2020 BMW 228i and 235i Gran Coupe Prototype Drive

Latest 2 Series is the future of BMW. Best get used to it.

Todd Lassawriter The Manufacturerphotographer

MUNICH, Germany—As buyers continue to flock to its so-called sports activity vehicles and true Bimmerphiles cling to their rear-drive, 2 Series two-door coupes, BMW is rolling out a new entry sedan designed to pull in young aspirational consumers with hopes of keeping them in the marque's family—the 2020 BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe and 235i xDrive Gran Coupe. According to BMW, the 2 Series Gran Coupe is "a sporty coupe with everyday usability," meaning a coupe with four doors.

The 2er Gran Coupe, as it's called in Germany, is based on the all-new 1 Series hatchback sold on the Continent, but with a smaller rear subframe, added bracing for better rear seat space, and numerous chassis updates and technologies developed to help you forget its transverse engine placement and front-wheel drive orientation. For example, every 2 Series Gran Coupe sold stateside will come with BMW's xDrive intelligent AWD technology, which means that quick launches and any detected wheelslip, including in corners, endeavor to make handling feel neutral. Up to 50 percent of torque can shift to the rear wheels depending on the traction situation.

The Gran Coupe also features "near-actuator" wheelslip limitation, Performance Control (yaw moment distribution), increased chassis stiffness with a boomerang strut at the rear, and other added braces. On the 235i XDrive, high-preload anti-rollbar mountings further augment the sport suspension setup, as does BMW's Variable Damper Control. A mechanical limited slip differential is standard on the 235i xDrive, though it won't be available on the 228i xDrive.

BMW didn't go into great detail about the engines under the hoods of the 228i xDrive and 235i xDrive Gran Coupes, but we do know that both the 235i and 228i are powered by versions of BMW's 2.0-liter twin-turbo I-4. We were quoted figures of 231 hp for the 228 and 306 hp and 332 lb-ft for the 35, though final figures for the U.S. market probably will be a smidge lower. BMW says the 235i xDrive Gran Coupe is good for a sub 5.0-second 0-60 mph sprint.

We got a chance to tackle Bavarian country two-lanes in a prototype version of each model, with BMW's "look at me!" blue/purple/green/etc. camouflage, and covered interiors. The 228i test car's driver seat was comfortable and supportive, while the 235i's M Sport seat was further bolstered for enthusiast types. An undisguised, 235i static display car, hidden inside a garage before our drive, provided a better look inside—though it certainly represented a nosebleed-optioned example in the $50s or even $60s.

Being a "coupe," the 2 Series Gran Coupe comes with four frameless doors, of course, though its C-pillar rake is probably subtler than that of the second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class, which along with the Audi A3 are the vehicle's primary competitors. Because of the Gran Coupe's bespoke rear underbody and the carefully raked roofline, the back-seat capaciousness feels more A-Class than CLA-Class. The 235i display car's M Sport seat option includes that subbrand's subtle tri-color striping trim. Upscale touches such as the slick, nickel mesh grille for the audio system help lift the overall quality and materials feel, even if it's not quite 8 Series level. BMW boasts roughly 1.3 inches more knee clearance getting into the driver's seat versus the 2 Series coupe, and its spacious 15.9 cu-ft trunk extends to 30 cubes with the split rear seat folded down.

On the road, finally, first with the 2020 BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe, which felt nicely balanced in ride vs. handling, and overall feel. Steering is light and sufficiently quick, and there's neither excessive understeer nor excessive stiffness. Though the drive was short and the gently curved roads both crowded and smooth, there was enough input to reach the conclusion these cars are fun to drive, even if not in the tactile manner of the rear-drive based 2 Series two-door models. Shifting the eight-speed automatic yourself is more rewarding and useful than most automatics with paddle shifters.

The 228i's twin-turbo four is adequately powerful for the 3,200-pounder, while the 235i, with its raspier version of the engine, makes that 3,440-pound car feel quite quick. Both cars are neutral and light on their feet, with 225/40-18-inch tires standard on the 235i (19-inch Continental Premium Contacts are optional). The 18s are optional on the 228i, with 17s standard. This critic got a bit of four-wheel drift in the 235i xDrive Gran Coupe with the dynamic control nannies off, and even a nice, slight bit of oversteer from a quick mid-turn correction on a tight right-hander.

It's clear from our first impressions that the 2 Series Gran Coupe will be able to hold its headlights up high against the Benz CLAs and Audi A3s of the world. It's a modern sport sedan that by necessity is loaded with high-tech compensators, along with all the artificial driver assistance systems and complicated navigation/information/systems that collectively are the antithesis of the BMW 2002 of 50 years ago. But the core philosophical question of whether BMW has truly and forever lost its sport sedan way will hardly matter to aspirational premium car buyers with young families who covet the Roundel's cache in a package that isn't billed as a crossover.

2020 BMW 228i/235i xDrive Gran Coupe  Specifications

ON SALE Spring 2020
PRICE $35,000/$45,000 (228i/235i, est)
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4; 231 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,450-5,000 rpm; 2.0L DOHC 16-valve turbo I-4, 302 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 332 lb-ft @ 1,750-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 21-23/30-32 mpg (city/hwy) (est)
L x W x H 178.2 x 70.9 x 55.9 in
WHEELBASE 104.3 in
WEIGHT 3,200/3,440 lb (228i/235i, est)
0-60 MPH 4.9 sec (235i, est)
TOP SPEED 155 mph (est)
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