We recently tested the MINI Clubman and remarked that there’s a lot of BMW under the skin. Well, in many ways, you could say the new BMW 2-series Gran Coupe has a fair amount of MINI under the skin – and just like the Clubby, it’s a good thing.
Another way to think of the M235i Gran Coupe is the sedan version of the monster X2 M35i we tested – they share a lot of the same running gear – but going from SAV/SUV/Crossover to Sedan/Gran Coupe (stop with all the different names, please!) creates a very different beast. But importantly, the beast remains.
A Fresh Look for BMW Sedans
We’ve read in some places that the 2-series sedans don’t have the family resemblance of the 3 and 5 series. To that we say, then go buy a 3 or 5. At first glance, the M235i’s tight dimensions, do remind you of Japanese sedans. The rear end especially, looks a lot like Toyota’s Corolla. Maybe not so much a slap at the BMW as a compliment to Toyota’s styling of late.
When we took a closer look, though we noticed that the M235i is picking up styling clues from the new Z4 Convertible, which is one sweet-looking, aggressive sports car. Up front is the new larger kidney grille that we’re seeing on all the BMW’s. On the M235i, there’s also a serious front fascia with large intakes on the side and below the grille that balance out the front end. Sleek swept back full-LED headlights flow back into the fenders to create an aero look.
The profile lives up to the Gran Coupe moniker, looking very coupe-like, even though it is a 4-door. In fact, the length gives it a sleekness that the 2-door, 2-series coupe lacks. What really made the profile of the tester in our eyes were the optional 19-inch M Forged bi-color rims, that really fill out the wheel wells and give a wide hunkered down stance when viewed from the rear.
At the rear, the wrap-around taillights slash towards the center of the rear in a dramatic way, while the trunk sits proud above, reminding us a little of the X6 SUV. Like the front, the rear has an aggressive cut-out that looks all business, and massive dual exhaust tips poking out. Finished in Alpine White – a classic BMW color – it offsets the Cerium Grey finish on the grill and front air inlet surrounds, side sill inserts, mirror caps and tailpipe finisher. We liked the M235i the first time we saw it and liked it even more the more we looked at it. It’s a design we think will age well.
Cozy Coupe Cockpit
Inside, the first thing you’re aware of is the snug dimensions – this is notably smaller than a 3-series. But that feeling is quickly replaced by the sporty nature of the M235i interior. Dressed in a stunning Magma Red leather, the seating really pops, and our tester featured the optional front M Sport Seats, which are supportive, ultra-comfortable, and quite handsome.
Drop into those supportive seats, and you’ll find yourself face to face with BMW’s Live Cockpit 10.25-inch digital display, like we found on the M340i. Once again, the tachometer spins counter-clockwise – well, we’re starting to get used to it. The rest of that display is excellent, which like the Audi lets you pull in the Navigation, so you limit your time looking away.
There’s also a large 10.25-inch display on the center console that’s bright and crisp. It’s loaded with tons of info on separate screens, but with the iDrive controller – still the industry standard – it’s super easy to access whatever you want quickly. We also like the angled wireless phone charger at the bottom of the center console it taking up less space. Along with that, the M235i has wireless Apple CarPlay – state of the art for those of us with iPhones.
And if that’s not enough info, our tester also enjoyed the optional Head-Up Display that projects onto a 9.2-inch area of the windscreen. It keeps you in the loop, with the car’s speed (useful in this road rocket), road speed limits, status indicators and warnings from the assistance systems, and route guidance.
While this is the smallest BMW sedan (or Gran Coupe), the use of materials is rich, looks high quality, and feels great to the touch from the fat M-Sport steering wheel and stubby shifter to the contrasting door panels and switchgear. Standard ambient lighting (choice of 6 colors!) and an anthracite headliner create a cool vibe as well.
As mentioned, we love the optional Sport Seats (worth every penny of their $750), and the rear seats are well shaped, but will be tight for adults – short trips are best. The trunk has good size, and since it shares the platform and running gear with the X2, BMW was nice enough to include split folding rear seats. A generous pass-through gives a surprisingly nicely-sized cargo hold. And a note – while our tester did not have a moonroof, it is an available option.
Just about all mentioned above is available in the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe, but when you order something from BMW with an M on the badge – you expect a special drive. And you get it! Under the hood is the familiar 2.0-liter turbo, a real powerhouse punching out 301 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft of torque at just 1,750 rpm. A new dual-branch exhaust gives a wonderful, throaty tone on startup, a smile inducing growl when you get on it, and nice little backfires (but not too farty) as you back off the gas.
This is worth noting – this same engine in the X2 35i we tested was LOUD, bordering on obnoxious. In the M235i Gran Coupe it’s just right – present enough to be enjoyed but never too onerous. The 8-speed automatic is familiar too, and it works great, with smooth shifts that become lightning quick and aggressive in Sport mode.
Helping put the power down is standard xDrive all-wheel drive, combined with a mechanical Torsen limited-slip differential. There’s even Launch Control which allows full peak torque to be available in first and second gear. BMW says 0-60 comes up in 4.7 seconds – and we think they’re sandbagging – it feels faster than that. And even if you don’t use Launch Control, the acceleration is powerful and brilliant throughout the rpm range. It’s a thrill that never gets old!
Handling is a perfect match for all that power, the steering is weighty and direct –those complaining about BMW lack of steering feel can now go home. And the grip is phenomenal. While it does not have the tail-out happiness of a rear drive model, the all-wheel-drive lets you punch hard exiting a turn, knowing that you’ll get loads of grip and come rocketing out.
But this is no hard-riding performance car. Standard Driving Experience Control lets you toggle between Sport and Comfort modes. We found the Sport just too heavy-duty for daily driving and instead opting for Comfort – which is still very responsive – and put the transmission mode in Sport to get the super-quick response from that lovely engine. And no matter which mode you are in, there is this vault-like solidity that continues to impress.
Yes, you can make any vehicle firm, probably even harsh, but to make something that feels so solid, so carved out of a single piece of metal – that takes mastery. And makes it worth the cost of admission.
So, What’s the Cost of Admission?
Well, we will start with the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe for $37,500. With 228 horsepower, it’s sure to be a lovely sport sedan, and as BMW’s competitor to the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class, you can expect competitive leases.
We quickly became addicted to the performance of our M235i, though, which starts at $45,500. Like most German cars, option with care. Our tester added the Premium Package which includes heated steering wheel, adaptive full LED lights, Connected Package Pro, and Live Cockpit Pro (including Navi) for $2,650. Remote engine start was a reasonable $300, the 19-inch forged wheels a bargain $600, and the lovely Sport Seats, $750. Add in $995 for destination, and we totaled at $51,295.
Competition would include Audi’s S3, at $53,740. Also an excellent choice. Buyers on a relative budget might consider the Honda Civic Type R, at $37,950. A performance bargain to be sure, but you will have to live with front wheel drive, a manual transmission, and a nice but nowhere as premium experience.
Massive performance, aggressive looks, BMW quality and everyday drivability – the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe is a wonderful blend of everything drivers care about.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.