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2021 BMW 2 Series Test Drive Review

Made for a specific kind of car buyer, the 2021 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is fun, but hard to recommend.

6.3 /10
Overall Score

Your most affordable path to BMW ownership runs through the 2 Series or the X1. Most people choose the X1 crossover SUV, but some still prefer to drive a car. However, not just any car will do, so the 2 Series lineup includes a coupe and convertible made for driving enthusiasts, and a rakishly-penned sedan for people who simply want an affordable BMW. The sedan is called the 2021 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe, a name that serves to add further confusion to a car that's already hard to understand.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

New last year, the 2 Series Gran Coupe was the first BMW car sold in the United States with standard front-wheel drive (FWD), instead of BMW's traditional rear-wheel drive (RWD). And it's not a coupe, either. Instead, it's a four-door sedan with a conventional trunk, which means it lacks the utility of its similarly-named five-door sportback sibling, the larger 4 Series Gran Coupe. But the 2 Series Gran Coupe is a relatively affordable entry-level BMW, perfect for people who aspire to own a vehicle with a kidney-shaped grille capped by a blue-and-white roundel.

BMW offers the car in 228i and M235i model series, and the automaker's xDrive all-wheel-drive (AWD) system is optional for the 228i and standard for the M235i. BMW adds standard equipment for the 2021 model year, restricts the sport automatic transmission to the M Sport Package or M235i, and offers a new adaptive damping suspension and an option package bundling new driving-assistance safety features.

For this review, BMW provided a 228i xDrive Gran Coupe with the M Sport Package, the Premium Package, M double-spoke alloy wheels, extra-cost paint, leather upholstery, and wireless smartphone charging. The MSRP came to $48,595, including the destination charge to ship it from Germany to your local dealership.

Because the 2 Series Gran Coupe sits on a front-drive platform, BMW faced challenges in getting the car's proportions right. Visual tricks, including large LED headlights, grilles, and air intakes, help to lessen the perception of excessive front overhang. BMW also pulled the car's cabin back to improve what is called the dashboard-to-axle ratio. And the tapering roofline optically extends the car, culminating in a busy rear end seemingly inspired by BMW's Sports Activity Coupes. Purposeful-looking round exhaust outlets and appealing 18-inch aluminum wheels complete the car's appearance.

Inside, the 2 Series Gran Coupe adheres to the modern BMW design idiom with geometric shapes and surfaces, a touchscreen infotainment system neatly integrated into the dashboard within easy reach of the driver, and digital instrumentation that eliminates classic round gauges for something resembling a video game display. Materials are appropriately upscale, metallic trim adds contrast to the cabin, and the optional leather is appealing.

This car might be an entry-level BMW, but it doesn't look or feel that way when equipped with the same features as our test car.

Performance

8/ 10

The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe poses the following question: Can a front-drive platform credibly serve underneath a self-proclaimed "ultimate driving machine?"

Before I answer that, I'll share two observations.

The first is that our very own George Kennedy did not think so when he reviewed a 228i xDrive Gran Coupe last year. A big fan of the two-door 2 Series convertible and coupe, George summarized the 2 Series Gran Coupe like this: "What makes this car so frustrating is that it perfectly embodies the depressing direction that German luxury brands are going."

The second is that the Volkswagen GTI is one of the most revered enthusiast cars on the planet, and it's got a 228-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine powering its front wheels. Hmmm. A 228i Gran Coupe also has a 228-hp turbo four-cylinder powering its front wheels. And AWD, something you can only get on the GTI's more expensive sibling, the Golf R, is an option for the BMW.

Now, I'm not saying George is wrong or that a 2 Series Gran Coupe and a GTI are the same things. What I am saying is that I disagree with George, and yeah, a 2 Series Gran Coupe and a GTI are kind of the same thing.

I've never driven a 2 Series coupe or convertible, so I am evidently missing out on something special. Perhaps if I'd spent any quality time in one, I'd think BMW was doing the 2 Series moniker a disservice by slapping it onto the Gran Coupe.

I have driven many Volkswagen GTIs, though. They're a laugh-riot. If you want a form of transportation that always puts you in a good mood, the GTI is it. The 2 Series Gran Coupe is not a laugh-riot, but that's mainly because it looks and feels and drives like a more sophisticated automobile than the VeeDub.

Based on pure performance chops, I'd say the two cars are comparable, and since the BMW offers xDrive, it's likely superior depending on the road surface and weather conditions. In any case, having raced around on the roads draped across the Santa Monica Mountains in a 228i xDrive, the 2 Series Gran Coupe does its BMW roundel justice. I had plenty of fun. Your mileage may vary.

BMW quotes a zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of six seconds flat for the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe. That's quick enough to put a grin on your face, if not push you deep into the driver's seat. The turbocharged inline-four pairs with an eight-speed sport automatic transmission, AWD, and a bunch of performance-enhancing technology such as brake-fade compensation, cornering brake control, performance control, and three driving modes.

Switch the car into Sport mode, and it steps lively. Paddle shifters add to the driving enjoyment, as does a more involving exhaust note, but it would be nice if BMW added the selected gear to the head-up display (although if you wear polarized sunglasses as I do, that's not going to help much). Anyway, should you choose to let the eight-speed automatic transmission decide when to shift, it is more than capable of doing the right thing at the right time.

As a fan of small, nimble, and quick cars, I thoroughly enjoyed driving the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe. The M Sport Package equips the car with fantastic M Sport steering. Swift, sharp, and direct, it heightens the experience with every journey. And it doesn't matter if you're running to the office, running errands, or running hard in your local mountains. The M Sport steering is suitable for all environments.

Suspension tuning is on the firm side but only draws attention to itself over sharper road anomalies. The Gran Coupe feels glued to the road, too, though the all-season run-flat tires squeal a little too much as you approach the limit of adhesion.

Overall, the more time I spent behind the 228i xDrive's wheel, the more I liked driving it. And on my testing loop, it averaged 27.9 mpg, beating the EPA's fuel economy estimate of 27 mpg in combined driving.

Form and Function

4/ 10

Used primarily to transport two young and limber people, the 2 Series Gran Coupe is practical. The sport-bolstered, 10-way power-adjustable front seats are snug but comfortable, and there is adequate storage for the things you typically carry with you. Entry and exit aren't effortless, but that comes with the territory when you buy a low-slung car instead of a higher-riding SUV like a BMW X1 or X2 (which share the 2 Series Gran Coupe's platform).

The reason for the Gran Coupe body style's existence—two extra doors and a back seat —isn't convincing. Granted, I am not a small person, but I had no choice but to fold myself in half to squeeze through the rear doors and sit in the back. While entering and wearing shorts, the hard plastic front seatbacks took some skin off of my knee. Once situated, my head was touching the roof, and my legs splayed around the sides of the seat. At least there are air vents and USB charging ports back there.

BMW's other Gran Coupe, part of the 4 Series lineup, offers a helpful sportback design with a rear hatch that opens wide to accept more cargo than a 3 Series sedan. Though the 2 Series Gran Coupe's fast roofline appears to offer the same added utility, it does not.

Instead, you get a traditional trunk. It's a roomy one at 15.2 cubic feet, a figure that includes the generous storage compartment underneath the load floor. Plus, the 2 Series Gran Coupe has a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat, adding utility. Still, this car needs the full sportback treatment.

Tech Level

8/ 10

BMW equips the 2 Series Gran Coupe with Live Cockpit Plus with a 5.1-inch display residing between traditional round analog gauges. Get the Premium Package, and the car comes with Live Cockpit Pro rendering data on a fully digital 10.25-inch display. It reminds me of a video game instead of proper instrumentation and makes me think I'd prefer the standard setup.

The Live Cockpit Pro display pairs with an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. This system uses BMW's iDrive 7.0 technology, and it is terrific. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, a navigation system, and a long list of connected services. Over-the-air software updates keep it current.

Between the touchscreen, the iDrive controls on the center console, the related controls on the steering wheel, and the outstanding voice recognition technology, you'll have no trouble using the infotainment system. Plus, the software responds to inputs and commands without delay, adding to its ease of use.

BMW says the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe comes with a premium sound system with ten speakers. It's an unbranded system, but it sounds fine. You can also opt for Gesture Control to control the stereo volume and change radio stations, but in my experience, this feature is hit-and-miss in terms of accuracy and usefulness.

The test car also had a full-color head-up display, which was helpful except when I wore my polarized sunglasses. Based on the photos BMW shows on its consumer website, it looks like a beneficial system.

Safety

8/ 10

For 2021, the 2 Series Gran Coupe adds a new Driving Assistance Package to the options menu, but our test car did not have this upgrade. It adds adaptive cruise control and a parking-assistant feature that steers the car into a space while you operate the pedals and transmission.

The test car did have all of the other advanced driving-assistance systems that BMW offers for the Gran Coupe, grouped under the Active Driving Assistant umbrella. They include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, active blind-spot warning with intervention, and a speed limit information system.

The only features I could safely test were the lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance systems. They work. Boy, do they work. The lane-keeping assistance can be aggressive and abrupt, and that's irritating when you don't need its help. But when you do, it sure is effective.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed crash testing on the 2 Series Gran Coupe. The car misses earning a Top Safety Pick due to headlights that rate either Poor or Marginal. The vehicle-to-pedestrian test also results in a less than perfect rating. But, overall, in terms of crash protection, this car earns top ratings from the IIHS.

Cost-Effectiveness

3/ 10

Blame filmmaker John Hughes for the beginning of the end of BMW as a pure enthusiast brand. In 1986's "Pretty in Pink," conflicted rich kid Blane McDonough drove a BMW 325e, and it probably had an automatic transmission.

Hughes' characterization of mid-1980s BMW owners serves as one of several pop cultural apexes rounded by the German automaker as it grappled with rising popularity amongst customers without a clue. Marketing proclaimed the cars to be "ultimate driving machines," keeping the faithful in the fold with M-this and M-that, while the Blane McDonoughs of the world continued buying basic Bimmers (or, as these people like to call them, "Beamers").

Blane would have loved the 2021 2 Series Gran Coupe. And since Blane's parents would be footing the bill, he wouldn't care at all about the absolute lack of cost-effectiveness associated with driving it.

Our test car was pricey, but even a base 228i with FWD and no options will run you $37,295, including destination. And while BMW chips in free scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles, the base 2 Series Gran Coupe remains a sporty small car lacking features that something like a Mazda Mazda3 2.5 Turbo or Volkswagen Jetta GLI includes for much less money.

That's the price you pay for that grille and roundel.

Also, it is worth noting that BMW runs a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle program full of low-mileage, off-lease vehicles. For the kind of cash a 2 Series Gran Coupe commands, you could find a larger, more powerful, and more satisfying BMW to own. For example, as I write this, there is a CPO 2019 BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe with less than 10,000 miles on the odometer selling for under $34,000.

So, y'know, maybe a new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe with a $1,200 Storm Gray paint job isn't the way to go.

But, if you want a BMW, and you want a car instead of an SUV, and you want to buy a new car instead of a used car, and you want a sedan, and you're on a budget, well, the 2 Series Gran Coupe is tailor-made for precisely these requirements.

And if you spec it right, you'll enjoy every minute behind its steering wheel.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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