While the M135i is effectively replacing a rear-driven model, the Gran Coupe is entering a new bit of the market - one that BMW executives admit the constraints inherent in packaging an in-line engine and gearbox meant it couldn't consider building on the old platform. Like most coupe-saloons the four-door 2-Series has been designed to appeal more to Asian and American buyers than Europeans, a reality reflected in a slightly softer chassis tune than the M135i.
While styling is an especially subjective subject in this part of the market, it's fair to say that the Gran Coupe's design struggles to deliver grandeur with the car's compact dimensions. The 2670mm wheelbase is identical to the 1-Series, as is the jowly front overhang, with the 207mm increase in length almost entirely in the boot. The result is a car that doesn't look quite long enough in the middle, something exacerbated by the heavily raked roofline. The rear lights also seem to have been designed for a considerably larger vehicle.
The interior is better. The Gran Coupe shares the 1-Series's dashboard and most of its cabin architecture and materials feel suitably plush for the segment, with lots of switchgear and componentry familiar from higher up in the range. An 8.8-inch touchscreen is standard as is comprehensive talk-to-anything connectivity. The M235i gets semi-bucket seats, alcantara trim and the Live Cockpit digital instrument pack as standard. Front seat and steering wheel adjustment is generous, and although the rear is short on headroom thanks to the low roof space is sufficient for kids and squashier adults; it’s fair to say nobody shopping in this dinky segment is likely to be expecting more. The 430-litre boot is also respectably big, although access through the tailgate hatch is a little tight.
How does the 2 Series Gran Coupe perform on the road?
Starting the engine produces a promising fusillade of pops and crackles, although this turns out to be about the most exciting noise the new powerplant makes. It would have been near impossible to replicate the sonorous charms of the six-cylinder 1-Series, and BMW hasn't really tried: the engine makes plenty of muscular sounds, some of which are digitally synthesised, revs turning it louder but not more melodious.
Yet there’s no arguing with the effectiveness of the downsized engine. The peak 332lb-ft of torque is fully present from just 1750rpm, with the quick-thinking eight-speed auto shifting intelligently and seamlessly to wake it up when required. There is some lag below about 2000rpm, but the only way to find it is by manually selecting too high a gear in manual mode. Performance feels at least as strong as the official numbers suggest, the engine pulling cleanly to its 6600rpm limiter with no sense of reluctance at the top end.
Rainy conditions in Portugal also gave the boss Gran Coupe a chance to prove its ability to generate impressive levels of traction on damp mountain roads. The all-wheel drive system uses an electro-mechanical clutch pack on the rear axle which can engage much quicker than a viscous coupling. It also gets the an understeer-fighting ARB slip limitation system based on the one used in the i3. So although the M235i can run as a pure front-driver, and frequently does to reduce mechanical losses and boost consumption, it proved almost impossible to catch out, even on tight, slippery corners.
The xDrive system works well to find grip – a point made by just how hard a front-driven 220d had to battle to get power down on the same roads. But it can only do so much, only 50 percent of available effort can head backwards and it reaches the rear wheels through an open differential incapable of torque biasing. So once the M235i has been powered to the edge of breakaway it doesn’t have any tricks left in the bag beyond tightening its line on a lifted throttle. So while it actually resists low-speed understeer better than its rear-driven sisters, it lacks their ability to go and play in the hinterland between grip and slip.