Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan test drives the new 2021 2021 BMW 218i M Sport Gran Coupe which he found to be full of surprises.
BMW has been quite busy of late with its Gran Coupe formula. To date it has spawned the striking 8-series Gran Coupe and smaller derivatives like the 6-series and the 4-series Gran Coupes.
If this fastback four-door coupe style has caught your eye, the entry level 2-series Gran Coupe, tested here in 218i Gran Coupe spec is definitely worth investigation. Depending on your view the exterior styling with overly large front grille and blocky rear styling loses the cohesive looks of the 4-series. But read on, because lurking underneath is a playful car that may surprise you.
“I delighted in the car’s steering feedback and the seven speed steptronic dual-clutch transmission”
Sitting at the bottom of the 2-series Gran Coupe range, the car I tested was the 218i car priced from just €38,116 (€42,408 as tested).
I know that any car costing almost forty grand is a lot but what caught my eye was the indicative finance offer by BMW for this 218i M Sport Gran Coupe. Slap €10,600 down and the monthly payment over 48 months sits at a low €250. That’s proper value for a small BMW saloon.
There are other models populating the 2-series Gran Coupe range. The 220i Gran Coupe, M235i xDrive, 216d Gran Coupe, 218d Gran Coupe, 220d Gran Coupe, 220d xDrive. But based on this test the 218i is the range sweet spot. Best of all the petrol engine pulls you away from the necessity for choosing any of the diesel versions.
Power and design
The 2-series Gran Coupe uses a front-wheel-drive, with a transverse engine that shares much of the architecture from the 1-series. Here’s the kicker – it’s a small, relatively conventional, petrol engine – that’s it. Refreshingly this car drives like something we knew from years ago, before we were all socio-shamed into going partially, or fully electric.
Dynamically the only difference between the 1-series and the 2-series is replacing of hatchback with a conventional boot lid in a four door coupe format. The coupe feels less fleet of foot but not by much.
The design suggests it should have included a proper tailgate hatch but at least the rear seats fold down in a split configuration. This changes when the new 2-series Gran Coupe is updated this year and reverts to rear-wheel-drive. If you’ve tried the 1-series hatch for rear legroom and headroom, the sloping roofline of the 2-series Gran Coupe car it a tighter fit for people sitting in the back. Legroom is fine and bar the restricted roof height it is well packaged for a smaller saloon. It even retains the frameless window surrounds from the raking 8-series Gran Coupe.
A sporting thriller?
The engine is a perky unit with just 1.5-litres using what BMW calls a TwinPower Turbo in a three-cylinder configuration, producing 136hp and 220Nm torque but the 1,425kg weight never hampers the unit’s flexibility. It gets High Precision Injection, VALVETRONIC fully variable valve timing, Double-VANOS variable camshaft timing. All of this is advanced engineering speak that means one thing to the rest of us – it revs cleanly right through the rev range without feeling harsh or strained. And that’s all you need to know.
The engine has no electric boost function but the car’s relatively compact dimensions and focus on low weight helped the engine perform like a turbocharged 1.8 or even a less powerful 2.0-litre unit. The unit even sounds good with a slightly raw edge. On the test it was respectably economical as well.
On a Government restricted 5km driving loop in urban conditions the car averaged 31mpg over 11 hours of driving which is decent for non-diesel or electric-hybrid combo. I delighted in the car’s steering feedback and the seven speed steptronic dual-clutch transmission. Gearchanges happen in an instant and the slightly laggy feel of the Mercedes A-Class and other smaller Mercedes’ gearboxes isn’t evident here.
The 2-series interior is largely borrowed from the 1-series and it’s a good thing. It’s one of the best cabin layouts in the segment. All central binnacle controls are accessed using the rotating iDrive controller that’s retained in the centre console. You can also control the main functions by the touchscreen and BMW’s swirly gesture control. The car’s refinement is a plus point and the transmission never sounds harsh. Being a minnow in the BMW saloon range it still gets a multi-link rear suspension and feels predictable in corners without displaying the isolated feel of a small Audi.
Though to call the 218i’s dynamics as a sporting thriller is a stretch. A word of advice – step up to the M235i and the suspension is a good deal firmer and less enjoyable for everyday driving. Just be aware of that limitation in the more powerful car.
The last word is left to the model range. The M235i may have the performance superiority but the pick of the 2-series range, certainly for me, looks like the 218i variant. Factor in the top-drawer steering, gearbox, chassis and brilliant three-cylinder 1.5 litre petrol engine and it is quiet star. Best of all it’s an economical and pleasingly fun front-wheel-drive that has one trump card – it feels quite special. That’s enough to make it recommended choice if you’re chasing a BMW Gran Coupe on a tighter budget.
You’ll like: A BMW Gran Coupe for less. Affordable fun with predictable handling, steering and gearbox excellent. Good value if financed over three years.
You’ll grumble: Awkward rear three-quarter exterior design. Reduced rear headroom and access.
By Mark Gallivan
Published: 16 March 2021