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First Drive: BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé

BMW has built a fleet-friendly coupé, finds Jonathan Musk, with the addition of two extra doors and 1 Series efficiency.

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SECTOR Small executive saloon   PRICE £25,815-£37,255  FUEL 42.2-471.mpg   CO2 114-123g/km

It’s a shame that coupé’s aren’t the latest fashion – unlike SUVs – and that many fleets don’t allow them onto their lists, because they offer a tried and tested solution to smart business mobility. The 2 Series is the latest to receive BMW’s Gran Coupé treatment, which already includes the 4, 6 and 8. Based on the latest 1 Series architecture, it benefits from the same engine line-up, which includes a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol, 2.0-litre diesel and 2.0-litre petrol TwinTurbo for the M235i xDrive – all available from launch. Unfortunately, no 218d Gran Coupé is planned.

1 Series DNA pops up throughout the car’s design, from the interior’s dash to its equipment list, and in essence the 2 Series Gran Coupé can be thought of as a sleek version of the hatch (or a four-door iteration of the 2 Series Coupé). That’s no bad thing, however, as the 1 Series is our very own 2020 Great British Fleet Event’s Best Lower Medium Fleet Car.

Like the 1 Series, the 2 Series Gran Coupé is front-wheel drive (or all-wheel drive in potent M235i xDrive form), which means that despite its coupé styling, it is still reasonably practical. It has a large boot (40-litres more than the two-door coupé), four doors and space for four adults. Of course, the design is compromised and space in the rear is a touch restrictive. It’s also a bit plastic inside, but not in a cheap way – contoured plastic seat backs offer extra knee-room, for example. Styling is clever too, with frameless windows chosen not only to offer a more slick appearance, but also to improve the rear entry space. Otherwise, the 2 Series Gran Coupé is unmistakably a stretched 1 Series from the front, although with a slightly more aggressive and edgy stance.

In contrast to entry-level models of old, the car’s options include an array of equipment usually the reserve of much more expensive models. This includes as standard on base-spec Sport: 17-inch alloys, front & rear Park Distance Control, two-zone automatic air-con, BMW Connected Package Plus, BMW Live Cockpit Plus and Active Guard Plus with Lane Departure Warning. Optionally there’s a panoramic roof that increases rear headroom. Other trims include M Sport and M Performance – the latter available on the M235i xDrive. M Sport cars benefit from M Sport suspension, aero styling, steering, and electric and heated everything. Money has been saved, however, on elements like the seats which in our test cars were all controlled manually: hardly a deal breaker.

The most fleet-friendly option is the 218i, which uses the latest version of BMW’s characterful three-cylinder 1.5-litre unit that has undergone some wizardry to reduce its CO2 output by 26g/km, to between 114-123g/km. It also promises 42.2-47.1mpg, although in practice we found this to be difficult to match, with results of around 30mpg after a drive around the Cotswolds. This compared to the top-of-the-range M235i, which after an enthusiastic countryside blat offered an ironically impressive 27mpg. The 218i is, however, a decent performer in its own right, with the 0-62mph dash accomplished in 8.7 seconds. On the road performance feels adequately BMW – it is still a driver’s car despite pulling itself along rather than the more traditional push from behind you get from rear-wheel drive – but it lacks a bit of mid-range oomph, making advance anticipation key when overtaking.

The M235i xDrive steps the car’s enjoyment levels up to satisfying performance, but fails to deliver excitement in the same way as M cars of yesteryear. Its 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine does its best to deliver the business, but legislation has dulled its senses and the gearbox isn’t quite as quick as would have been liked in a performance car. M Sport suspension was also a bit firm on anything other than smooth tarmac, making it hop and skip around corners at any great speed. All that said, the most remarkable and lasting impression of the M235i was made when hitting traffic and settling to a gentler pace. Its flexibility was boundless and ensured a satisfyingly quiet demeanour when needed.

The question on many people’s minds is whether this lives up to its Gran Coupé name – and happily it does. The only foibles were an excessive abundance of tyre noise translated into the cabin, caused in part by massive rubber and firm M Sport suspension, and questionable economy. That said, in 218i form, regular suspension should be more compliant and upon reaching a motorway noise is dramatically reduced. Fundamentally, the 2 Series Gran Coupé is only the baby of the group by number – in most other respects it lives up to its bigger brothers – 4, 6 and 8 Gran Coupés – with space for four, large boot and decent equipment.

The verdict
Perhaps one of the most encouraging things about the 2 Series Gran Coupé is that it doesn’t cost the earth and should be a coupé that finally makes it onto fleet lists – with the added benefit of being a suitable antidote to the needless SUV stampede. Prices start from £25,815 with first customer deliveries from 14 March 2020.

The Lowdown
Key Fleet Model: 218i Gran Coupé Sport
Strengths: Sleek, reasonably practical, price
Weaknesses: Not hugely economical, tyre noise

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.