Everybody believes in something, especially in the automotive world.
All Porsches must be sports cars. All Hyundais should be cheaper than competitor models. All Toyotas are practical but boring. The list goes on.
But things change. Porsche found profitability and success making SUVs and 4-doors with the same DNA. Hyundai is now venturing into premium territory and succeeding. Toyota is starting to build exciting cars again like the 86 and the Supra... well, BMW had a major hand in the last one.
Historically, BMWs have been excellent driver's cars; the kind you just want to go find a longer route to get home, preferably one with no traffic, many long straights, and lots of fun corners. And that's because BMWs are always dialed in to suit the driver. The steering talks, telling you all about the road. The suspension is like magic, able to hold the line around a corner again and again. And, of course, the wheels being driven are in the back for some tail sliding fun.
The new BMW 218i Sport Gran Coupe fits almost all of these things. It has the right look, the right proportions, and looks like its right for a mountain road. But there's one difference: the engine doesn't spin the rear wheels.
Does that fact make it any less of a BMW or is it just a minor detail in the grand scheme of this Gran Coupe?
The 2 Series is actually not a new nameplate. The model first emerged in 2014 and it was promising: the 2 Series was originally meant to be the coupe and convertible versions of the 1 Series line in the same pattern that created the 4 Series from the 3 Series. The 2 is effectively a spin-off, much like Young Sheldon is to The Big Bang Theory, and is just as fun in the same way those shows are funny: the first generation 2 Series was rear-wheel drive.
They did, however, make some more spin-offs, and the result was the 2 Series Active Tourer and the longer 2 Series Gran Tourer. These models were important firstly because these were MPVs (with the GT having the third row), and secondly: these were front-wheel drive. The Active Tourer was the first production BMW that used a front-wheel-drive platform, but that didn't necessarily mean it was compromised. The front wheeler platform came from the nameplate that pioneered and specialized in extracting the best driving performance from the layout: Mini. And yes, BMW owns Mini... or MINI.
So that brought us this: the second-generation 2 Series. Specifically: the 218i Sport Gran Coupe.
The body style is, thankfully, not an MPV. It's the three-box body style that we've come to know and love from BMW, and it does look like a proper Bimmer. Of course, there are the now-signature angel eye headlamps and the dual kidney grille, albeit the latter has been somewhat reinterpreted to connect as a one-piece unit. I like the rather large cuts on the bumper for the air intakes, even though its a bit more difficult to notice given that the car itself is black.
When you view it from the side, the 218i GC looks like a slightly downsized but muscular 3 Series, particularly with that somewhat long hood. If you haven't noticed, this 'coupe' is technically a 4-door with frameless windows and the Hofmeister kink. They call it coupe because of how the roofline is shaped, and it tapers rearward in a fastback manner to meet up with the raised rear deck and trunk. The wheels nicely complement the look overall though the details of the trunk initially didn't appeal to me. That opinion did change in a day, though.
This is a small BMW, and you can tell when you open the door and sit inside. But that's not exactly a bad thing. You feel like you're in a proper driver's car given the sporty inclinations of the seat because of the bolstering, the orientation of all the major and auxiliary controls (especially the new iDrive system), and the ergonomics of the steering wheel.
I'm really digging how this 218i feels, much more so than I thought. A few things though: it took me a while to realize that the headlamp controls were no longer based on a rotary knob. It was a button-based control panel now, but no real issue there. The extendable thigh supports on the seat cushion are a bit too big for my preference, but they do enhance comfort when you're enduring long hours in traffic. What I do like was that the steering wheel feels a bit more natural than some of the previous generation BMW's I've driven; you know, the kind that seemed more bulbous. This one was flatter, if not concave; not exactly a deep dish, but it's close enough, and it feels proper.
The last 2 Series model I drove was the Active Tourer, and I remember that the back seat didn't win me over. It had MPV-levels of flatness, meaning if the person driving was cornering with gusto, you'd be sliding around. That's not the case with the 2er GC, as there's slightly more scalloping to help with keeping you in place. The extra window on the C-pillar also enhances the feeling of space, especially since the roof and ceiling slope downwards.
There are anchor points for child seats and there's a good bit of legroom, even if the driver sat in a fairly comfortable manner. Even though there's seating for 3 in the back, we wouldn't recommend that as the cushions close to the doors sort of push the outer passengers to sit inward a bit, reducing the available space for the center passenger. At least the central transmission tunnel on the floor isn't as big as it would be in this front-wheel BMW because there's no need for a prop shaft in this one. There are versions of the 2 Series that have AWD (i.e. M235i xDrive) which would require a space for a prop shaft, but it's not too wide or intrusive.
The trunk lid flips up, exposing the cargo space. It's quoted at 430 liters, and it does look it, albeit it's more about lateral space rather than vertical space. With the rear seats down, however, you get a very long and space for equipment like a set of clubs or even a bike with the front wheel removed.
Firing up the engine is all about pressing the ignition button. There's a bit of vibration at first given that this is a small 1.5-liter 3-cylinder engine; a type of power unit that's becoming popular in the age of less-is-more-if-you-add-a-turbo. BMW then paired it up to a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Unusually though, the engine's performance figures aren't as high as we would have expected. At 140 PS and 220 Nm, it's not one of the punchiest 3-cylinder turbos we've tried, which was odd. To put that in perspective, the Mercedes CLA Class with the smaller 1.3-liter turbo can almost match the 218i's 1.5-liter. There's also a version of that 1.3L that can outperform BMW's B38.
Acceleration at full power isn't stellar on paper: 8.7 seconds to 0-100 km/h isn't outstanding or something you can brag about to your car enthusiast friends, but it doesn't exactly feel slow. On a fast winding road, you can extract a good degree of performance from this 218i. With sport mode activated, everything behaves a bit better, and you get very good throttle response. I also liked shifting in manual mode using the pull-to-shift-up/push-to-downshift gearstick. Yeah, it doesn't pull you back in the seat when it accelerates, but boy is it fun to operate.
The driving dynamics are also nicely dialed in. The electrically assisted steering is precise and has a nice weight to it. The brakes bite well, and nosediving is kept in check if you do it right. Of course, being a front-wheeler means the vehicle doesn't want to oversteer as you would get in a rear-drive BMW, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, you just have to watch out for understeer, of which there wasn't much of at moderate cornering speeds; perhaps the fact that they pushed the 3-cylinder in the engine bay as far rearward as they could is a factor. The 218i Sport Gran Coupe holds well at higher speeds on challenging twists but doesn't feel like it's going to get away from you.
When you do relax and drive a bit more casually, you can get some very good fuel economy out of this Bimmer. Given that traffic is somewhat lighter under our urban GCQ conditions, the fuel economy numbers were closer to the official numbers from Europe. Normally in pre-ECQ traffic (about 19 to 22 km/h average in rush hour), I would mostly get 8.5 to just under 10 km/l from most vehicles of a similar engine type, but in this, I was easily getting 11.3 km/l (25 km/h average). And that's with comfort mode activated; I'm not a big fan of the super eco modes of most cars, especially the ones that kill the engine at idle. Also, on highway speeds, the 218i was returning 17.2 km/l (81 km/h average). Yes, the 218i may not be that powerful, but it does the job in terms of fuel economy.
The 218i is also a decent city commuter. I like that it's well equipped with features to make urban commutes easier like the brake hold system for traffic, the steering wheel controls, and the parking sensors and cameras. The automatic A/C deals with summer heat very well, and the iDrive system is very intuitive. There's also a little phone pocket just forward of the cupholders. I only have two criticisms of the 218i Gran Coupe in the city: one is the ride. It's slightly on the firm side on our kind of road surfaces, but we expected that of any BMW that has run-flat tires and 17-inch wheels. The other is far more superficial: all of my 12-volt USB chargers annoyingly pop out of the 12-volt socket in front.
I had reservations about the 2020 BMW 218i Sport Gran Coupe when I first picked it up, but that was just down to my personal preferences. I'm a person that likes a lot of classics; traditional food, older music, and cars that follow a familiar and proven formula. But despite the mainstream front-wheel-drive dynamics of this 4-door BMW 2 Series, I found myself enjoying it more and more as the days rolled on.
This is an economical and enjoyable BMW. The FWD layout generally makes it more cost-efficient to manufacture (and maintain), and so it retails for PhP 2,990,000. That's good pricing, as its direct competitor, the Mercedes CLA 180 Progressive 4-door coupe, retails for PhP 200,000 more.
Will it impress purists? Probably not, because they're the ones that believe the most that BMW's should be rear-wheel drive with an option for 4. But BMW isn't aiming for BMW fanatics with the FWD 2 Series anyway. This is a car targeted at those that want to enjoy BMW's brand and driving feel, but don't really care much for which wheels are being driven.