‘Though she be but little, she is fierce,’ says Helena about Hermia, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hermia is a spirited lady, a bit of a rebel who’s not afraid to stand up to authority in spite of her rather diminutive size. Fast forward 400 years, and that rebel spirit seems to live on in the 2 Series Gran Coupé, which is physically the smallest BMW in the German carmaker’s line-up for India, but isn’t willing to concede ground to its bigger siblings when it comes to things like style, equipment levels, performance, and driving dynamics. For those who firmly believe ‘bigger is better,’ the 2 Series tries hard to change your perception.
There’s no reason why luxury-segment buyers on a relatively tighter budget cannot, or should not, aspire to owning a car from one of the German Big Three. For a few years, the Mercedes-Benz CLA and the Audi A3 catered to buyers who wanted a premium German badge at a lower price point, while BMW did not have a sedan in that category. Now, BMW has the 2 Series, the CLA is being replaced with an all-new A-Class sedan this month, and Audi, which had discontinued the A3 sometime ago, is expected to launch the next-generation A3 in India later this year. So, clearly, the entry-level luxury sedan segment is all set to witness some action, and BMW’s 2 Series is right in the thick of things.
I recently drove a 220d Gran Coupé M Sport for this review. First, about the size and space inside. The ‘coupé’ in the 220d’s name could either allude to its sporty styling and Coupé-like roofline, or to the fact that while the car does have four doors and can accommodate four adults, the rear bench isn’t particularly spacious. Headroom and legroom at the back are rather limited, and getting a third person into the back seat can be a bit of a tight squeeze. Without a doubt, the much more generously proportioned power-adjustable front seats are the place to be in the 2 Series, especially if you’re in it for the long haul, and those who intend to be chauffeur-driven most of the time should look at a 3 Series or higher.
The styling, similarly, is a mixed bag. With its strikingly individualistic metallic blue paint job, large 18-inch alloy wheels, frameless doors, LED headlamps, DRLs and tail lamps, a handful of scoops and spoilers and subtle M badges on the flanks, the 220d M Sport looks pretty good, especially when viewed from the front and the back. The side profile isn’t perhaps as interesting; the 220d can be a bit anonymous when viewed from the sides. The slim LED tail lights look better at night, when they’re all lit up. Overall, the 2 Series looks athletic and sporty, with the M Sport variant displaying an extra bit of aggression at the front.
Inside the cabin, build quality is up to BMW’s high standards, with soft-touch plastics, high-quality upholstery, and a rich medley of textures that most buyers will like. The 10.25-inch fully digital instrument panel is customisable, while another similarly sized centrally-mounted display allows the driver and front passenger to control the infotainment system. Below the infotainment screen, there are physical buttons for controlling the AC and the sound system, which are useful. To control the car’s functions, one can use the touchscreen, the iDrive controller, or even voice commands. BMW has tried to make things as simple as possible, though we suppose some older drivers and/or those who aren’t very tech-savvy will still need some time to figure things out. Still, there are physical buttons for things like the AC and the sound system, which helps. Passengers at the back get independent AC vents and indents in the roof for added headroom, which is a nice touch. There’s also a panoramic glass sunroof in there, as well as ambient lighting that can be customised; choose between six colours, adjust the brightness, or just turn it off completely if that’s what you prefer. In terms of connectivity, you get USB, Bluetooth, and smartphone integration for audio streaming and hands-free calling.
It is the performance where the car really shines. It is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel that pumps out 190 horsepower and a hearty 400Nm of torque. Power goes to the front wheels (yes, that’s right, the 220d is FWD) via an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission, with paddle shifters for those who insist on swapping cogs themselves. Push the start button and the diesel fires up immediately, settling down to a muted rumble. Unlike some of BMW’s six-cylinder petrol engines, which sound particularly fruity, this four-pot diesel doesn’t really provide much in the way of aural entertainment. But that changes when you hit a stretch of an open highway and floor the throttle — that is where this baby BMW comes into its own. The engine is properly responsive and performs the way you’d expect a BMW engine to perform, blasting the 220d down the road with pleasing alacrity.
Zero to 100kph comes up in a claimed 7.5 seconds and while we ran out of road at around 170kph, BMW’s claimed top speed of 235kph should be attainable if you can find a long enough stretch of a traffic-free expressway. With twin-stage turbo charging, the 220d’s diesel delivers a rich, thick stream of torque for strong low- and mid-range shove, though the power begins to taper off at the higher reaches of the engine’s rev range. The 8-speed automatic, which channels the power to the front wheels, is very efficient, providing swift and timely shifts that make for effortless overtaking. Honestly, in all the time we spent with the car, we never felt the need to shift gears manually.
I also liked the 2 Series Gran Coupé’s suspension, which comprises a single-joint spring strut axle at the front and a multi-link set up at the back. It feels pliant and well damped, and works well on smooth tarmac as well as moderately bad roads. Given the 220d’s 18-inch alloys and very low-profile tyres, you do have to be extremely careful while going over deep potholes and craters with jagged edges etc. Slow down a lot for these, or risk damaging the wheels and tyres — you’ve been forewarned. Of course, the BMW is meant to be driven rapidly across smooth, twisty tarmac, and it quite excels at that. The steering feels well weighted but could use a bit more feel. No issues with the front wheel drive though, despite the mild under steer. The car works very well as a package and is a pleasure to drive, which is what counts in the end.
I’d say the 220d Gran Coupé is plenty competent, and rear-wheel-drive snobs who proclaim that this isn’t a ‘real’ BMW are just being, well, snobs. The vast majority of drivers, in practically any given driving situation, can’t even tell the difference between RWD and FWD, and are more concerned with Bluetooth and the infotainment touchscreen. What also matters for most people is that the BMW is equipped with a host of safety features, including anti-lock brakes, traction control, and multiple airbags all around. The 430 litres of boot space should be quite adequate for most, and the split rear seats can provide more space luggage when required. Yes, the 2 Series isn’t as spacious at the back as its bigger siblings, but then the 220d is probably aimed at younger owners, who’ll prefer to drive the car themselves. The 220d M Sport Gran Coupé carries an ex-showroom price tag of Rs 42.30 lakh and for those who prefer petrol power, there’s also the 220i M Sport, which costs Rs 40.90 lakh. The pricing may be an issue for some buyers, since BMW’s own 3 Series (both petrol and diesel variants are available) is priced between Rs 42.60-49.90 lakh ex-showroom. The very small difference in 2 Series and 3 Series pricing may well lead to some serious sibling rivalry. You, meanwhile, need to go down to your local BMW showroom, and decide whose side you’re on.