First Look Review: 2022 BMW 2 Series Coupe
Leaving aside The Mandalorian—a brilliant adaptation of the classic Western genre that happens to be set in a galaxy far, far, away—most of us have had our fill of Star Wars. The most recent trilogy was a shameful cash-grabbing mess, half-baked with lazy storytelling and empty of real tension. Even the more focused spin-offs, like Rogue One, have failed to capture the simple human storytelling of what made the originals great. Going back and watching A New Hope or Empire feels like a back-to-basics lesson in good screenwriting, intelligent use of special effects, and the importance of on-set chemistry.
For BMW, the 2 Series Coupe functions as that same sort of lodestar. Now in its second generation and built in Mexico for all global markets, this remains a small, reasonably affordable, rear-drive-based two-door with a pair of rock-solid engines. And hey—there’s even a classic-ish split kidney grille, even if it’s filled with vertical bars that adjust automatically, in ten stages, for optimal routing of cooling air for the engine.
The fundamentally driver-focused formula with which BMW built its reputation in America, on the merits of the zesty and compact 2002, is more alive in this model than anywhere else in the brand’s current lineup. For this latest 2er (chassis code G42), what we have is very similar to the wonderful 2 Series that preceded it: an agile and tight-handling sport coupe, albeit physically larger and considerably more odd-looking. The design does not look of one piece, and it’s done no additional favors by the stubby tail section or the M Sport design package’s aggressively vertical front intakes. Think of the new 2 Series like those Star Wars 1997 and 2011 “remastered” re-releases—visually more eye-catching, more highly-engineered, but not necessarily better. Making Han shoot second? Stuffing scenes with after-the-fact CGI? Did anyone ask for these changes? Sigh. It takes something away from the essential magic.
Much as the outgoing 2 Series was built from elements of the prior 3 Series, this new installment switches to big brother’s modular, aluminum-intensive CLAR platform. The two engines are also shared with the 3 Series: a base four-cylinder turbo good for 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, as well as an optional M-lite 3.0-liter straight-six packing 382 hp and 369 lb-ft. Neither model offers a manual transmission anymore, leaving only ZF’s eight-speed auto—a major oversight which we’ll address a little later on. Torsional rigidity is up 12 percent, and the rear suspension reduces unsprung mass with lighter wheel bearings that save six pounds. Aluminum is also used for the front fenders and doors, helping to optimize weight distribution.
Despite these efforts, the lightest 230i now weighs 3519 pounds, which is up 108 pounds from the outgoing model with rear-wheel drive and an automatic, while the six-cylinder M240i with all-wheel drive is up almost 200 pounds for a total of 3871 pounds. The culprit here is sheer size, as the 2 Series’ previously tidy footprint expands in nearly every dimension. The base 230i, with its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, is 4.3 inches longer, 2.6 inches wider, and 1 inch lower than before, with a wheelbase that is 2 inches longer and a track that is 2.8 inches wider up front and 1.9 inches wider in the rear. The 2 Series is now almost exactly the size of the E90 3 Series from two generations ago (2007–2013), which says a lot about how large the 3 Series has become (and how truly tiny the 1 Series was).
On the move, however, the 2 Series is still a pleasure. Turn-in is sharp, and the variable-ratio steering that comes standard on the M240i feels natural. The car rides well too—firm but never obnoxiously so, and there’s just enough body roll to give the driver a sense of what the chassis is doing. But while the last 2 Series was a talkative little thing with a slightly frenetic personality, the new model feels more planted, unflappable. We had the chance to whip an M240i around BMW’s test track at the Performance Center in Thermal, California, and came away impressed with its composure. There’s a lovely sensation of balance you get from behind the wheel, and the brakes are strong enough to absorb repeated abuse hauling the coupe down from triple-digit speeds. A more aggressive pad would make it more durable and give the pedal a bit more initial bite.
That unflappability applies especially to the M240i, which for the moment comes only with all-wheel drive. For all its considerable thrust and grip, this car’s capability comes at the expense of liveliness. Its extra mechanical components up front, combined with the two extra cylinders, makes the nose feel a lot heavier than that of the rear-drive, four-cylinder 230i, which is much more eager on corner entry. The four-cylinder car is plenty quick, and a whole lot more affordable, to boot. Equipped with the $3250 M Sport package (sportier body kit, variable-ratio steering, stiffer suspension, and M steering wheel) and $1900 Dynamic Handling pack (19-inch wheels with high-performance Pirelli tires, M Sport brakes, and an electric-actuated M Sport differential) our Melbourne Red Metallic tester totaled $46,570. That’s almost ten grand cheaper than the $57,295 M240i xDrive we drove, which comes with all of that performance hardware as standard. If history is any indication, a loaded M240i xDrive should cost about what the forthcoming M2 will—justifiable for a proper M car with a manual but perhaps too much otherwise for what is in essence BMW’s entry-level car. If you must have the M240i we’d suggest waiting for next year’s rear-wheel-drive model (at which point BMW will also add an xDrive option for the 230i).
About that manual. The 2 Series should really have one. Not only would it save a few pounds, but it would add a more engaging element that a car like this cannot afford to leave on the table. (A stick would also serve to further distinguish the 2 Series Coupe as an enthusiast’s choice from the frumpy, front-drive 2 Series Gran Coupe.) The eight-speed auto is fine—adept on the boil but hesitant to downshift outside of Sport or Sport Plus mode. There’s just nothing endearing or enjoyable about how it goes about its business, and when VW offers both a manual and a snappy dual-clutch automatic on its $44,000 Golf R, the one-size-fits-all torque converter on the 2 Series comes across as a somewhat unimaginative. Luke Skywalker is great and all, but if he’s your favorite Star Wars character you probably also enjoy plain vanilla ice cream and root for the Cowboys.
Plain-jane was the name of the game for the outgoing 2 Series’ interior, but designers appear to have done a 180 for this new generation. The whole front section is more or less a scaled-down execution of the 3 Series’ cabin, complete with the angular design motifs, a weird-shaped shift lever, and a woefully illegible all-digital instrument cluster. On the plus side, the new 2 Series more effectively communicates its luxury message with flashy materials and comfortable seats. Creature comforts are well-considered too, such as a generous armrest and American-sized door pockets. But given that the car is so much larger than before we would expect it to feel that way. The trouble here is a combination of perception and reality. The cabin leans on the appearance of chunky substance and cool angles, but that comes at the expense of airiness and sense of width. On top of that, rear-seat legroom is actually down 0.8 inches and headroom is down 1.5 inches. Contradictions aplenty.
Sequels can be hit or miss, but BMW’s 2022 2 Series is on the whole a rather good one. For better and worse, it now feels more like a scaled-down 3 Series—more luxurious but lacking some of the fundamental playfulness that makes compact Bimmers so perennially fun and enjoyable. A manual would be nice, but at this point we’re just happy BMW still makes a small, sporty rear-drive coupe at all, considering Mercedes and Audi offer no such thing. Better still, there’s plenty here that suggests it’ll be worth camping out overnight outside your BMW dealer the night before the raucous M2 arrives. Until then, “remastered” will have to suffice.
2022 BMW 230i/M240i xDrive Coupe
Base price/As-tested: $37,345/$46,570(230i); $49,545/$57,295 (M240i xDrive)
Highs: Two splendid engines. RWD option in a competitive set committed to FWD. Impressive roster of standard equipment, including snug sport seats.
Lows: Polarizing styling. Price that flirts with $60,000 when options pile up. Glaring lack of manual transmission in a car that deserves one.
Summary: The small, rear-drive coupe isn’t dead at BMW, and the 2 Series remains worthy of carrying the torch. You’ll like it even more if you never drove its predecessor.