2022 BMW 2 Series First Drive

If forced to choose the true “Ultimate Driving Machine” from BMW’s lineup over the past few years, the BMW 2 Series Coupe would rise to the top of our list every time. It embraced core enthusiast desires in that it was small, lightweight and rear-wheel drive, fitted with spectacular-sounding inline-six engines and offered a manual transmission option. The spunky, classic BMW proportions only sweetened the deal for BMW diehards. Even when the old 2 Series was singing its goodbye tune, we were still singing its praises.

That means this new 2022 BMW 2 Series Coupe has a lot to live up to. As is quickly becoming tradition at BMW, though, the next generation of a car many loved before is not sticking with the status quo. The new 2 Series is considerably larger, slathered in controversial styling and no longer offers a manual transmission on its 230i and M240i models.

To be succinct about it, this new 2 Series Coupe is the mature, grown-up version of the somewhat childish model that came before it. This applies to both its character and size. Compare the old 230i to the new one, and the 2022 car is 4.3 inches longer, 2.6 inches wider and 1.0 inch lower. To bring you even further back, this 2 Series Coupe is nearly identical in footprint to the E90 BMW 3 Series Coupe. That’s great for anybody yearning for an old 3 Series, but less great if you were looking for a uniquely tiny luxury car. The 2 Series Coupe isn’t that anymore.

BMW took this transformation opportunity to experiment with a new styling direction for the 2 Series, and similar to the new M cars, photos don’t bring you the full picture. The brutalism of its sharp, straight edges give the design a look and personality different than any BMW of recent memory. This is no rounded, flowy coupe like the 4 Series, and the punchy, compact persona of the old car is gone, too. Diagonal lines, boxed fenders and straight lines dominate. You won’t mistake it for a shrunken this or baby that. It’s the new 2 Series Coupe, and you’re either going to like it or hate it for the unique touches — the odd kidney grille with the active shutters that simulate traditional slats, oddly spread-out taillights, and retro cues.

One aspect of the car that should garner universal love is the new interior. It closely resembles that of the more expensive 3 Series in design, uses premium materials throughout and comes off as thoroughly luxurious. The previous 2 Series was severely lacking in BMW’s latest tech in its final few years, but that’s all fixed for 2022 with the latest iDrive 7 infotainment system and big screens galore — a 10.25-inch infotainment system and 12.3-inch digital cluster are optional over top of the standard 8.8-inch infotainment and analog gauges. You can add a head-up display for the first time in a 2 Series, plus a full suite of driver assistance systems and more if you want to make the car an even friendlier daily driver. 

Don’t think the larger exterior size is making the 2 Series any more passenger-friendly, however. It’s actually a tighter squeeze in the rear seats with legroom down by 0.8 inch and headroom chopped down by a full inch and a half. Thank the lower overall height for that.

As the 2 Series grows in size, BMW also increased engine output. The base 230i model is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 255 horsepower and 294 pound-feet of torque. That’s 7 horsepower and 36 pound-feet more than the previous model, and it results in a 5.5-second 0-60 mph time (same as before). Meanwhile, the M240i xDrive is upgraded with the same 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six good for 382 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque that’s found in the M340i and many other BMW models. Its 0-60 time falls to 4.1 seconds.

We drove both models, so let’s start with the entry-level 230i. For one, it hardly feels like a “base” car to drive. In fact, this little 230i should be the sneaky choice for enthusiasts over the M240i xDrive due to its 352-pound lower curb weight and handling talents that give up little to its M-badged sibling. With no manual option, both the base and M Sport model get BMW’s superb eight-speed automatic transmission. The 230i is the only rear-drive 2 Series available at launch, too, as the M240i is initially going to be xDrive-only. BMW says the rear-drive version is coming next year along with a 230i xDrive.

Dynamically, the 230i takes great advantage of all the changes BMW made for this new 2 Series generation. The front track increases by 2.8 inches, and the rear by 1.9 inches. Camber is dialed in more aggressively. New aluminum wheel bearings save weight. Meanwhile, an optional M Sport Package for the 230i adds BMW’s Variable Sport steering, a stiffer but still passive M Sport suspension, and a bigger wheel and tire package. The Dynamic Handling Package adds even bigger and better summer tires, bigger M Sport brakes and the electric M Sport rear differential. The car we drove was equipped with both of these packages, and while we can’t say how a base, stripped-down 230i would compare, this setup can make the little coupe dance around a canyon road.

It dances to a slightly different beat than the old 2 Series did, though. The wider track and longer wheelbase are instantly noticeable and impart a far greater feeling of stability than the old 2 Series ever did in both straight line acceleration and in handling. It’s not devoid of mischievousness, however, as the stout 294 pound-feet of torque is plenty to rotate the rear end without much effort in Sport Traction mode. Neither the chassis, nor brakes, nor acceleration feel second rate in the 230i with all the M packages tacked on. We can’t say the same for other small luxury cars like the Audi A3 or Mercedes-Benz A-Class, as those are far more sedate and softer until you get into the S3 and AMG variants, respectively. You could drive a fully M-loaded 230i off the lot today and have an absolute blast without doing a single thing to the car — even the four-cylinder sings a sweet tune through the cabin.

And then there’s the blisteringly-quick M240i xDrive. According to BMW, it’s only 0.1 second slower to 60 mph than the outgoing M2 Competition, and we don’t doubt that for a moment. The M240i and its 382 horsepower will absolutely blitz up a mountain road at a pace we’d expect from the M2. Its chassis has even more going for it than the 230i does, too. BMW adds additional helper struts to support the front axle hubs, adaptive dampers (choose between Comfort and Sport) and bigger summer tires. Plus, all of the extra M items that were optional on the 230i come as standard equipment for the M240i.

The above goodie bag, plus the additional security blanket of all-wheel drive, turns the M240i into an unflappable rock through and out of corners. The chassis will lean ever-so-slightly and work with you through a winding road, and the huge all-wheel-drive power will shoot you out the other side with ease every time. We’re reminded of the new M3 and M4 when it comes to steering feel, as turn-in is almost unnaturally light at first. It quickly becomes normal after a number of corners, and we appreciate it versus many overly-heavy steering racks on performance cars these days. The eight-speed auto works with rapid effectiveness, encouraging our use of the disappointingly small and plasticky paddle shifters, even though the auto programming is spot-on every time. 

This little coupe is easily our favorite application of BMW’s velvety inline-six, and while it’s probably just going to get even more fun with rear-wheel drive, the heavily rear-biased all-wheel drive version is already well accomplished around a track (with a couple caveats). BMW let us loose at the Thermal Club with some purple M240i xDrives — yes, one of the factory exterior color options is purple. Sorry, Thundernight Metallic. While the acceleration and traction are superb on track, we could’ve gone for a stiffer brake pedal and more rigid underpinnings to keep all faculties in check around the circuit. That said, what would make the M240i a better track car would likely hurt it on the street where its forgiving suspension makes daily driving more than tolerable. On the plus side, its wider track and longer wheelbase help out tremendously to inspire confidence through longer sweepers. Just don’t expect full-M car performance on track with this M Sport effort. It’s smile-inducing for a few laps, but the 2 Series’ racetrack potential is yet to be fully realized.

All of the improvements BMW made sure look hugely positive on the surface, but the new 2 Series has us torn in a nostalgic way, as it moves even further from the tiny 1 Series this model started life as back in the late 2000s. Everything done to make it handle better, ride smoother and go faster comes with compromises. And while the 2 Series is technically better in just about every way than before, the price of improvement is not lost on us. It weighs more — 108 pounds for the 230i and 209 pounds for the M240i xDrive. Its small-car feel is diminished in favor of stability. And it’s just a bit more polished versus the raw and sometimes ragged outgoing 2 Series, which itself was considerably more polished versus the rawer and often ragged 1 Series. This new car still has charm, but it’s not as charming to drive as before.

Even with some of these compromises in pursuit of performance, the new 2 Series is one of our favorite current BMWs and one of the best-driving small luxury cars in the world. We’d say it’s the best in its segment, but it’s the only car in its segment. While there are other luxury cars at the 2 Series’ price point, they compete more directly with the 2 Series Gran Coupe, a front-drive-based car with four doors that has next to nothing in common with the Coupe. As for other two door cars, both the Toyota GR Supra and Mustang are reasonable alternatives at this price point, which starts at $37,345 for the 230i and $49,545 for the M240i xDrive. However, the Mustang will never rise to the luxury levels of the 2 Series, while Supra and its BMW parts bin interior only has two seats. Again, you’re looking at alternatives rather than competitors. 

BMW has taken some swings and misses as of late, and while the 2 Series isn’t our version of a home run, it’s a safe double off the wall. And no matter your opinion on the styling, we can still say that the 2 Series is the driving enthusiast’s small luxury car to drive home in.

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