BMW faced an unenviable dilemma when it began developing the 2 Series Gran Coupe. It needed to create a car with an acceptable amount of room for passengers and a spacious boot without sacrificing handling. Engineers chose to start with a disadvantage in dynamism rather than one in roominess.
After all, technology can eliminate understeer, but it can’t yet make a set of winter tyres fit in the back.
Front-wheel drive it is, then. The Gran Coupe shares its FAAR platform with the third-generation 1 Series, among other models. Using this architecture cleared up over 34mm more knee room for rear-seat passengers than in the rear-wheel drive 2 Series coupe and a usable 450-litre boot. More space for people and stuff is difficult to argue against but the idea of a front-driven BMW sports saloon is much more contentious; pugnacious loyalists will argue Munich has taken leave of its senses. The firm doesn’t think the 2’s target audience (“young professionals” in marketing-speak) will mind.
“Normal customers won’t find out whether it’s rear- or front-wheel drive. 80% of all 1 Series we sell have an engine that makes less than 150hp. We have a big volume of smaller engines and front-wheel drive is not really a disadvantage. Customers want a BMW but we know rear-wheel drive is not a reason to buy the car,” explains chassis engineer Johannes Kühberger.
Besides, BMW came well prepared to this battle, with xDrive all-wheel drive for the upper end of the model line-up. The ARB traction control system shared with the 1 Series comes from the i3S, putting the engine’s ECU in charge of keeping the 2 pointed in the right direction by comparing data sent by the stability control system to the crankshaft’s rotation speed. This technology allows faster, more precise control of wheelspin. BMW also made the 2’s body stiffer by adding extra bracing in the engine bay and boomerang struts linking the rear sub-frame to the body.
Hardware and software come together to make the 306bhp M235i sharp, balanced and enjoyably predictable to drive. The xDrive all-wheel drive system does an excellent job of using both axles to juggle power as-needed to provide maximum grip, shuffling up to 50% of the turbo four’s output to the rear wheels. The Gran Coupe is inevitably a little bit front-heavy, it feels pulled rather than pushed, but a jaunt on the twisty roads around Munich reveals BMW’s chassis wizardry largely lives up to its promise of keeping understeer at bay. The steering is direct and well-weighted, though Kühberger warns development work is on-going and the car hasn’t been signed off yet.