This is supposed to be it. The spiritual successor. The last bastion. The 2 Series is meant to preserve BMW’s essence of motoring purity and human-machine synergy. It’s the coupe we should be able to look at amidst a lineup of hulking crossovers and bizarre grilles and know that, despite ample evidence to the contrary, BMW hasn’t lost its soul.
It’s a heavy weight for this small BMW to bear, especially as its name has been purloined by a strange, front-drive based crossover sedan, an existential challenge of sorts we pondered during our drive of the redesigned, proudly rear-drive-based 2022 BMW 2 Series. What a challenge it is: a car that must reach for the future without forsaking the spirit of iconic BMWs past. The result? Success—but that doesn’t mean the 2 Series is the same as before.
Increases Almost Everywhere
We’ll resist commentary on the styling of the new 2 Series other than saying our impression didn’t change once we saw it in the metal. This isn’t a design that must be viewed up close to be understood. It looks like it does in photos—make of that what you will.
What struck us more about seeing it under sunlight is how much larger it has become. Stretched in length and wheelbase, wider in body and track, the only measurement that’s been reduced is height. This G42-generation 2 Series is still small, but it doesn’t look or feel as petite.
Those exterior expansions are not necessarily reflected in the interior. While front-row passenger measurements are nearly the same, the already small back seats lose about an inch of headroom and legroom. Cargo capacity shrinks, as well.
Of course, the gains we appreciate most relate to the engines—they aren’t any larger in displacement, but they are stronger. The 230i retains a version of BMW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, which now makes another 7 hp and 37 lb-ft of torque for 255 hp and 295 lb-ft. Somehow, another 47 hp and 1 lb-ft are found in the M240i xDrive’s 3.0-liter turbocharged I-6, bringing totals to 382 hp and 365 lb-ft. For now the 230i is rear-drive only and the M240i mandates xDrive all-wheel drive; both layouts will be offered on either car in the future. What’s not known is whether a manual transmission will ever be made available in addition to the standard eight-speed automatic.
We knew the 2 Series was quick from our tests of prior models, although knowing how much quicker the 2022 car is will have to wait until it’s on our test track. This much is clear though: It’s still plenty mighty.
The 230i Is an Mpressive Base to Build On
Our drive began in a 2022 BMW 230i, and not a base-spec example. Over its starting price of about $37,000, BMW had equipped this particular 230i with nearly $8,000 worth of M performance parts, including suspension, brakes, variable-ratio steering, and a rear differential.
Past drives of other M Sport suspended BMWs left us seeking chiropractic therapy. But for this car at least, BMW seems to have nailed the tune. Ride quality remains firm and tight, conveying the road texture and keeping body motions under deft control, while newfound pliancy absorbs chatter and gives the 2 Series a more pleasant and comfortable driving experience.
Clamped by M-emblazoned calipers, the upgraded brakes affixed to this 230i strike a good balance between performance and comfort. They’re plenty reactive yet not too grabby, biting just enough at the top of the pedal for smooth stops and harder through the stroke. Faster brake release would allow for better modulation.
As for the M variable steering system, we found a slight disconnect between what we were feeling with the wheel in our hands and what was happening at the front axle, putting some guesswork into steering the car and making fidgety adjustments necessary through sweeping canyon roads. Adding to the distant sensation is how far away the front wheels feel from the driver’s seat, a possible outcome of its increased body length. Even so, when compared to the all-wheel drive-equipped M240i xDrive we tried next, the undriven front end of the 230i felt light and lively.
Its M differential likely contributed to that, deploying the 2.0-liter’s abundant torque to pivot around the inside rear wheel. With all that twist delivered just off idle, the 230i accelerates easily as smart, crisp transmission programming keeps the engine in its strong midrange. While the optional M parts raise the 230i’s overall game and its peppy, smooth, and civilized engine delivers decent grunt, it remains fairly sedate—there’s not enough power to really bust the chassis loose. That changes in the M240i xDrive.
The 2022 M240i xDrive Provides the Proof
Initially, the M240i xDrive didn’t distinguish itself from the lesser 230i—it seemed subdued, uneager. It took a set of undulating roads to truly reveal what separates it and its nearly $50,000 starting price from its 2 Series sibling.
The G42’s chassis is remarkably composed, showcased by how deftly it handles the I-6’s burly output—the more powerful engine lets other limits be better explored. Foot down, the M240i xDrive builds power energetically and becomes appreciably rapid. Given the standard M hardware, its steering, suspension, and brakes felt similar to that of the well-equipped 230i we’d just hopped out of.
Now, however, swinging the tachometer evinced the depth of capability in each of those systems. Their harmonious balance makes the M240i easy to drive fast, letting the driver push it without fear of suddenly crossing the edge. A sensation of speed persists through its slightly detached steering and other controls—this 2 doesn’t need to be driven flat out to be enjoyed.
As a track session showed, the M240i xDrive remains composed even when the pace rises to maximum attack, instilling confidence while flicking through transitions and darting from corner exits to braking points. Sometimes though the xDrive’s added traction dulls the edge; despite its rear-bias you’ll have a tough time getting the M240i loose. (Surely the eventual rear-drive equivalent will be more tail happy.) No matter what model you choose, drivers who intend to track the 2 Series will want to fortify the tires and brakes for longer stints, but the overall fundamentals promise excellence for the inevitable M2.
Sporty as it is in the canyons and on the track, driving on city streets emphasized the 2’s relaxed side. This seems to be its predominant character. There’s a certain softness—a slight disconnect—throughout its interfaces. Responses sharpen between different drive modes, but comfort tends to lead over connectivity.
Inside, austerity reigns supreme. Materials are price appropriate at best, and although the cabin is arranged in a manner mimicking more expensive BMWs, that arrangement strikes us as plain. Those higher level models at least get more finely crafted trim and appointments, while the layout of the 2 Series is enlivened by textured panel moldings and gauche (and thankfully optional) inserts painted with M color stripes. At speed, there’s a bit of droning road noise and tire slap. It’s a cabin with enough technology and build quality to suffice and little more.
But taken as a whole, the updated 2022 BMW 2 Series is an experience that could only come from a company who has been making cars like this for a very long time—that it still does so in an era of SUVs and electrification is reason enough to celebrate. Even though it’s not quite as pure as it was before given its gains in size, power, and features, the 2 Series remains special. Its forebears would be proud.
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