BMW’s "New Class," a line of small cars produced between 1962 and 1977, included charmers like the 1500 and iconic 2002. But as cars began to grow in size, just like our nation's waist size, it wasn’t until seven years ago that we saw the return of the small Bimmer stateside in the form of the 1 Series coupe.
Arriving in North America this March, BMW’s new 2 Series coupe is the 1’s successor, and having spent a day in Las Vegas behind the wheel of an M235i, as well as sharing time in a 4 Series convertible, I was left yearning for longer in the 2 Series.
And that’s probably a good thing: As P.T. Barnum said, “always leave them wanting more.”
There were no $33,025 228i or $44,025 non-M 235i trims available for my drive, and the M235i – the first M Performance model to make it to North America – is not yet officially priced. I was disappointed that I couldn’t experience the less expensive trims, but, hell, I was not complaining as I powered through the banked semi-oval and scrappy little infield circuit at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The M235i, with its turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, pushes 322 hp and 332 lb.-ft. of torque. A 60 mph sprint, according to BMW, takes 4.7 seconds, although it feels quicker than that. Like with the new 3 and 4 Series, the 2 Series is longer, lower and generally bigger in every dimension, giving it a more serious stance. The front and rear track were increased by 1.6 and 1.7 inches respectively, helping the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires grip the tarmac in a more determined manner than the 1 Series coupe could ever do.
The M235i I drove did not come with the optional sport limited-slip differential—a version of the same unit used by Mercedes’ AMG. Personally, I’d love to have been able to try it, along with the optional 19-inch wheels and 6-speed manual transmission. While slightly slower to 60 mph than BMW's eight-speed automatic, the manual does shed 50 pounds, making the difference, I would guess, negligible.
The 1 Series coupe claimed a weight distribution percentage of 47-front/53-rear, making the backend a little too lively under certain grip-limited situations. On the M235i, this sensation is gone, boasting a more balanced distribution of 49/51. While the limited-slip diff would likely be a nice option, I didn’t feel like I needed it in the same way you do on the 1 Series — it was more predictable and smooth. I did have the sport-calibrated steering as an option on my test car, however, and I could really sense the benefit on initial turn in.
As I careened through the twisty infield circuit, I realized I barely needed the brakes, adjusting the speed via throttle inputs. With the throttle not being overly sensitive, there was no risk of me turning into a plume of tire smoke. Primarily that’s because of inherent understeer, but it’s not excessive or frustrating. You can, if you provoke, bring the backend around, but the smoothness of the transitions was a pleasant surprise. It feels more mature, like something closer to an M3.
Its competition, the Audi S3, lacks the crispness and agility of the rear-drive M235i. However, if the weather turns dicey, the S3’s Quattro all-wheel drive system would be a welcomed asset. If I were to choose a 2 Series to buy, despite having not driven this version yet, it would probably be the lighter 228i four-cylinder. I’d also opt for the 6-speed manual (because you have to) and the sport steering, adaptive dampers and self-locking limited slip differential. The M235i I tested will likely account for just a small percentage of 2 Series sales, with most buyers following the same, easier-on-the-wallet, thought process.
With more rear legroom and increased headroom, along with a larger trunk space, both inside and out, the BMW 2 Series coupe is more elegant when compared to the 1 Series coupe it replaces. The back, which looked busy and unlovable before, now appears broader and lower. The car has grown up, yet in a more convincing way than the 4 Series has when compared to the 3 Series.
For an American audience where size definitely does matter, this growth spurt and maturity was needed. Because unlike the days of the glorious little 2002, it takes a bigger Bimmer to win over our hearts.