New BMW 2 Series Coupe prototype review

The new BMW 2 Series Coupe keeps a traditional rear-wheel-drive layout to maintain the fun factor

Verdict

It’s only a brief introduction, but it’s clear that the new BMW 2 Series Coupe is a car that will carry forward the virtues of its predecessor. Fans of fun, small, rear-wheel-drive coupes are in for a treat.

BMW’s small-car line-up has moved almost exclusively to front-wheel drive in recent years, but fans of the brand can’t deny the successful results. Compact SUVs such as the X1 and X2 are sure-footed and economical, while the latest 1 Series offers more space and is still great to drive.

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However, there has always been one key outlier: the 2 Series Coupe. This small, rear-driven sports car with its six-cylinder engine options and raucous M2 edition has become a bit of a darling of the range, so purists should be thrilled to hear that BMW hasn’t gone cold on the idea of a less profitable, back-to-basics small sports car. Instead, it’s given it a new lease of life.

The new 2 Series Coupe will be revealed in full this July and will go on sale in Britain towards the end of 2021. While it represents a continuation of the old model’s positioning and purpose in the line-up, it has received a technological transformation, with a new platform borrowed from the larger 3 Series saloon and 4 Series Coupe.

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Models such as the four-cylinder 230i retain the rear-drive set-up of the old car, although the M240i version is an xDrive model with four-wheel drive – a system that BMW is typically quick to claim has a strong rear-driven bias.

With two more months until the covers come off, we’ve been invited to try out a couple of prototypes of the newcomer. While they’re still disguised, we immediately get a sense of the new proportions. The car is larger in appearance, a good 100mm longer at least, with the wheelbase stretched by some 50mm too. Poking around the nose reveals how BMW will differentiate the smaller 2 Series Coupe from its larger 4 Series sibling. If you’re not a fan of the latter’s large vertical grille, there’s good news: the 2 Series won’t feature it. Instead BMW has opted for a flatter and wider front fascia that’s more reminiscent of the 3 Series.

Changes at the front end have been made with the car’s aerodynamic profile in mind. BMW’s engineers have added a pair of air curtains and a front spoiler lip and splitter, which the firm claims reduce front axle lift by 50 per cent.

The new 2 Series Coupe will be similar to its small siblings inside. Our test car’s cabin was covered, but the light masking hides a dashboard shared with BMW’s latest compact models.

The move to underpinnings shared with the larger 4 Series doesn’t mean that the 2 Series has gone soft – far from it. Agility is the key attribute the engineers have prioritised, and rigidity is a big part of the package, with additional struts for the front axle and stiffer bushings – borrowed from the Z4 – found at the rear.

There’s also more camber up front, which is intended to give greater cornering stability, but has the knock-on effect of giving the compact coupe a more purposeful stance. The front and rear tracks are wider than before, while every 2 Series will be fitted with the clever stroke-dependent damping set-up from the 3 Series. Adaptive electro-mechanical dampers will remain an option.

BMW consulted 2 Series owners to see what they would prioritise in its successor. The most common answers: rear-wheel drive, six cylinders and an active driving character. On the road, the new car meets these requirements. The engine (now with an additional 34bhp in the M240i) responds in classic BMW six-cylinder style, while the precision of the steering – available with a Variable Sport set-up – feels like it lives up to the car’s billing.

On our brief introduction, there isn’t much that can be criticised with the six-cylinder M240i. It picks up where the last car left off dynamically, even with power being sent to all four wheels; xDrive was offered on the continent before, but not in the UK until now.

The rear-biased nature of the drivetrain is easy enough to exploit, but perhaps it’s not quite as accessible as rear-drive M240i owners may be familiar with. Instead, the new level of traction on corner exit is significant, thanks in part to the wider track, but also to the new electronically controlled M Sport rear differential fitted on the xDrive model.

However, it’s the four-cylinder 230i that gives us the best impression of the new car’s level of agility. Perhaps that’s because there’s no heavy in-line six at the front and no four-wheel drive. Freed of that extra weight, the chassis really comes alive.

The engine isn’t the most charismatic, but even with a mere 242bhp the car can perform sweet, balanced slides with the stability control disengaged, the steering helping balance the car. The smaller engine could give the M240i xDrive a run for its money for fun when the production cars land.

Model:BMW M240i xDrive
Price:£45,000 (est)
Engine:3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol
Power/torque:369bhp/500Nm
Transmission:Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:4.5 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Economy:34.5mpg
CO2:186g/km
On sale:Late 2021
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