are slated to get underway during the fourth quarter of 2021 with deliveries planned to begin early next year.