If it weren't for the piles of money on the line, there would be something rather childish about German automakers and their never-ending match game. As they busy themselves inventing new niches and body styles, BMW and Mercedes-Benz keep one eye on ensuring that the other carmaker doesn't have anything in its portfolio without a direct competitor. So it doesn't surprise us that BMW now has an entry-level four-door built on a transverse-engine Mini platform so much as it surprises us that the company took so long to come up with a response to Mercedes-Benz's CLA.
Like the first-generation CLA, the 2-series Gran Coupe seems to have been born into its awkward adolescent phase. We see hints of Toyota Corolla and Dodge Dart in the C-pillars, and the sloping roof and high trunklid mean this little four-door bears a striking resemblance to the X6 from the rear. That roofline, a Gran Coupe hallmark, takes its toll on rear-seat headroom. This is a starter BMW for starter families, with a second row that is best suited to children. The door openings themselves are a squeeze for even average-size adults. And fitting a rear-facing child seat would probably require the front passenger's seat be moved so far forward as to almost render the car a cater-cornered two-seater. There's something nonsensical about a car called a "coupe" when it has four doors and a back seat that's nearly as small and difficult to access as a two-door's.
The experience is far better up front. The seating position is low but offers good forward sightlines. A wide range of adjustments in the seat and steering wheel means that, unlike in the tiny rear seat, anybody can get comfortable here.
On this first exposure to the car, we were only able to drive the uplevel M235i. The base 228i makes 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque from its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. With lower-compression pistons, more turbo boost, and a sturdier crank, the M235i ups output to 301 horsepower and 332 lb-ft . To keep pace with the increased output from its engine, the M235i gets the 228i's optional M Sport suspension as standard. It's lower and stiffer but remains compliant. The 2 Gran Sport even soaks up the sort of craters that would normally have us bracing for a strut to punch through the hood. Sport mode firms things up, but we found Comfort was capable enough without the jitteriness that Sport imparts into the ride. In either mode, overall grip leaves something to be desired and the M235i understeers more than expected. But that push is suppressed to good effect by the M235i's stability-control system and limited-slip front differential.
With the addition of the 2-series Gran Coupe to its lineup, BMW now sells three vehicles on this Mini architecture in the U.S., two crossovers and a car. While we're happy to see a new car from the German automaker, the X1 and X2 provide more space for similar money and will certainly outsell the 2. If this makes you wonder why the 2-series Gran Coupe exists, the answer is for sale at Mercedes-Benz dealerships.
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