Preview: BMW 2 Series 2014
New class of Bimmer is first North American edition to add power and handling without subtracting everyday comfort
LAS VEGAS ? Somewhere high on the oval banking, at 175 km/h, I started wondering if the BMW M235i is any good.
It?s by far the sportiest of the two new models of 2 Series coupes the German maker will sell in Canada this year. Its 322 horsepower got me up here on this 20-degree track and its ?efficient dynamics? were keeping me in place.
The car?s previous edition would have done the same job, although not as comfortably. That was the 1 Series coupe, but BMW?s now changed its naming policy so all its two-door cars are even numbers: the 2 Series, 4 Series and 6 Series. Everything else is an odd number.
Except the just-announced 4 Series Gran Coupe is really a hatchback with four doors.
What matters is there?s no longer a 1 Series available in Canada, as there?s no sedan or hatch.
The entry version of the new coupe, the 228i, would even have done the job for the same $36,000 price as its basic predecessor, but there aren?t any of those 2.0L, 241-hp cars down here to drive. So I?m high on the banking, behind the wheel of the M Performance version.
This is a new class of BMW. It?s not a true M, which is the take-no-prisoners performance edition of whichever car it?s breathing on and which cares nothing for your comfort. No, this is the first North American edition that adds power and sound and handling but without sacrificing everyday livability.
That?s why I was able to relax in the leather driver?s seat, my hands light on the leather-wrapped wheel, and wonder about the car. My teeth weren?t chattering from vibration, nor were my ears assaulted by wind noise. Everything was quiet, steady and smooth as the asphalt blurred underneath.
Another Bimmer led the way to set the pace and I aimed to keep the tester between the white painted guidelines on the track?s three banked curves. If that pace car hadn?t been there, I?d have driven much faster, closer to the coupe?s 250 km/h limit.
The M235i is really a successor to the 1M coupe of three years ago, which sold out quickly in Canada despite its $53,600-price-tag. Its V8 engine made 400 hp, and there was never a doubt the car was the boss on a track.
But this sporty new 2 Series costs $45,000 and hits 100 km/h from standstill in just 4.8 seconds with its new 8-speed automatic transmission, helped with paddle shifters and launch control. That?s 0.1 seconds slower than the older car, which is the time it takes to blink.
There?s a 6-speed manual version, too, which apparently takes 5.0 seconds to reach 100 km/h. In most of the rest of the world, including in the U.S., the automatic costs the same as the manual, but, in Canada, it comes at a $1,600-premium.
Why? Because BMW Canada figures Canadians will pay extra for the excellent 8-speed and we probably will because that?s what we?re used to. But we damn well shouldn?t have to. ?Nuff said.
All the cars here were equipped with automatic transmissions and they performed very well, indeed. Before coming to the banked track, I ripped around the snaking bends of the inside racecourse and gained a confidence in the car I?d not expect to at such speeds.
The coupe?s standard four-piston calipers on the front wheels would slow its 225-width tires in time for the corner, even when I flubbed the braking, and then the rear-wheel-drive car would slide its back end predictably around the curves. Powering away after the turn, the fat 245 rear tires would bite into the asphalt to bring the coupe back up to speed. Those tires are specially designed for the car. They won?t be cheap.
If I was lazy and left the transmission to do its own thing, it took a while to drop down to the right gear after I sank my foot against the throttle. Once I started flicking the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, of the kind you find on a video game, the gear shifts were practically instant.
BMW will also sell you no end of performance parts to make the car look faster, sound faster, and, sometimes, even go faster, too. A limited-slip differential is available for serious racers who want extra traction and don?t mind paying an extra $3,000 for the option.
The M235i wasn?t a track beast, like the old 1M coupe, but it was a winner all the same. Longer by 72 mm and wider by 32 mm compared to the previous edition, it weighs no more, but it slips through the air more efficiently.
This also means it has more space inside. It?s lower to the ground, but there?s an extra 19 mm of headroom in the front now and an extra 21 mm of legroom for the rear passengers. It?s still pretty cramped in the back, ?though; people won?t want to stay there for too long. For coupe drivers, that?s probably part of the appeal.
My track driving was all in Sport+ mode, which turns off most of the electronic safety nannies, tightens the steering, shortens the shifting and stiffens the suspension. There are three other modes available: Sport, Comfort and EcoPro, which fiddles with everything to save gas.
At its most frugal, with the 8-speed automatic, BMW claims consumption of 10.0L/100 km in the city and 6.4L on the highway. The 6-speed manual is about a litre worse, the 228i is about a litre better. Premium gas is recommended.
I drove frugally earlier that morning, when I started my driving day in the coupe on the interstate. The car was quiet and spacious for my six-foot frame. The interior is much more attractive than most BMWs, and features a pleasing mixture of wood grain and brushed aluminum accented trim, and sweep lines across the dash and the doors.
Drivers outside who looked at the Bimmer in their mirrors were treated to square, accented headlights with a small lit ?eyebrow,? then, as I passed, an upswept B-line along the profile toward the rear that suggested motion, and, finally, wide haunches at the rear when I slipped in front of them.
It?s an attractive car, for sure, yet subtle. Most drivers probably never notice.
I was on my way here, to this track, and to this point high on the oval bank. I watched the pace car ahead of me tap its brakes to come in, and checked my speedometer. It was reading 180 km/h.
I took my right hand from the wheel and reached to turn on the radio. In this new M Performance coupe driving at near twice the legal speed limit, I started listening to some gentle music. All was right with the world.
2014 BMW 2 SERIES
PRICE: 228i, $36,000; 235i, $45,000
ENGINE: 2.0L I4, 3.0L straight 6, twin turbo
POWER/TORQUE: (hp/lbs.-ft.) 241/258, 322/332
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (claimed, L/100km)
228i manual: 9.1 City, 5.6 Hwy.
228i automatic: 8.7 City, 5.4 Hwy.
235i manual: 11.2 City, 7.1 Hwy.
235i automatic: 10.0 City, 6.4 Hwy.
COMPETITION: Audi A3/S3, Mercedes CLA-Class
WHAT?S BEST: Refined ride, controllable power, fitting successor to 1M coupe
WHAT?S WORST: Still cramped in rear, expensive tires, why does automatic cost Canadians more?
WHAT?S INTERESTING: BMW expects the U.S. to buy one-third of all its 2 Series cars coupes