The 2020 2 Series Gran Coupe has had BMW enthusiasts up in arms since the day it was rumored. The thinking goes that a front wheel drive BMW hatch is one thing. But a four door sedan (the philosophical heart and would of the brand) going front wheel drive is total heresy. Yet here we are, behind the wheel of a pre-production 2020 BMW M235i and the world isn’t ending. In fact the driving experiences is even rather impressive.
But before we get to our full verdict let’s backup. This isn’t technically a front wheel drive BMW because it leverages MINI’s ALL4 system (marketing as xDrive here). But when pushed there’s no question what tires are putting down the vast majority of power and torque and it’s not the back ones. No surprises of course because for all intents and purposes this is a MINI JCW Clubman with a sedan body.
Luckily it’s an excellent foundation. 301 hp, direct steering and a fair amount of communication through the chassis and steering wheel make the M235i generally a pleasant to engaging drive. What’s truly fascinating is how BMW has been able to alter the character of the car from the Clubman with subtle hardware tweaks and revised software. Things are generally more refined vs the Clubman with everything from torque steer (only obvious during extreme acceleration) to sound deadening making the M235i feel a bit more refined. But that refinement comes at the expense of some of the engagement the JCW Clubman delivers.
Conclusions: The 2020 BMW 235i Gran Coupe Impresses. Just Not as a BMW
Pricing hasn’t been announced but the 2 Series Gran Coupe is clearly a move to battle Mercedes and Audi in the 30k compact sedan market. It’s a market BMW has moved out of over the years with the growth of the 3 Series. Case in point the 2 Series Gran Coupe is roughly the size of the E46 3 Series from the 2000s. On paper it makes sense. And driving it is more convincing than we expected. But convincing in that it’s an effective rival to those small front wheel drive based European sedans. What it is not is effective at is being a BMW.
This is an impressively sharp and confident 301 hp all wheel drive sedan that offers class leading performance and technology. But what it cannot offer are the dynamics and overall driving experience that has made BMW unique in the marketplace for decades. In short this is a good, if not at times a great small sedan. But is not a BMW in driving experience.