Great car, but a shame about the way it looks.
That was the sentiment among most members of the motoring press when the excellent-handling, but aesthetically challenged second-generation BMW 1 Series hatchback appeared two years ago.
The carmaker certainly must have been listening, because BMW’s new 2 Series Coupe, which is essentially a 1 Series hatchback “given the boot”, is far easier on the eye.
The 2 Series has an all-new “face”, with slimmer, more stylish headlights, more sharply slanted kidney grilles, and a more aggressive front valance. The roofline is lower and more swoopy, and a pert notchback boot replaces the rather severe, breadvan-like profile of the 1 Series.
BMW has, however, carried over some sheet metal from the 1 Series, with the 2 Series sharing its bonnet, front wings and doors. Elsewhere though, the 2 Series is almost completely different – it’s 108mm longer than the current 1 Series hatchback, and 72mm longer than its immediate predecessor, the 1 Series Coupe.
But while the increased dimensions over the 1 Series hatchback make it look more balanced and less stumpy, none of this translates into increased cabin space. The wheelbase stays exactly the same, as do its interior dimensions. This means that while the 2 Series can accommodate two full-grown adults in the rear seats with reasonable comfort, those over 1.8m tall might find themselves short on headroom and/or kneeroom.
Elsewhere in the practicality stakes, the 390 litres of boot space is decent, which can be expanded by folding the rear seats flat.
The 2 Series has an interior identical to the 1 Series’, so unlike the exterior, there’s been no attempt to disguise the car’s origins. There’s no need for BMW to apologise for this, because the dashboard’s design is uncluttered, logically laid out and elegant in its unadorned simplicity, with interior build quality up to BMW’s usual high standards.
On the engine front, the 2 Series currently has three petrol-engined options – the 220i (184bhp, turbocharged 2-litre), 228i (245bhp, turbocharged 2-litre) or the range-topping M235i (326bhp 3-litre turbo). Unlike with the 1 Series, there are no 1.6-litre engines, for now at least.
What we tested in Las Vegas was the flagship M235i. This model is visually distinguished from “lesser” 2 Series variants by a lower ride height, sculpted side skirts, 18-inch rims (identical to those on the M135i), a squarer and deeper front bumper, and a subtle lip spoiler fitted to the boot lid. The overall effect is to make the M235i look squat, purposeful and very tasty indeed.
Inside, the M235i marks its range-topping status with a pair of bucket seats for the driver and front passenger, an M-branded steering wheel, aluminium trim strips, and a Harman Kardon sound system.
That’s pretty much what you get in the M135i as well, though interestingly enough, the M235i’s 326bhp is slightly more than the M135i’s 320bhp. Both cars, however, share a brilliant 8-speed automatic gearbox from ZF. That gearbox (found almost throughout the BMW lineup) is brilliant – slick and smooth when pottering about town, sharp and ultra-quick when charging, and always alert to manual override commands from the shifter paddles.
A feature unique to the M235i’s driveline is launch control, something that should allow you to hit (or at least, come close to) its claimed zero-to-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds, which is 0.1 of a second quicker than the M135i.
That superlative drivetrain is complemented by quick, meaty steering and a pliant but nimble chassis. Nudge that thick-rimmed wheel and the nose darts eagerly for the apex, the rest of the car seemingly pivoting about its mid-point and following suit. The M235i is delightfully agile, with BMW’s trademark neutral weight distribution clearly a key factor in getting the car (rapidly) around bends.
On really tight bends (such as those found on the twisty infield circuit at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where we were let loose for a few laps), there is predictably a touch of understeer, but with 326 “horses” driving the rear wheels, it’s easy to edge the tail out with a bit of throttle to compensate. A limited-slip rear differential is available as a cost-option for really committed track warriors and drift meisters.
Another hardcore option is a sports exhaust, which replaces the engine’s subdued, creamy purr with a far rortier note that howls with glee at the top end and crackles thrillingly on the overrun. But whether you choose the hooligan-spec exhaust or not, the familiar 3-litre inline-6 is in fine form, giving strong low-end urge and building in a wonderfully linear way to its 6500rpm redline.
Even out on public roads, the M235i is as impressive as it is on the racetrack. Handling is sharp, virtually free from body roll and very fluid. Despite the slightly firmer suspension settings over the M135i, the M235i’s ride remains excellent, even with the adaptive dampers in Sport mode. Small bumps pass unnoticed underfoot and the sting is taken off larger bumps with dismissive ease. Body control over fast bumps and undulations is tight and hugely inspiring, yet there’s enough suppleness and travel in the suspension for the car to feel loose-limbed and unflustered when belting down a fast country road – a very hard balancing act indeed.
BMW’s littlest coupe is a winner already, and the M235i flagship (for now, until an even hotter M2 arrives) is a barrel of fun. The M235i is small, red-hot (it helps that it’s also painted red) and has all the litheness of a ballerina.
TYPE Inline-6, 24-valves, turbocharged
BORE X STROKE 89.6mm x 84mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 10.2:1
MAX POWER 326bhp at 5800-6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 450Nm at 1300-4500rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 221.8bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select
DRIVEN WHEELS Rear
0-100KM/H 4.8 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h (governed)
CONSUMPTION 13.2km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 176g/km
FRONT MacPherson struts, coil springs,
REAR Multi-link, coil springs,
FRONT / REAR Ventilated discs
TYPE Michelin Pilot Super Sport
SIZE 225/40 R18 (front), 245/35 R18 (rear)
TRACTION CONTROL ABS with ESC
KERB WEIGHT 1470kg
TURNING CIRCLE 10.9m
PRICE INCL. COE $253,800 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge)
WARRANTY 3 years/100,000km
+ Marvellous handling balance, searing cross-country pace, light-footed ride
– Cramped rear seats for taller people, will be overshadowed by the M2 in time