If BMW of the last decade can be characterised by one overarching plan of attack, it might be their insistence on creating flashy new models to fill a supposed hole in their product line that might not need to exist. First, we had the 4-series which, while a solid addition to BMW’s fleet, made the 3-Series formula that much more impractical.
We then saw the introduction of the X2 which supposedly bridged BMW’s small X3 SUV with their even smaller X1 crossover. The X2 is a decent entry-level commuter, but one that still makes me scratch my head in terms of its presence in BMW’s already cluttered utility lineup.
So, in 2020, we have a new addition to BMW’s puzzling array of semi-necessary vehicles: the 2-Series Gran Coupé. Designed to transport middle-class professionals and fussy first-time luxury buyers, the 2-Series Gran Coupé is meant to satisfy the small niche between the 1 and 3-Series, providing the tried and true BMW experience without emptying your savings account. The real question is, does it do it well?
Upon first approach of the 2020 218i Gran Coupé, we are introduced to the polarising styling of the new BMW middle child. Equipped with the M-Sport styling package, the front facade is, for lack of a better term, shark-ish. Its gaping front gills make it appear as if it’s about to unleash an unrelenting attack on unsuspecting highway prey. The menacing stare of the angular LED headlights only adds to the sinister frontal appearance of the 2-Series GC. In a side profile, however, the Gran Coupe loses a bit of its intimidation factor. It is a rather stubby vehicle with a wheelbase of only 4526 mm. The sloping roofline only adds to the styling intrigue. While the headroom is unquestionably stifled by the free-flowing roofline, some might find the seamless lines of the 218i GC visually pleasing. In the end, it boils down to personal preference.
While the 218i GC’s external looks are divisive, the interior is universally attractive. Before we climb into the GC, the presence of comfort access entry is made known with a tug on the door handle of any of the doors, allowing entry without taking the key out of your pocket. While this is a somewhat costly addition, it is worth putting in a few dollars past the base price to increase the premium feel. Beyond the door gizmos and in the driver’s seat, you are immediately met by an aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically sound cockpit. I do not say this lightly, the interior of the 218i has a way of coddling you in more ways than one. It is always a treat when the user barrier in a new car is nearly non-existent and all of the buttons, switches, and dials are right where they should be.
The no-nonsense feel of the 218i interior highlights the German engineering and design that BMW is known for. Looking around, many of the accented features are more business than pleasure. The ‘Illuminated Boston’ interior trim looks sterile and elegant until the backlighting is switched on; A quick reminder that the 2-Series GC isn’t completely executive. The standard cloth ‘Trigon’ bucket seats squeeze tight and introduce another colorful flair to the cabin. The steering wheel provides plenty of hefty grip from sturdy leather construction and accented stitching. While all of the wheel-mounted buttons are placed in the correct places, the tactile feel of them, especially the scroll wheel, could certainly be improved with more resistance.
As with most BMW’s of the newest breed, the 218i GC comes equipped with an array of technological goodies that would put the International Space Station to shame. BMW Live Cockpit introduces a 10.25-inch fully digital speedometer and tachometer with vehicle diagnostics and navigation accompaniments. If driver attentiveness is a must, the 9.2-inch heads up display option is the way to go, allowing you to never move your eyes from the road. All of the infotainment and onboard tech is powered by BMW’s new I-Drive 7.0 which supports Apple Car Play. As with the interior itself, the technical inclusions in the 218i GC are easy to navigate and master; A rare quality not found in many other luxury brands with mazelike software systems.
In practice, the storage space of the 218i GC is square in the middle of the 1 and 3-Series models that bookend it. The 2020 2-Series Gran Coupé has 50 more litres of usable storage space than the 1-Series and 50 fewer litres of boot space than the 3-Series. All in all, you are left with a very respectable 430 litres of room, ready for all the necessary accoutrements for a nice weekend trip. Combined with BMW’s signature 40:20:40 split-folding seat design, you will rarely find yourself needing more space.
Perhaps most shocking about the new 218i GC is just how much performance BMW has been able to squeeze out of meagre hardware. Looking at the GC on paper, it is hard to imagine that a 103kW coupled with a 1.5 litre 3-cylinder could move a car under its own weight, let alone be somewhat peppy, but that is exactly what BMW has done. While the 8.7 second 0-100km/h time is not going to win you many drag races, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox puts the humble amount of power seamlessly with quick up and downshifts as needed. It would have been nice to see the inclusion of steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for a bit of sporty flair, but at the end of the day, that isn’t what this car is about. We also see this lack of sporting pedigree with the standard brakes; they have good bite, but it is evident that they were not meant for the racetrack.
While the 218i Gran Coupé occupies a unique niche that might not be understood by some, it is a welcomed addition to the BMW fleet. Upon first glance and even deeper inspection, the 218i GC does not appear to be the entry-level vehicle that it is advertised as. In fact, priced at $47,990 plus on roads, it will certainly serve you right if you are dipping your toes into the German luxury segment.
By Amandeep Sethi