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Retaining rear-wheel drive and a lively straight six, BMW has pledged to keep the new compact two-door a proper enthusiast’s car. Promise kept?
James Attwood, digital editor
16 November 2021

BMW’s claim that the new 2 Series Coupé occupies a “defiantly niche position” in the brand’s portfolio might make fans of the brilliant original model nervous. After all, global car giants in the business of selling as many cars as possible don’t tend to focus resources on small niches.

In this case, “defiantly niche” means that after the 1 Series hatchback switched to a front-driven platform (also used by the 2 Series Gran Coupé), the 2 Series Coupé is the sole compact BMW left with rear-wheel drive. That sounds like a recipe for a lack of investment, given that the car’s sales will be dwarfed by every one of the roughly 374 different SUVs that BMW now sells. But in reality, it has served as a liberation.

Holding down the left shift paddle activates Sprint mode, which drops down the gears and offers a whack of extra torque and power. It’s like having a race car’s ‘push to pass’ system

With the link to the 1 Series it was originally spun out of (replacing the 1 Series Coupé) now broken, the 2 Series Coupé sits on an adapted version of the CLAR platform used by the 3 Series and 4 Series. That means it retains a rear-drive layout and allows for BMW’s 3.0-litre straight six tobe used in performance versions. According to the 2 Series Coupé’s engineers, both of those were non-negotiable musts.

That’s just one example of how the 2 Series Coupé feels like a car that has been made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. Which makes sense, given that the bulk of the original model sales were of the hot M240i and fiery M2 variants. The new 2 Series Coupé will be launched in the UK early next year, in three guises: the 220i petrol (£34,980), the 220d diesel (£36,900) and the four-wheel-drive M240i xDrive driven here (£45,795). The M Performance model uses a version of the straight six tuned for 369bhp – a hefty increase on its predecessor – and will serve as the range-topper until the new M2 arrives in 2023.

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The new 2 Series Coupé may be based on an entirely new platform, but its design is pleasingly familiar, retaining the classic three-box body, although with styling that’s sharper and more sculpted. The kidney grille has grown, and while the stretched horizontal styling might not be to the tastes of every BMW classicist, it’s refreshingly restrained by the firm’s modern standards. This is a sign that this car is concerned with capturing the attention of those inside it, rather than those looking at it. The M240i variant also features a range of aerodynamic turning vanes and splitters to reduce lift.

The new platform shift means the 2 Series Coupé has grown slightly: it’s 105mm longer and 64mm wider than its predecessor, although also 28mm lower. But that extra width serves a purpose: the track width has been increased (by 54mm at the front and 31mm at the rear) to boost stability while cornering. The M240i’s 19in tyres are also wider to go along with that.

Plenty of focus has gone into saving weight and increasing stiffness, using insights from the development of the latest Z4 roadster. BMW claims the new coupé has 12% more torsional rigidity and maintains 50:50 weight distribution. It features the aluminium spring struts and engine side members from the 4 Series, while the bonnet and front side panels are also made from the lightweight metal.

Every variant features two-joint spring-strut front suspension and a five-link rear axle, plus the M240i gains M Sport tuning including extra front axle struts, a new rear differential and upgraded brakes.

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The interior is where the links with the 3 Series and 4 Series show: while there are unique styling details, much of the dashboard and front cabin design is carried over from those cars. Which is a very good thing, making it comfortable, spacious and well furnished. A leather sports steering wheel and sports seats are standard, plus the M240i gets lots of sporty Alcantara and M Sport trim elements.

The car’s extra length has enabled the boot to grow to 390 litres, although space in the rear predictably remains limited. Not unduly so for a car of this size, though: two adults will fit in well enough, but they wouldn’t want to spend an excess of time back there.

Still, if you want a 2 Series and rear-seat practicality is a primary concern, you would buy the Gran Coupé or the Active Tourer. If you’re buying the Coupé, you probably aren’t much worried about rear leg room: you will be sitting up front, in the low-slung, ideally placed driver’s seat. Because, of course, this is a driver’s car.

And what a driver’s car. BMW has, to use a technical term, absolutely smashed it. From the moment you press the start button and bring that gloriously resonant straight six to life, it’s clear that the M240i has been made by enthusiasts for enthusiasts.

The engine is wonderfully immediate, with excellent throttle response. And because all 369lb ft of torque is available from just 1900rpm, strong performance is easily accessible.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox is well tuned to the power delivery, and delivered promptly when called on. While the M240i uses BMW’s xDrive system, it’s tuned to send the bulk of the power to the rear axle in most circumstances, and that imbues the car with the pleasing sensation of a rear-driven sports coupé. It always feels like there’s an excess of grip, giving you the confidence to push on should you want to.

This makes the M240i a genuine joy to handle. Its steering is ideally weighted, and it feels settled and composed when cornering at any speed. It’s keen to turn in, its body control is excellent and its adaptive dampers simply absorb small bumps. And while some compact performance coupés can be overly stiff and brittle, the M240i manages to maintain a firm edge without any compromise on ride quality.

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There are Eco, Comfort and Sport driving modes, which adjust the steering assistance, throttle sensitivity, gearbox settings and dampers as needed.

That said, we suspect drivers will mostly use Adaptive, which expertly adjusts those settings based on the car’s speed and your inputs. It exemplifies the duality of purpose the M240i has: reach a town after a blast on quiet country roads and, as you slow down, the machine transforms from a proper sports car into a wonderfully hushed and comfortable urban cruiser.

There’s no doubt that the 2 Series Coupé is now the odd one out in BMW’s compact car line-up. But certainly not in a bad way. It’s like a quadruple espresso in a sea of frothy coffees: a pure choice for purists. You get the sense that BMW’s engineers have been given the freedom to make the car they wanted. “Defiantly niche”? I would agree – and that’s a very good thing.