Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
Another day, another new BMW. Like compatriots Mercedes-Benz and Audi, the Bavarian brand seems determined to have a crack at filling every possible market segment regardless of how much this strategy will dilute the identity it has spent 92 years cultivating.
BMW is now all too comfortable with compromise. It’s still hard to comprehend, the company that spent many a marketing dollar banging on about the virtues of rear-wheel drive is now happy to spruik the benefits of sending the torque to the front axle.
Is the advantage of packaging enough of a reason to abandon all that history? We’re not convinced. After all, a buyer prioritising interior space is likely to be someone sensible and therefore unlikely to mosey into a BMW dealer. Mainstream marques can fill the brief with desirable quality at a much lower price.
With all that in mind, we are driving the 218i Gran Coupe which is priced from $49,990 plus on-road costs. The 218i is the starting point of the 2 Series Gran Coupe range that occupies the space between the 1 Series hatch and 3 Series sedan. This is BMW’s front-wheel drive, coupe-styled answer to cars like the Mercedes CLA.
Still in its first model year, the 218i is box-fresh with the looks to pull buyers looking to make a statement. Good thing too, BMW is banking on the style-focused to provide the 2 Series Gran Coupe with an audience.
Whenever we talk BMW, the focal point is always how it drives, so that’s where we will kick-off.
The first noticeable thing is the lovely 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It’s the same charmer we experienced in the 118i hatch. It makes a great noise that adds  a neat touch of character to the driving experience. On paper, 103kW and 225Nm look low, however, it provides a respectable amount of poke when it’s called upon.
As with the hatch, the engine’s character and effort are undermined by the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that exhibits an annoying level of judder at lower speeds. Not only is it annoying during city commutes, but it also detracts from what should be a smooth ride that should be expected of a premium marque. BMW could remedy this by switching to the ZF torque-converter automatic it deploys on the overwhelming majority of its cars.
At highway speeds, the Gran Coupe is largely sedated and provides a refined drive. The cabin is relatively quiet with tyre and wind noise kept to a minimum.
When it comes to handling, it just doesn’t offer enough in the way of dynamic capability or driver engagement to provoke an emotional response. An older and much cheaper 3 Series will convincingly run rings around it on the right road.
It’s the same with the steering feel, the 218i doesn’t deliver the feedback and connectedness older bimmers were famous for. This mightn’t matter to the brand’s newcomers but
it’ll have older fans familiar with BMW’s hallmarks scratching their heads.
The 218i does wrestle back some respect when it comes to the interior. Like all new BMWs, the cabin is nicely trimmed in high-quality materials. All of the brand’s new technology is on hand which makes you feel like you’re diving a more expensive model. The pair of 10.25-inch digital screens used for the instrument cluster and infotainment system give a decidedly premium vibe, while the standard M Sport package adds a bit of swagger.
We couldn’t help but pine over the absence of colour. There are too many dark hues populating the cabin, deploying a bit of strategically placed blue and red would dramatically elevate the atmosphere.
The front-wheel layout has allowed designers to liberate a generous amount of rear legroom, however, the sloping roofline robs those in the back of valuable headroom. It’s a trade-off that only works if average-sized adults aren’t frequent visitors to the rear pews. So the promise of a packaging advantage isn't quite delivered.
Considering this is a model towards the entry point of BMW’s range, it does come with a reasonable amount of kit. 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights, sports seats trimmed in cloth/Sensatec upholstery, BMW Live Cockpit Professional, a head-up display and wireless smartphone charging are all standard.
Disappointingly, BMW is holding firm with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. It’s surprising given Mercedes-Benz has moved to five-year coverage.
When it comes to servicing, BMW offers a pre-paid Basic plan for $1550 which covers the first five years or 80,000km. A Plus Package is also available for $4154. Opting for the Plus option covers additional wear and tear items like brake discs and pads.
Unfortunately, the 218i Gran Coupe is nothing more than a novelty to satisfy badge-conscious fashionistas. It’s a blatant exercise that prioritises style over substance and brand identity.
There’s not enough on offer here to tempt us away from mainstream models. The good-looking, yet underappreciated Mazda 6 provides contemporary style, additional interior space, more power, and a smoother transmission for less. Of course, those zooming in on the badge are unlikely to be easily swayed.
At its core, the 218i Gran Coupe is another unnecessary model that’s about following trends instead of setting them which leads us to the conclusion, if you want a four-door BMW that drives like a four-door BMW, buy a 3 Series.
Please note: Our tester was not a BMW press car.
2020 BMW 218i Gran Coupe Specifications
Price from $49,990 plus on-road costs Engine 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 103kW @ 4200-6500rpm Torque 220Nm 1480-4200rpm Transmission seven-speed dual-clutch automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 5.9L/100km Tank Capacity 42L Length 4526mm Width 1800mm Height 1420mm Wheelbase 2670mm Kerb Weight 1350kg Performance 0-100km/h 8.7 seconds Turning Circle 11.4m Service Intervals Condition Based Warranty three-year/unlimited kilometre