What's it like?
A sports commentator would describe what we've got here as being a game of two halves. Driven at an everyday pace, the 220d Gran Coupé feels familiar, delivering a good impression of a more traditional rear-driven BMW. It feels respectably agile and willing to turn, steering is close in terms of both weight and response to that of a 3 Series and performance is respectably brisk.
The diesel engine thrums a little more than we remember it doing in the outstanding 320d, but it is still acceptably quiet under all but the hardest use. Part-throttle acceleration is impressively strong, the engine delivering solid shove without seeming to break sweat as the automatic ’box shifts deftly to keep the motor in the muscle of its mid-range. Taking manual control through the steering wheel paddles confirms that there is no point in taking the engine beyond the 4000rpm where it delivers peak power, although it will pull cleanly to the limiter.
The base chassis settings are soft, with the Gran Coupé picking up a fair amount of vertical motion over rougher surfaces. The test cars we drove in Portugal were in non-representative spec, wearing optional adaptive dampers that won't be offered here; in Sport mode, these increase discipline without adding harshness, but we will have to wait to see how firm the standard setup is. Cruising refinement is good, with the cabin staying well insulated at what would be a rapid motorway cruise and little wind noise despite frameless doors.
It's when pressed harder that the 220d starts to struggle. On sodden road surfaces, the Gran Coupé's front-wheel drive soon becomes obvious. While BMW is rightly proud of the 2 Series' battery of understeer-fighting systems, including quick-acting traction control derived from the system fitted to the i3, these can only do so much. Hard acceleration at lower speeds have the driven wheels battling for traction, and although there is rarely any sense of torque corrupting the steering, even modest exuberance produces strong and obvious intervention as the stability control battles to stop the front from running wide. BMW'ss rear-drivers would doubtless have struggled for grip in the same conditions, but the fight would have been a more amusing one.
Of course, for many potential buyers, the on-the-limit handling of a diesel 2 Series Gran Coupé will be a peripheral concern, and there is still plenty to like about this compact saloon. The cabin feels impressively well finished and equipped for the price point, with much of the switchgear and componentry shared with models far higher up the range. The driving position has lots of adjustment and, although tight on head room, rear seat space is still reasonable, given the car's dinky overall dimensions.