Buying Used: 2014-2020 BMW 2 Series
Typical Used Prices: 2014 - $21,000; 2019 - $45,000
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Hard-pulling turbo engines, sublime handler, glorious rear-drive throwback
- What’s Bad: Tiny back seats, run-flat tire woes, minor electrical snafus
While Detroit’s engineers were busy stuffing monster V8s into compact Mustangs and Camaros in the late 1960s, the Bavarians were laughing maniacally over their own Frankenstein.
BMW arguably perfected the small sports sedan in 1968 – Alfa Romeo fans are free to interject here – when it shoehorned a 100-hp, 2.0-L four cylinder into its well-mannered 1600 sedan at the behest of New York importer Max Hoffman. The newly christened 2002 was a worthy substitute for the twin-carb BMW 1602, which could not be emissions certified in the U.S.
BMW soon upgraded its creation with a “ti” (Touring International) suffix, fortified with 120 horsepower and sharper reflexes. Lightning struck twice when the car received a further horsepower transplant in 1972 with the addition of a Kugelfischer mechanical fuel-injection system that boosted output to 130 hp. Dubbed the 2002tii, it was capable of giving far more expensive sports coupes a run for their money.
The 2002tii represented the antithesis of everything Detroit understood about making fast cars. The appeal of a lightweight, rear-drive sedan with an independent suspension and willing engine endured long after the muscle cars blatted into oblivion.
Today’s BMW 2 Series coupe and convertible might be the rightful descendants of the hallowed 2002tii and 2002ti. Let’s take a closer look.
Before there was a 2 Series, there was the minuscule 1 Series. Launched in Canada as an ’08 model, the 1 was designed to bridge the chasm between BMW’s Mini brand and its popular 3 Series cars. The 2, unveiled for 2014, carried over the small rear-wheel-drive chassis and, like the 3, its suspension consisted of MacPherson struts up front and an independent five-link setup at the rear.
The weight advantage of the smaller 2 over the 3 Series is almost negligible – just 34 kg lighter – but at least its mass is distributed 50/50 over the axles. The 2 was 7 centimetres longer and about 3 cm wider than the outgoing 1, sufficient to give stylists enough metal to work up a less stubby-looking small coupe. An incremental increase in the wheelbase yielded slightly roomier rear seating for two, not three, though it remained a space more suitable for children. The trunk is sized right to be useful.
The 2’s cabin is every bit as appealing as those in BMW’s larger offerings, thanks to an attractive layout and high-quality materials (the premium vinyl upholstery may fool you). The no-nonsense instrument panel wraps around the driver, while the standard iDrive infotainment interface offers considerable functionality if you take the time to learn it. Not everyone did.
“The iDrive system is just awful, so unnecessarily complicated. The Kia I traded in was light years ahead of this in simplicity and ease of use,” remarked one 2 Series owner, who inadvertently revealed why Kia scores so well in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study and BMW does not.
For an entry-level Bimmer the base 228i came well equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way manual front seats and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat to extend cargo capacity.
POWERTRAINS AND UPDATES
The 228i is powered by a longitudinally oriented 2.0-L turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 240 hp and 255 pound-feet of torque, which compares favourably with front-drive competitors such as the Volkswagen GTI. It works through a six-speed manual gearbox or ZF’s eight-speed automatic transmission.
BMW purists will likely be drawn to the pricier M235i. It employs the classic Bimmer drivetrain: a turbocharged 3.0-L inline six-cylinder engine making 320 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, along with the same two transmission choices. Both engines have an automatic stop-start function, which shuts down the engine at every stop to save fuel. Automatic-transmission-equipped cars have a launch control feature to aid traction.
The 2 Series convertible arrived for 2015, equipped with a fabric roof that powers up or down in 20 seconds at speeds up to 50 km/h. Also new that year was BMW’s optional xDrive all-wheel-drive system, a boon for winter-wary Canadians. Unfortunately, you won’t find the manual gearbox in xDrive models.
In 2016 BMW unveiled its high performance version of the 2 Series, the 365-hp M2, which was available solely as a rear-drive coupe. Lightweight aluminum suspension componentry and an optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission added to the M2’s appeal.
The 2 Series earned two updated modular engines for 2017, and with the hardware changes came name changes: the 228i became the 230i, while the M235i became the M240i. Output improved to 248 horsepower (and 258 pound-feet of torque) from the new 2.0-L turbo four-cylinder, and 335 hp (and 369 lb-ft of grunt) from the fresh 3.0-L turbo six. The iDrive interface in the cockpit received a welcome update.
The 2019 models finally got a suite of standard driver safety tech aids to help keep the 2 competitive, including forward collision warning with automatic braking at city speeds, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and a drowsy driver warning system.
DRIVING THE 2 SERIES
“I find myself looking for excuses to drive this car,” remarked an owner of a 2017 M240i online. “It reminds me of my first BMW, a ’69 2002, but on steroids. In an age when cars are constantly getting bigger and heavier, BMW has gone the other direction.”
BMW’s smallest offering is no shrinking violet. Consider that the base model can accelerate to 97 km/h in 5.1 seconds with the manual gearbox and 5.3 seconds with the automatic – great numbers for an automotive half-pint. The M235i performs even better, taking just 4.3 seconds to achieve highway velocity with the automatic (the manual was slower, taking 4.9 seconds). The 365-hp M2 variant is barely quicker, taking 4.2 seconds with the stick.
The 2 Series handles sublimely, thanks in part to its fast-acting, accurate steering and rigid chassis. The ride over lumpy pavement is generally good, and passengers are isolated from most bumps by the firmly controlled suspension, though some drivers felt that the low-profile, run-flat tires ride a little harshly (more on that below). Fortunately, the 2 is luxury-car quiet on the highway and even the convertible is reasonably hushed thanks to its tight-fitting soft top.
Driver were delighted by the 2’s predilection for sipping gas on the highway and around town. Expect combined fuel economy of around 9.4 litres/100 km (30 mpg). Keep in mind that both turbo engines demand premium gasoline, and with the tank holding just 52 litres, fill-ups will be frequent.
OWNERS TALK RELIABILITY
The 2 Series is a modern-day throwback to a bygone era when cars spun their rear tires and drivers had to row their own shifter. It delivers a fantastic blend of performance, refinement, comfort and good value – the latter not something BMW is usually lauded for. And judging by owners’ online discussions regarding reliability, the 2 distinguishes itself on that front, too.
Assembled in Leipzig, Germany, the 2 Series is a meticulously built Bimmer that does the marque proud. No corners were cut in bringing its smallest offering to market, evidenced by the fact that mechanical complaints are few and far between. The most common gripe has to do with the car’s run-flat tires.
“On my BMW 2 Series are Pirelli Cinturato P7 run-flats, size 225/40R18. In the past three years I have had six flats due to potholes. These tires are inappropriate for the vehicle. Any simple bump and they blow,” lamented one owner in a post.
Run-flats have been roundly criticized for their rough and noisy ride, high price, inability to be repaired and short lifespan. As a result, BMW offers conventional tires for those who want them, although there’s no provision for a spare tire in the trunk. Yet even regular tires appear to fail with some regularity, the result of low sidewall rubber and fragile alloy wheels.
A few owners have reported broken bolts holding the electric power-steering motor to the rack, precipitating a power steering failure. BMW has issued a technical service bulletin (SI B01 26 18) that extends the warranty on the steering system mounting bolts to 10 years.
A few others have noted that their cars have stalled on the highway after displaying a drivetrain warning on the dashboard. There is an occasional electrical snafu, such as a failed sensor or power door lock, and the standard radio may offer substandard reception. Watch for spontaneously shattered sunroofs – a well-documented manufacturing defect.
Beyond these niggling issues, the 2 appears to exceed everyone’s expectations of what BMW’s littlest car can do. Rather than offer a diluted entry-level product to the masses, the 2 Series is a legitimate sports coupe and a worthy ambassador for the badge.