In BMW speak, the term “Gran Coupe” indicates a four-door variant of a two-door car. Confusing, we know. There's a four-door 4 Series Gran Coupe, a four-door 8 Series Gran Coupe, and now, a four-door version of the 2 Series dubbed the 2 Series Gran Coupe.
But unlike other Gran Coupes before it, the 2 Series Gran Coupe (or, GC for short) isn't merely a two-door with more room in the rear. BMW reengineered the 2 Series GC from the ground up, ditching the current car's rear-drive setup in favor of a front-wheel-drive chassis (with optional all-wheel drive) from the European 1 Series instead. From a business standpoint, the switch to this modular setup makes sense; it's both cheaper and easier to engineer. But how does it affect the driving experience?
We got a small taste of the upcoming 2 Series GC in Germany. And we do mean a “small taste.” We spent less than half an hour in each camouflaged trim level on the roads outside of Munich – both the 228i and M235i. But in that short time, we learned enough to form some preliminary thoughts.
For one, a four-door version of the current 2 Series coupe this is not. The 2 Series GC, built on BMW's new UKL2 modular platform, sends power to either the front wheels – or in this case – all four. But never solely the rears. Europeans get the entry-level front-drive variant and xDrive model at launch, but Americans get the xDrive model exclusively. For now.
Our time spent in the latter drive-type, an M235i variant first, shows promise. With a turbocharged 2.0-liter pumping out 306 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque, the M235i is relatively speedy in a straight line. It pairs to the same ZF eight-speed automatic from the five-door 1 Series. The gearbox is wholly inoffensive for the most part and quick to respond. But it's not the powertrain that leaves us impressed; it's the M235i's sheer amount of available grip.
The M235i handles corners with composure. It claws at some tighter curves, tires squealing in the process, but otherwise turns in like an oversized go-kart: flat, quick, and with a tight steering feel. Its newfound agility, backed by a standard limited-slip differential, an engine traction management system, and active wheel braking (which limits interior wheel slip by automatically applying light brake pressure), is always available – even in Normal mode.
In Sport mode, the M235i tightens up the suspension damping, steering feel, and throttle tip-in. Even in Normal mode, this car is stiff – its ride is almost too tough in Sport mode, which makes for fun, fast cornering, but not a fantastic ride over rougher roads. Compounding matters, the cloth M Sport seats don't provide much support, either.
Lacking the dramatics of the rear-drive 2 Series coupe, though, makes the M235i almost feel too clinical. The all-wheel-drive 2 Series GC is better, technically speaking – you'll probably turn a quicker lap time – but falls short of the same character a rear-wheel-drive platform typically provides.
The 2-Series Gran Coupe claws at some tighter curves, tires squealing in the process, but otherwise turns in like an oversized go-kart
If anything, the less-powerful 228i model feels like the more satisfying choice of the two. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine is noticeably less punchy – it produces 231 hp and 258 lb-ft. But with fewer of its more powerful sibling’s intrusive electronic aids, the 228i feels nimble in the same turns. There's only a pinch more body roll to note and lighter steering, but it's a slower, more satisfying take to the harsh-at-times M235i.
Comparatively, the 2 Series GC falls in line with other all-wheel-drive competitors like the Mercedes-Benz CLA, and to some extent, the Audi A3. While these prototypes provide a good glimpse, we won't know for certain whether BMW has bested either of those brands until the final product debuts this November.
What we do know is that the 2 Series GC will be a handsome thing. Our two prototypes, wearing a tri-colored, QR-coded camouflage, don't hide BMW's signature design elements. Minus the 1 Series hatchback's maniacal grinning grille, many of the same facial cues from the new five-door carry over. The ever-expanding dual kidney grilles – BMW dubbed them "Luftklappen verschluss," which translates loosely to "active kidney grille" – and angry angular headlights are the most obvious.
The M235i GC also gains a larger central vent with two accenting openings in the upper corners and two larger vents at each corner of the bumper. Even with purple-and-blue camouflage, the 2 Series Gran Coupe looks grumpy – and appropriately so, as it's aimed at other lukewarm competitors like the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 and Audi S3.
There's less to look at inside, though; BMW kept the cabins of each car mostly covered. There's a centrally located touchscreen, pulled from other BMW products (though we're unsure of its size), and a digital instrument cluster on the clearly better-equipped M235i model. But we won't know what all is available to consumers – outside of the supremely cool cloth, sport seats with red-and-blue BMW M motifs – until it debuts.
Gallery: 2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe Prototype: First Drive
From the back seat, the 2 Series GC feels more substantial than its closest competitors. There's ample headroom and legroom (the latter aided by big rear cut-outs on the front seats), even though at 15-feet long (4,560 millimeters), virtually on the nose, the 2 Series isn't huge, comparatively. The 2020 Mercedes-Benz CLA is bigger at 15.4 feet long.
Granted, we still have a lot to learn about the BMW 2 Series GC. This prototype is a few steps away from the final production model, which will make its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this year. But so far, we're happy with the result. The base 228i GC is a comfortable cruiser with some cornering chops, but it's the M235i model that's supremely capable in the curves. Both variants show promise, but we'll have more to say when we get our hands on the final product, hopefully sometime in early 2020.
Gallery: 2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe Prototype: First Drive
2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe Prototype