Earlier this year, I sat into a new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe with some trepidation. I'd been warned by colleagues that it was (a) ugly and (b) not good to drive.
Thankfully, neither of those turned out to be true. Well, partially. As for its ugliness, the 2 Gran Coupe is entirely subjective, but I kind of warmed to it. As for being fun to drive, it is – in spite of it being front-wheel drive – entirely enjoyable, if perhaps a touch conventional.
The good news – nay, the great news – is that BMW has decided to divide the 2 Series range in, well, in two. For those who want an amount of practicality and the more affordable front-wheel drive underpinnings shared with the 1 Series and the Mini line-up, there is the 2 Series Gran Coupe.
For those of us who want a true, red, purple and blue BMW driving experience, there is this – the BMW 2 Series Coupe. No Gran here, thanks.
The second-generation 2 Series Coupe is surprising in one particular aspect: it’s not ugly. Well, it’s not in-your-face ugly like the iX SUV or the new M3 is. In fact, it’s rather retro.
The car's designer, Jose Casas Pena (who, like the new Coupe, was made in Mexico) says that it takes inspiration from the classic 1960s 1602 and 2002 models. Those were simple, upright, two-door saloons, and the 2 Series Coupe is rather more aggressive, fussier and more obviously a coupe, but you can see some links.
The upright glasshouse; the single-element headlights; the bulging wheelarches. Best of all, Pena has given the 2 Series Coupe a proper grille – shallow and wide, instead of upright and pinched, and has made a design detail out of the active mobile flaps that open and shut to help cool the engine, or to improve the aerodynamics.
Inside, the cabin is basically that of the 3 Series: simple, relatively plain, beautifully built. The driver’s seat is set a touch too high, but you can forgive that. There’s more space in the back seats than in the old 2 Series Coupe (thanks to a 51mm longer wheelbase) and the boot, at 390 litres, is a little bigger too.
Up front, this M240i is packing the most powerful BMW engine this side of a full-house M-car. It has 374hp, which is maybe not that much compared to the M3’s 510hp, but it still counts as quite a bit for most people.
The 3.0-litre turbo straight-six has a solid 500Nm of torque to back that up, and it's a torque figure that arrives early (1,900rpm) and sticks around for ages (till 5,000rpm). All of that motive oomph is guided to the tarmac by an xDrive four-wheel drive system and special, sticky Michelin sports tyres.
Needless to say, this being an M-Performance model, you get tweaked sports suspension, uprated brakes, sharper steering and the clever M-Differential between the rear wheels, which helps you to find extra traction when you want it, or to produce smoky tail-slides if you’re at a track day.
At low speeds, that engine is as smooth as butter whipped by Nigella Lawson, never giving off a hint of the aural fury that it can unleash at higher rpm. You will be served notice of the M240i’s sporting intent though – its stiff suspension fidgets constantly, and thumps angrily over speed humps.
Even in Comfort mode, with the optional adaptive shock absorbers, it’s pretty firm, and that’s on carefully ironed roads in and around Munich. Not sure how that’s going to work on Irish tarmac. . .
If you’re assuming that the M240i, once you get it on to a twisty road, is some lairy, tail-sliding beast, you’d be quite wrong.
It’s true that the xDrive four-wheel drive system favours the rear wheels with more power than the fronts (all of it, in fact, until it detects that the back tyres are giving up the fight) but it’s far more stable and sure-footed, even on damp, leaf-strewn autumnal roads than you might expect.
It's not a stolid point-and-squirt machine, though. You attack corners in the M240i, using that wonderfully weighted, endlessly chatty steering to nibble and pick at each section of tarmac in a series of dabs and jabs. It's not smooth and does not glide like the larger 4 Series Coupe. Instead, it's like a four-wheeled Jack Russell terrier – all attitude and feisty aggression.
Unlike the annoying bark of a Jack Russell, though, you'll want to listen to the M240i when it's unleashed – its straight-six sings a wondrous, orchestral song, with Paul Robeson bass overlaid with a Kiri Te Kanawa shriek at the top end.
Please record, bottle and synthesise this noise for future use in otherwise-silent electric cars. It seriously calls into question the merits of buying a more expensive (by far) M3 or M4, whose extra power (all 136hp of it) can’t really be seriously deployed on the public road.
Okay, so there’s not much in the way of common sense to the M240i. It’s expensive (€70,485 to you), it’s only just about practical and in an increasingly electric world, its 8.8-litres per 100km thirst (on a careful drive) and 200g/km emissions look like someone who forgot their Cop26 homework.
Still, few enough of these will ever be sold to seriously upset anyone’s climate action plans, and the fact is that amid an oft-dreary and predictable motoring firmament, the M240i is a fabulously naughty, noisy, hilarious purple streak. It proves, if nothing else, that BMW can still be BMW.
BMW M240i xDrive Coupe: the lowdown
- Power 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine putting out 374hp and 500Nm of torque with an eight-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.
- CO2 emissions (annual motor tax) 185-200g/km (€600-€790).
- Fuel consumption 8.1-8.8l/100km.
- 0-100km/h 4.3sec.
- Price €70,485 as tested; 2 Series Coupe starts at €48,515
- Verdict Only one word needed: fun.