With a healthy amount of the 2 Series Gran Coupé’s appeal expected to emanate from its looks, it’s disappointing to see it head into play from a compromised position.

Next to the elegant CLA, the BMW’s comparatively bulbous proportions leave it looking awkwardly chunky and inflated, compromising its ability to convincingly pass as a sleek four-door coupé. Its fussy, almost cartoonish front end lacks any real sense of memorable elegance and its pinched rear is seemingly doing its best to imitate the X4 and X6 SUVs – both of which are widely perceived to represent low points in contemporary BMW design.

I can’t understand why they’ve designed the rear to look so tall, complicated and generally ungainly. Elegantly salooning hatchbacks isn’t particularly easy, but Audi and Mercedes currently do it far better than BMW.

Although BMW has confirmed that the future versions of the 2 Series Coupé and Convertible will retain a rear-driven platform, this new Gran Coupé sits on the same natively front-driven UKL2 architecture that underpins the latest 1 Series.

A selection of transversely mounted three- and four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines are available at launch, with our 218i test car being the entry-level offering. It features the same 1.5-litre three-pot that appears in the base 1 Series and various Mini models, here making 138bhp and 162lb ft. This is deployed to the road via an optional dual-clutch automatic gearbox, as opposed to the standard-fit six-speed manual.

With 187bhp and 295lb ft on tap, the diesel 220d develops considerably more grunt than our 218i, but it’s the range-topping M235i M Performance model that will most likely get the hearts of keen drivers pumping. Its 302bhp, 332lb ft motor is BMW’s most powerful series-production four-pot yet and, unlike the 218i and 220d, it employs a clutch-based part-time four-wheel drive system that can direct as much as 50% of the engine’s torque to the rear axle. A 400bhp-plus version of that engine is reportedly in the works, too, which suggests that a full-fat M2 Gran Coupé variant could emerge further down the line to take on Mercedes-AMG’s madcap CLA 45.

All 2 Series Gran Coupé models have BMW’s near-actuator wheel slip limitation (ARB) system that first appeared on the i3, too. This can gently brake the inside front wheel during cornering to help prevent understeer.

Suspension is by way of MacPherson struts up front and multiple links at the rear, although configurations vary between trim levels. Our test car employed lowered M Sport springs and passive dampers and it rode on optional 18in alloy wheels.

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