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Does the junior BMW coupé still make a convincing case in base-level 220i form?

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Think of any of its recent high-profile new models, such as the BMW iX, BMW 1 Series, BMW 4 Series or recently revealed BMW 7 Series, and today’s BMW might not strike you as a company that is particularly nostalgic, or one that cares much about its heritage.

All the typical BMW hallmarks – a long bonnet, rear-wheel drive, subtle kidney grilles, the Hofmeister kink – have been either ditched or substantially reinterpreted.

For years, BMWs have had quad headlights, or at least the suggestion thereof. The 2 Series Coupé goes with a single headlight either side, referencing the 02 of the 1960s. Kidney grilles are modestly sized and close when the engine doesn’t need cooling.

And then there is the new BMW 2 Series Coupé. It doesn’t get much more ‘traditional BMW’ than this. All the aforementioned traits are present and correct. There are no hybrids and you can even get it with a straight-six petrol engine.

Is this design one that the old guard sneaked through while the new kids weren’t looking? Not at all. It’s a deliberate strategy to retain the more traditional buyer as well as appeal to younger buyers, head of BMW design Domagoj Dukec told us last year. It’s why the tweaked BMW 5 Series didn’t sprout a big grille either when it was facelifted.

Dukec added: “There’s a reason why the BMW Neue Klasse is a very typical three-box silhouette. That’s the case for every car we’re doing today. The 2 Series Coupé is the best example: we have a rear-wheel-drive proportion but we treat it as a three-box. There are no other cars like it in the segment.”

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Manufacturers’ claims that their car is a pioneer or completely unique are usually fairly hyperbolic, but in this case it’s probably true. A relatively compact 2+2 coupé has become a rarity, especially with rear-wheel drive. The Audi TT is getting on a bit and was never as sporting as it looks. The Ford Mustang is a much bigger and more expensive car and the Toyota GR86 is sold out in the UK for the rest of its production run.

The new BMW 2 Series may be the a priori class leader, but there is also no shortage of four-door coupés and hot hatches you could have instead. The six-cylinder BMW M240i xDrive already impressed us with its grand tourer character; this road test reveals whether the 220i can preserve some of the magic at a lower price.

BMW 2 Series Coupé range at a glance

The 2 Series shares its mechanicals with the larger 4 Series. That means it gets all the same engines, except for the six-cylinder diesels. A 154bhp 118i and a rear-drive M240i have been announced for other markets but won’t be offered in the UK. A BMW M2, with the twin-turbo six from the M3 and M4, has been confirmed, although exact details have yet to be disclosed. All 2 Series come with an eight-speed automatic exclusively, apart from the M2, which is likely to also have the option of a six-speed manual.

EnginesPowerFrom
220i*181bhp£36,010
220d188bhp£37,985
230i241bhp£39,655
M240i xDrive369bhp£47,515
M2tbctbc

*Version tested

DESIGN & STYLING

02 BMW 2 Series Coupe 220i 2022 RT DE side pan
Photography by Luc Lacey

For a few years now, it has been the case that in the BMW range, the even numbers have been coupé or otherwise swoopier versions of the odd numbers. The BMW 4 Series is a BMW 3 Series coupé, the BMW X6 is an BMW X5 with a sloping roofline, and so on. That would make this BMW 2 Series, as it was for the previous generation, a BMW 1 Series coupé.

In terms of the relative positioning in the range, that may be true, but in fact, the new G42-generation 2 Series Coupé is mechanically unrelated to the front-wheel-drive 1 Series, or indeed the equally front-driven BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé and Active Tourer.

It may not look like it in all pictures but the 2 Series has some seriously blistered wheel arches, creating somewhat of a Coke-bottle shape and evoking the E30 M3. Note also the traditional Hofmeister kink to the C-pillar.

Instead, it rides on a short version of the CLAR platform that is used for all the other BMWs with a longitudinal engine. Intriguingly, that means it probably wouldn’t be impossible for BMW to make a hybrid or fully electric version of the 2 Series Coupé. We have no knowledge of such a plan, however.

Instead, the engine range is a traditional ‘best of’ the 3 and 4 Series. That’s very similar to the old F22 BMW 2 Series (2014-2021), as is the mechanical layout of a longitudinally mounted engine driving the rear wheels primarily. Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link at the rear.

The greater shared DNA with the 4 Series has meant the 2 Series has grown quite significantly. At 4537mm long and 1838mm wide, it is 105mm longer and 64mm wider. For context, that’s 47mm longer than a E46-generation 3 Series Coupé and only marginally narrower than an E38 7 Series from the late 1990s. As a result, our four-cylinder 220i tipped the scales at 1546kg.

In a world of plug-in hybrids and EVs, you might even call it light, but when you realise it’s 46kg heavier than the four-wheel-drive Audi S3 Sportback, it’s clear that recent BMWs have a bit of a weight problem.

INTERIOR

10 BMW 2 Series Coupe 220i 2022 RT dashboard

The previous F22 2 Series Coupé and the BMW 1 Series Coupé before it were based on the BMW 1 Series hatchback and shared that car’s more budget-conscious interior materials, but since the new BMW 2 Series Coupé is in effect a shortened BMW 4 Series, it gets its bigger brother’s dashboard, centre console and seats.

This means that if you were to compare the 2 Series Coupé’s interior materials, fit and finish and ergonomics with those of the Mercedes CLA or Audi A3, you would feel like you were sitting in a car from the class above. There are some hard plastics, but they are reserved for the door bins and other mouldings that are usually out of view.

The centre console, with plenty of buttons, is a paragon of usability but will be slimmed down in favour of a bigger screen in an imminent update.

Analogue gauges are standard, with our test car’s hexagon-heavy digital gauges available as an option. However, from the summer, all 2 Series will get a big, curved display that incorporates a 12.3in gauge cluster and the 14.9in centre touchscreen.

Optionally, there is also a fairly simple but very neat head-up display that is projected onto the windscreen, rather than a little flip-up screen, avoiding the feeling of the projection dancing around in your peripheral vision as you go over bumps.

As expected from a coupé of this size, the 2 Series is a 2+2 rather than a full four-seater. Rear leg room is about city car sized, but head room is very limited. Children will fit fine, though, and even get a pair of USB-C ports. Usability is further compromised by how long it takes for the front seat to motor forwards and backwards.

At 390 litres, the 2 Series’ boot is significantly more capacious than that of the Audi TT, the Toyota GR86 or even the Audi S3 Saloon and Mercedes-AMG CLA 35. Front-wheel-drive versions of those last two are slightly roomier, though.

Multimedia system

14 Bmw 2 series coupe 220i 2022 rt infotainment 0

We often refer to BMW’s iDrive system in reviews of other cars, simply because it is the best one out there. In the 2 Series Coupé, it combines an ultra-responsive touchscreen with logical menus and the signature rotary controller surrounded by a panel of shortcut buttons.

It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – both wireless – but it is still worth using the built-in navigation system as it’s almost as good as Google at judging delays from traffic, while directions are shown in the gauge cluster and the head-up display if so desired. To top it all off, there is a row of eight numbered buttons that can be configured to almost any function.

It’s very odd, then, that BMW models are starting to lose some of these functions. An update in the summer will kill off the numbered buttons and separate climate control buttons in favour of a bigger, curved screen, and the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer has even lost the rotary controller.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

19 BMW 2 Series Coupe 220i 2022 RT performance pan

With 181bhp pushing 1.5 tonnes, the BMW 220i is not a particularly fast car. It takes 7.3sec to reach 60mph, which today isn’t even junior hot hatch territory. A Hyundai i20 N needs a full second less to do the same.

The 220i’s standing-start performance is actually very similar to the old Toyota GT86’s. Unlike the Toyota, of course, the BMW is turbocharged, and its 221lb ft of torque (70lb ft more than in the Toyota) is clearly felt in the in-gear acceleration figures.

Here’s your cut-out-and-keep BMW 2 Series spotter’s guide: the 220i and 230i get twin round exhausts, the 220d has just a single one and the M240i gets twin trapezoidal items. The M2 is certain to feature the M hallmark four pipes.

For instance, the BMW takes 3.4sec less than the GT86 to get from 30-70mph in fourth, despite a slightly longer gear ratio. This means that on the road, the 220i does feel a bit swifter than the standing-start figures would suggest. Nevertheless, the 230i, which gets a useful 60bhp and 74lb ft boost, could well be the sweet spot of the range for £3655 extra, especially when you consider that the new Toyota GR86 has had a power and torque boost too.

Every 2 Series Coupé gets the excellent eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, but you could easily be fooled into thinking it was a dual-clutch transmission given the speed of the changes, the way it responds to the paddles and how it occasionally thumps through a less than smooth shift. What’s more, the engine response shows no sign of any slip from the torque converter.

Like all modern BMWs, the 2 Series lets the driver configure various aspects of the way it drives. Eco Pro dulls all the responses, while Normal is, as the name suggests, fairly normal, except that the gearbox calibration can feel slightly too optimised for the WLTP cycle, coming at the detriment of refinement as it lugs the engine.

Sport mode makes it more responsive, without hanging on to gears for too long like it will when you knock the gearlever into its own Sport mode. Sport also makes the throttle response keener, dials up some synthetic engine sound, weights up the steering and makes the brakes touchier. The last of those is entirely unnecessary, as even in Normal mode it’s hard to make the 220i come to a stop perfectly smoothly.

All of those aspects can be turned back down in Sport Individual, except for the grabby brakes. That’s frustrating, because the gearbox is at its best in Sport and the synthetic engine noise actually adds to the experience, making the car sound neither like an in-line four nor a straight six, but somewhat like an old Ford V4 in a fruity tune.

Unaugmented, the B48 is fairly characterless, unless you open the window, when some turbocharger chuffs and a little bit of exhaust burble make it into the cabin.

RIDE & HANDLING

21 BMW 2 Series Coupe 220i 2022 RT front corner

The BMW 220i is no fire breather, then. The whole point of the car is the chassis balance afforded by the native rear-wheel drive. The similarly priced BMW M135i xDrive may leave the 220i at the lights, but you’ll have more fun in the corners in the coupé. That’s the idea, at least: handling is where the 2 Series Coupé needs to deliver.

By and large, it does, so long as you don’t expect it to be a hardcore sports car. The all-wheel-drive M135i will produce more traction in the wet, while a Mazda MX-5 will be more playful. What the 220i deals in is poise.

Low driving position, low centre of gravity and rear-wheel drive keep things interesting through corners, though more than the 121bhp per tonne on offer wouldn’t go amiss.

It is sometimes said that the more modestly engined BMWs have never had enough power to feel particularly rear-wheel drive, but that is not the case in the 220i. Not because it wants to oversteer on the road, but when you try a bit harder, it always feels like you’re being pushed through the corner rather than pulled towards the hedge on the outside. Of course, wet roads change the game dramatically and make the 220i quite happy to spin its rear Pirellis.

The car’s low centre of gravity and the option of an ultra-low seating position also help the 2 Series’ natural flow on a twisty road. Yes, there is a fair bit of mass being asked to change direction, but it does so more willingly than in a tall car.

The steering needs just 2.2 turns lock to lock, which suggests it could undo a lot of the chassis’s poise with nervousness, but BMW has used a variable rack to good effect here. The pace feels natural and you only really notice how quick the rack can be when parking. On the open road, you’re never left second-guessing how much lock to use.

With that said, it’s not the last word in feedback. For a modern steering rack it’s about average, with reassuring weight and a decent sensation of when the front axle is loaded up, but there are more talkative steering systems out there. There is a Sport mode that adds artificial weight but no feedback.

As is often the case with BMWs that aren’t full-fat M cars, the 2 Series does have its limitations, though. Through some medium-fast corners, the front axle can feel like there are some rubber bushes that need a fraction of a second to settle laterally. The car is gripping, but it just saps 5% of your confidence.

Comfort and isolation

The other area where the 220i lacks some sophistication is in the ride. In the UK, the Coupé always comes as an M Sport and BMW doesn’t offer adaptive dampers on the four-cylinder models. It probably should, because its passive M Sport set-ups have a habit of dealing with uneven roads slightly clumsily.

Over bigger bumps, the suspension can’t control the body’s mass with the insouciance of some Jaguars or even some adaptively damped BMWs. It means the big up-down motions are more clearly felt.

Meanwhile, the 19in wheels can crash through potholes and the ride feels permanently unsettled and jittery over bad surfaces. It’s not that the suspension is too stiff – it’s appropriate for a sporty coupé – but you might hope for a bit more control.

It’s not unbearable for the daily grind: a lot of hot hatches will beat you up more and the excellent seat comfort compensates for a lot. The padding is quite firm but very supportive and there are few cars that offer more adjustment to the driving position.

Noise refinement is somewhat disappointing, too: 69dBA at 70mph is poor for this class. Subjectively it doesn’t feel quite as bad as that, and the Harman Kardon audio system easily drowns out a lot of the road roar generated by the rear tyres.

On the whole, the 220i isn’t an uncomfortable car as such, but we do expect better from BMW.

Track notes

Bmw 220i track notes

If anything demonstrated that the almost mechanically identical but slightly more powerful 230i would be a worthwhile upgrade over the 220i, it was a few laps of the Millbrook Hill Route.

On this challenging course, the 220i feels underpowered and overtyred. It’s not slow per se, but it also doesn’t exactly rocket up the steep slopes, suggesting that mountain driving won’t be as effortless or breathtakingly exciting as the car’s exterior suggests.

The 220i also doesn’t have the grunt to easily overpower the driven wheels in the dry. We suspect having identical tyres front and rear, rather than the staggered set-up that is standard in the UK, would unlock some more of the car’s inherent balance. In faster corners, the 220i tends towards mild understeer, but a lift of the throttle will neatly tuck the nose in.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 BMW 2 Series Coupe 220i 2022 RT Lead

The 220i, the entry-level BMW 2 Series Coupé, starts at £36,010. If you want a rear-wheel-drive coupé in 2022, there are – practically speaking – no cheaper options. The Toyota GR86 is probably a purer driver’s car and starts at under £30,000, but the whole UK allocation is already sold out.

If you are willing to compromise on the idea of a rear-wheel-drive coupé, then there is a wealth of similarly priced alternatives. The closest rival is perhaps the Audi TT, but the Jaguar XE P250, Mercedes CLA 200 and BMW M135i xDrive all offer something that might tempt buyers away, for various reasons.

Spec advice? Upgrade to the more powerful 230i and choose your option packs wisely. The £1250 Comfort Pack adds lumbar support and keyless entry, while the £1000 Driving Assistant Pack features adaptive cruise control.

We would recommend stepping up to the 230i but, at just under £40,000, that will have to make a case against the Volkswagen Golf R, Audi S3, Mercedes-AMG A35 and even lower-powered versions of the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5.

A 2 Series isn’t cheap, then, but if you don’t need a lot of boot or rear seat space, it should be relatively easy to live with. BMW offers only a three-year warranty as standard, but recent petrol BMW 3 Series have a decent reliability record. In a week of mixed motoring that included performance testing, our 220i averaged 34.0mpg, but on long motorway journeys we saw over 40mpg.

The active safety systems are also far less of an annoyance than in other cars. They work well but can be easily turned off by holding a physical button. Adaptive cruise control is optional and wasn’t fitted to our test car, but experience from other BMWs suggests we wouldn’t have any significant complaints.

VERDICT

23 BMW 2 Series Coupe 220i 2022 RT static with logs

Look at the BMW 2 Series Coupé and what do you see? If you see a sports car, a pure driver’s car that will go head to head with the Toyota GR86, you will be disappointed. To fulfil that role, the 2 Series is too heavy, not sharp or talkative enough, and the 220i tested here is too slow.

If, on the other hand, you see an everyday coupé that offers more style than the usual saloon or hatchback, with more driving engagement than the front-wheel-drive opposition (from both the low-slung seating position and the classic rear-wheel-drive feel), then the 2 Series is extremely compelling.

It’s not perfect: we suspect both the comfort and dynamics would benefit from losing the standard M Sport suspension and wide tyres, but that slight black mark fails to detract significantly from the other BMW-typical high points like the mature powertrain, supremely ergonomic interior and excellent multimedia.

We would upgrade to the punchier 230i, or the M240i if the budget allows, but every 2 Series is a worthy torchbearer for the classic BMW coupé.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

BMW 2 Series First drives