The cars we loved.
BMW’s line up continues to burst at the seams. Last year a new entry-level 3 series entered the fray and now a replacement for the squished up looking 1 Series coupe arrives. Called unsurprisingly the 2 Series, its a new larger coupe only body style that slots neatly below the 3 Series, but is larger than the out going 1. BMW claims the inspiration for the 2 Series comes from the 2002 from the ’70s’. That car was light and fun to drive. It was also relatively affordable and by some accounts ugly.
First impressions for the 2 Series look to be positive. Right out the box, it looks like a smaller updated version of the old 3 Series coupes. No longer are its lines compressed like the 1, just for the sake of being small. The new 235 and 228 are genuine 3 box coupes with attractive proportions. While they are attractive, its arguable that they visually are not as appealing as the 3 Series coupes of the recent past. Instead of building a 3 Series like coupe in multiple sizes, BMW missed an opportunity to try a different coupe form factor – like that of a two door fastback/hatch.
So for now we have yet another variation on a 3 Series-like coupe. Small details in the way the rear lights end just beyond the trunk line suggest that BMW tried to distinguish its new entry-level car from the 3. It looks forced and relates more to design traits more associated with far cheaper cars. That kind of restraint may come back to haunt them when a customer decides on a used 3 Series coupe instead of the more expensive 2. The interior looks like a smaller more intimate version of the 3 Series also, but with less emphasis on luxury. The high quality materials are all there and include the choice of two seating surfaces; leather and a new synthetic called Sensatec that replaces the Leathette option usually offered in BMWs.
Like the series it replaced, naming conventions reflect engine sizes. The 228i starts at $32,000 (stripped down) and comes with the 240 hp 2.8l turbo four cylinder engine. As BMW’s go, the 228i can get up to 36 mpg with the six speed automatic. A manual with as many speeds is also available, but to equip a 228i with the goods expected in a luxury car pushes the price into the mid 30s going out the door.
The 320 hp M235 coupe represents the top performance model for now. It comes with the same turbo 6 cylinder found in the 335. With a starting price in the low 40s, the M235 is far from an entry-level car.
For this reason BMW has split up the 3 Series Sedan and spun off a 4 Series Coupe to separate the 2’s further from the 4s. There are likely to be models of the 2 Series that will not make it to the United States like, simply because BMW is either not ready or willing to compete against cars like the Ford Focus ST or Mazda3.
It’s an opportunity missed. Americans have been spoiled lately to think of BMW’s as powerful yet agile cars. In Europe where performance is not always measured in horsepower, there are 120 hp 1 Series cars that offer all the handling performance associated with the German brand, without the raw power Americans crave.
Are we so big and fat that everything sold here has to be supersized? Can a version of the 2 Series be sold that hovers below 200 hp, yet be fun to drive and get closer to 40 mpg? Mazda and Ford are making headway in building this type of car, but they lack the German pedigree that luxury and near luxury buyers look for or at least used to look for until Lexus came along. If BMW wants to really expand its market share in America, something other than a smaller 3 Series clone is needed.
A fastback version of the 2 Series Coupe would be a great alternative to the Audi TT (a proper German fastback coupe in the spirit of the Celica or Eclipse) . The new 320 sedan with its 184 hp engine already sets a precedent for a more affordable less powerful and more efficent 2 Series.
While the TT is in a higher price bracket (not much higher) than the 2 Series, a fastback version would put BMW in a unique position in the American market. Two door hatchback coupes along with manual transmissions are becoming an endangered species. The VW Golf GTI is one of the rare examples of a German hatchback coupe, but its upright boxy form factor has it roots in economy cars.
Calling the M235 a performance bargain might be premature, as it cost about $3k less than the larger 435i. Of course the 20 more hp in the smaller, lighter M235 would make it an alternative to recent M3s. It will be interesting to see how well it sells. BMW entertains the possibility of a M2 at some point in the future. That car could build on the spectacular power to weight ratio of the old 1 Series M and will likely command a premium as high as any recent entry M model of the past. If the “old” 1 Series M is any example, there will be plenty of takers, but limited availability.