1. home
  2. news
  3. Test Drive: 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Isn’t What We Hoped For

Test Drive: 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Isn’t What We Hoped For

The 2 Series Gran Coupe falls short of being the BMW WRX we dreamed it could be.

Billy RehbockWriter, Photographer

BMW is responsible for many "raised eyebrows" expressed on automotive social-media accounts these days. Most recently, the debut of the 2021 4 Series generated hundreds of comments on our social media pages due to its big and tall grille. Late last year, BMW took the wraps off of another controversial model, the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, that also sent our audience into a tizzy.

There are more than a couple of BMW enthusiasts these days who at times feel like many of the traits that originally attracted them to the marque erode with every new vehicle debut. In the latest case, the perceived sacrilege is application of the 2 Series nameplate to a front-wheel drive-based sedan—a sedan labeled as a coupe, even if it is a "gran" one.

2 Series Gran Coupe ≠ 2 Series Coupe

The 2 Series Gran Coupe shares its platform with the X2 crossover, and it suffers visually for it. The 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, which we first drove in Portugal earlier this year, has muscular bodywork but also somewhat odd proportions due to its long front overhang and X4-esque rear. When we posted photos on social media for the first time, our audience called out the sports sedan for its awkward looks. Fortunately, this test car's appearance was enhanced with an optional rear spoiler ($750), and 19-inch M Forged bi-color wheels.

People who have driven any of the rear-wheel-drive 2 Series variants will praise the balanced handling, great steering, and the array of effective powertrains. I didn't necessarily expect that level of excellence here, but I looked forward to an enjoyable experience akin to driving another German FWD-based, all-wheel-drive four-door like a Volkswagen Golf R or even an Audi S3.

Disappointing Dynamics

The numerous M Badges peppered inside and outside of the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe give the impression that this four-door should have the driving chops to match BMW's longstanding reputation. Power output certainly fits the bill: A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 301 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. In a straight line, the result is befitting of a pocket rocket; it's explosive, with grunts and snorts from the dual-exit exhaust tips. The all-wheel-drive system helps put the twist to the pavement, and it's easy to scurry away from stop lights in a hurry.

Under steady acceleration, the eight-speed ZF transmission provides positive, if closely spaced, shifts. The gear changes are so close, in fact, that they seem to interrupt power delivery and acceleration.

Around town, some throttle inputs confuse the powertrain; I experienced complete denials of power when I had the wheel turned for a U-maneuver, or to cross lanes of traffic from a turning lane. The gearbox would at times also hiccup when called upon after slowing down in traffic situations.

The trouble continues in the steering and handling department. Squidgy feel around the steering's center is amplified on twisty roads by obvious understeer, with the tires howling when being driven at only a moderate pace. The inclusion of xDrive does provide some extra traction when blasting out of a bend, but simply equipping better tires would do wonders for performance.

My disappointment with the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe's dynamic capabilities set me on a quest to discover an enjoyable way to drive it. In the city, I found the suspension to be a bit too bouncy to be comfortable. On winding roads, it did a good job controlling body roll, but then the mediocre tires let it down. At least the brake feel is good, and it allows you to easily modulate your pedal pressure, but watch out for some fade when using the brakes hard and repeatedly.

To its credit, the ZF transmission, with both the drive-mode and shift-calibration settings in Sport, kept the engine in its powerband, a high point for this compact BMW. The aural theater of driving the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe is probably the best part, as the engine growls away while the exhaust barks. However, drivers who are not fans of piped-in engine sound may find this to be yet another pain point.

Gran, as in Touring

Since neither the city nor canyons yielded much enjoyment for me in the driver's seat, I decided to give it one last shot with a quick road trip from Los Angeles up to Ventura, more than 60 miles from where I live. Once I got on the highway, the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe showed its best self. On open stretches of road, I could really take advantage of its generous power, and I even delighted in the soundtrack. California's Interstate 101 has well-paved surfaces, meaning the cabin remained quiet and free of unwanted bouncing from the stiff suspension. As a bonus, this meant I could finally appreciate the standard HiFi sound system in peace.

In fact, the interior is this car's highpoint. Magma Red Dakota Leather that wraps the M sport front seats ($750 for the seats) is supple and comfortable, and the interior features intuitively organized buttons and controls. While the M235i xDrive Gran Coupe doesn't feel entirely like a luxury vehicle inside, its interior lighting and details are enough to wow passengers even if hard plastics take up a fair amount of real estate. The backseat-passenger area delivers enough leg room for someone my size—5-feet, 9-inches—but passengers have to make do with pretty spartan surroundings.

Not the BMWRX We Hoped For

This 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe came equipped with the $2,650 Premium Package, which adds amenities such as a heated steering wheel, adaptive LED headlights, a head-up display, BMW's "Connected Package Pro," and the "Live Cockpit Pro" digital-instrument cluster. Remote engine-start rounded out the onboard technology, for $300, which is a good thing for people who live in cold environments. As a Californian, I really wish ventilated seats were part of the package.

The M235i xDrive comes with a starting price of $46,495. After options, the final price for this test car was $51,295—a mite expensive compared to other hot four-doors on the market. The Audi S3 starts at $43,995, and the lauded 2020 Honda Civic Type R can be had for $37,950. The BMW's base price does undercut the 2020 Mercedes-AMG CLA 35, which starts at $47,895.

The 2020 BMW M235i xDrive is almost entirely antithetical to everything the rear-wheel-drive 2 Series represents in terms of being a real driver's car. While we hoped this hot AWD offering would amount to something of a BMWRX compact cannon, its convoluted nature and confused identity dominates the driving experience.

2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Hits:

  • Great power and torque
  • Handsome and stylish cabin
  • Supportive and comfortable seats

2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Misses:

  • Transmission tuning leaves much to be desired
  • Stiff and punishing ride quality
  • Vague on-center steering
  • Expensive for what you get, especially as a driver's car
2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $46,495/$51,295 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/301 hp @ 5,000-6,250 rpm, 332  lb-ft @ 1,750-4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 23/32 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 178.5 x 70.9 x 55.9 in
WHEELBASE 105.1 in
WEIGHT 3,605 lb
0-60 MPH 4.6 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph (155 mph w/optional package)