Test Drives

BMW 218i Gran Coupe review: 2 to tango



The entry price to owning a four door BMW just got lowered, now that the 218i Gran Coupe is here. But does it live up to its illustrious badge?


Lisbon, Portugal —
So the new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is here in Singapore, in 218i and M235i form. They go on sale this very weekend, which is pretty handy, because we just drove them at their media launch in Portugal early this month.

Here’s what you need to know about BMW’s stylish new four-door car.

Wait, yet another 2 Series?
You bet. This is the fifth of the lot, counting the 2 Series Active Tourer (a front-drive box), the 2 Series Gran Tourer (a bigger box with seven seats), the 2 Series Coupe (two doors, rear-wheel drive) and the 2 Series Convertible (two doors, rear-drive, folding roof).

The new car completes the 2 Series family, but BMW prefers to bleat that it completes the Gran Coupe range instead. 

So… not a sedan, then?
Well, it has four doors and a general three-box shape, but it does resemble a scaled-down 8 Series Gran Coupe.


On the flanks there are flowing lines that sort of visually elongate the car, and the frameless doors enable a nice, low roofline, besides looking pretty tasty in themselves.


VIDEO : Wonder what makes a Gran Coupe look like one? A BMW designer explains it all in the video below!


Details abound to draw the eye, too. Dig the slender strip that links and runs over the tops of the taillights. And while you’re at it, check out the way the BMW badge back there is mounted on a little plinth.


The front is how you want a BMW to look, if you ask me: aggressive, but not comically so. The double-kidney grilles aren’t ridiculously large (note how they’re wider at the bottom, like on the 8 Series), and the lamps have a slim, purposeful squint.

Requisite air scoops and bonnet creases provide a bit more to look at, but it’s all tastefully done overall.

 

OK, the outside looks nice enough, but what’s the cabin like?
Amazingly, it’s like the interior of the 1 Series hatchback, its closest sibling in the BMW family.

That means the same dashboard is there, with the same digital instruments and touchscreen infotainment system. Same playful flourishes too, like the backlit bits of cabin trim.

Brownie points to BMW for still believing in buttons and physical switches, too. Just because there’s a touchscreen doesn’t mean have direct access to the functions you want doesn’t matter. Pressing a button to speed up the a/c fan beats tapping a screen to look for a menu to look for a virtual button.

In quality terms it’s surprisingly nice, and given that the 2 Gran Coupe (or GC, as people here will inevitably call it) has a mission to “emotionalize” the BMW Compact Segment, as BMW puts it, it’s no wonder there’s little sense of cheapness. It’s the small German premium car you expect it to be.

When you say “small” you mean…?
The 218i Gran Coupe doesn’t actually have a tiny footprint — it’s marginally longer than an Audi A3 Sedan, in fact — but the rear of the cabin is cramped. 

You could qualify that by saying it’s spacious for a small coupe, or comparable to its rivals, but the fact remains that you could buy a much bigger car for the money with ease.

Still, BMW itself says this is a car for child-free young couples, or one kid max (as in maximum, not named ‘Max’). 

You could fit three adults in the back, but they’d best be acquaintances at least (if not, they will be by journey’s end). Also, anyone roughly 175cm and above will acquaint themselves with the roofliner.

The rear seat itself is fairly upright, but leg and kneeroom are decent. Still, if you habitually drive people around, you would be better off with a 1 Series hatchback, which feels a wee more spacious in the back.

Similarly, if you carry stuff as much as you do people, the boot measures 430 litres, which is a fair amount on paper, but much of that capacity includes a compartment under the boot floor. 

Basically, buy this for style over practicality, then.
Right, except there’s another reason to consider the BMW 218i Gran Coupe, and it’s a darn good one: it’s rather lovely to drive.

On paper it’s much like the 118i hatch, with the same thrummy 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine and what in theory should be the same handling characteristics.

On the road, however, the 2 GC feels better composed around corners, and it has a nose that’s beautifully keen to turn in and a superb amount of traction out of bends.

The weather gods made things greasy for much of our time in the car, but the 218i handled things like a champ, never sliding more than a couple of inches when asked to cope with a bit of overenthusiasm, and otherwise behaving like something just set up beautifully for mountain roads.

If there’s a weakness it’s the steering, which is linear and precise but lacking in feedback, so much so that you tend to nurse things a bit at first. Still, after a few corners and you realise how planted the 2 GC is, you’ll feel inclined to go for it, and you’ll feel rewarded when you do.

1.5 litres doesn’t sound like much, though?
It isn’t, and though the 218i isn’t a slow car, it’s certainly not a fast one. The little turbo three-pot spins eagerly and smoothly enough, however, and it makes a distinct burble (music to some ears, an affront to others) so wringing it out in search of pace is a pleasant exercise.

The engine does have loads of mid-range torque, so in Singapore traffic it will count as lively.

Still, if you consider yourself a keen driver (and can convince the wife to let you spend an extra 90 grand), that’s what the M235i xDrive is for.

Is there no middle ground?
Well, there’s the 218i Gran Coupe M Sport. That doesn’t come with extra power, but the M Sport pack does bring about a few racy bits for S$3,000 more — sporty front seats, LED foglights, dark trim instead of chrome, and for tauter handling, stiffer, lower (by 10mm) M Sport suspension along with 18-inch alloys instead of 17s.

The M Sport does look racier, but I wouldn’t recommend it — the suspension and wheels make the ride unnecessarily busy. Still, it’s your money, your eyes and your spine.

Let’s talk rivals.
There’s really only one main one, and it’s the Mercedes CLA Coupe. But in CLA 200 form it’s pricier and more powerful, so the comparison isn’t all that direct. Otherwise, it offers a similar level of style and accommodation, along with a twin-screen cabin setup that looks posher but is a head-scratcher to operate.

While you’re at it, though, you might as well consider a Kia Stinger GT Line 2.0. It’s bigger, more powerful, pleasurable to drive, well equipped and a treat for the eyes. 

But you won’t, because it doesn’t come with a BMW badge.

That’s fine, because it’s a free country, and anyway the 218i Gran Coupe does feel like a proper BMW.

That’s as much because of its design and cabin as its ability to deliver pleasure on a nice bit of road. The 218i may already be here in Singapore, but given the way it drives, I wish I were back in Portugal with one, carving up the hills outside of Lisbon.

 

BMW 218i Gran Coupe

Engine 1,499cc, inline 3, turbocharged
Power 140hp at 4600rpm
Torque 220Nm at 1480rpm
Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h 8.7 seconds
Top Speed 215km/h
Fuel Efficiency 5.9 L/100km
VES/CO2 B/135g/km
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$160,888 with COE
Available Now

 

 

about the author

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Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.