Look beyond the coupé silhouette – and the aggressive M Sport bodywork addenda – and it soon becomes apparent that anybody who wants their 2 Series Gran Coupé to move with much intent would do well to avoid the entry-level 218i’s engine.

As we’ll shortly discover, BMW’s B38 three-cylinder turbo unit, which is shared with the Mini, has some commendable strengths but performance is not one of them, despite our car’s reasonably light test weight of 1420kg with a full tank of fuel.

It’s a pleasant car to steer down a B-road at everyday speeds but an underlying softness and resolutely nose-led balance become more apparent when you press on.

At Millbrook, the sprint to 60mph took 8.8sec, the car moving limply off the line with the front tyres never in any danger of losing traction. Were the lowliest 2 Series Gran Coupé merely slow, it wouldn’t matter so much, but in this application, the B38 engine lacks the energy and the more rev-hungry spirit it summons in the Mini. Character, in other words.

While smooth, mild-mannered and impressively linear, it always feels restrained, which is demonstrated by the time the car takes to complete our usual 30-70mph-in-fourth-gear measure of flexibility. Twelve seconds is somewhat un-BMW, even in this new era of rakish bodystyles hiding a front-drive powertrain.

If the 218i Gran Coupé lacks fizz under the bonnet, it performs with more conviction under braking. Servo assistance feels modest and there’s good progression in the brake pedal, which is rare nowadays, even with the products from manufacturers that have historically put the driver front and centre. Reaching a standstill from 70mph in 45.7m is no longer exceptional, but the set-up here is one that gives the driver quiet confidence, with a veneer of polish missing in some of the other controls.

BMW’s Steptronic dual-clutch gearbox also deserves praise. With seven ratios, it does more to mitigate the engine’s lack of firepower than the standard-fit six-speed manual and it shifts quickly but without the unnecessary brusqueness of some dual-clutch transmissions, especially at low speeds. Because of the engine’s shortage of torque at lower revs, it’s also required to drop down a couple of gears fairly often, which it does without trouble. Finally, a long top gear allows sub-2000rpm motorway cruising, usefully reducing noise and fuel consumption.

None of which makes up for the fact that the 218i Gran Coupé has an engine that fails to live up to the expectations of one residing in a car with sporting, dynamic pretensions.


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