You may pine for the 2 Series Gran Coupé that might have been, had BMW only continued to build its small cars on a rear-drive platform.

The notion of a fine-handling but compact four-door coupé with a short wheelbase, no front driveshafts and a reasonably low kerb weight holds considerable appeal, but the truth is that even the old, tail-driven 1 Series, despite its fine, longitudinal straight-six engine for the hotter models, never drove as sweetly, playfully or predictably as it should have.

Gran Coupé resists understeer reasonably well through tight hairpins but it won’t tighten its line for love nor money.

As it is, the front-driven approach we have here, although capable, is hardly the last word in dynamic finesse and, for the enthusiast, does little to disguise the humdrum driveline orientation.

It’s not all bad, though. The 2 Series Gran Coupé is slightly softer than the new-generation 1 Series, as befits its more cruiser-oriented brief, but this example’s M Sport springs dial the firmness back up a touch. The result is a car that steers pleasingly well in everyday driving and one that contains roll neatly and is easy to place on the road. The steering doesn’t possess the same darting response as that of the larger 3 Series and is lighter still, but it’s accurate and linear and there’s some ebb and flow to the weighting. In combination with a truly excellent driving position, the car is pleasurable enough to flow down a B-road.

However, problems arise when you really want to drive the thing. BMW’s adaptive suspension, which is available on the M235i Gran Coupé only, may make a better fist of controlling the fairly tall body, but our car’s passive set-up isn’t supportive enough during committed cornering and it prompts the chassis to fall back on its nose-led balance. Vertical control is also more lax than expected and overall the 218i Gran Coupé feels out of its comfort zone at just the moment when a BMW should rise to the occasion. In the end, it’s just a bit ordinary.

Limit handling is something the average 218i Gran Coupé owner is unlikely to explore too often and perhaps that’s just as well, because although the car didn’t disgrace itself on the Hill Route at Millbrook, neither did it impress or entertain as we’d have hoped.

It’s true that this weak engine gives the driver few options to alter the attitude of the car, but the impression is that even more power wouldn’t help matters much. The suspension simply doesn’t have the precision to respond to subtle inputs and its softness allows the weight distribution of the car all too often to entirely dictate the handling characteristics. True, the Gran Coupé rarely descends into terminal understeer, but it is certainly inclined to push on whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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COMFORT AND ISOLATION

There is very little ordinary about the way the 218i Gran Coupé moves when you simply want to get from A to B. The driving position is excellent, being low slung, supportive in all the correct places and with plenty of adjustability in the steering column.

Even with pillarless doors and the faintly bulbous face, the cabin is also well isolated from wind noise and road roar, and the engine has only a distant presence. At idle, its three-cylinder hum is barely audible, while at motorway speeds the 2 Series Gran Coupé does a passable impression of a 5 Series, loping along in a bumble of its own tranquillity.

For a compact model, it’s an unusually relaxing long-distance companion, with good forward visibility only improving matters. Our test car’s 18in wheels are of an optional style but are the smallest size. (Any smaller would undermine the sense of ‘sophistication’ a four-door coupé needs.) The Bridgestone tyres are also fairly generously provisioned with sidewall, so the car’s tendency to fidget on anything less than a perfectly smooth road is likely to be down to the M Sport springs.

This isn’t to say the car is irksome on the move. In general, its rolling road manners are very good, but the standard springs would be likely to improve matters further, albeit with a handling penalty on B-roads. On the basis that most people will buy the 218i for its looks, that seems a sensible trade.

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