Meaning ‘to brighten with stars’ and also ‘to make lots and lots of money’
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£37,330 when new
Jeepers, that’s not got any prettier has it? Nope, and you know what? I think even BMW secretly knows the 2 Series Gran Coupe is a gargoyle. Because the one it sent to TopGear.com for its first UK test was painted jet black, rode on black wheels, and had every single piece of trim – and every one of its yawning grilles – blacked out. Maximum stealth. When car companies are testing secret prototypes and want to keep the final design shrouded, the test mules are always painted all-black. BMW even used the blackest-black in the known universe for a one-off PR-stunt last year, in an attempt to make an X6 less hideous. Coincidence? Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that I like how the 2 Series Gran Coupe looks… Maybe go for a drive to test your eyesight is safe.
A refresher: this is the booted, saloon version of the latest 1 Series. The 2 Series Gran Coupe is a rival to the Mercedes CLA and the less curvy Audi A3 saloon. It’s based on a front-wheel drive platform sharing oily bits with Minis. All the engines are turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder units. It’s mainly targeted at the US and Chinese markets, which shun hatchbacks, but this diesel version won’t be doing much business over there. Which one is this? We’ve just had a go in the 220d Gran Coupe M Sport. If the 2GC had come along during the olden days, this would’ve potentially been one of the best-selling cars in the UK: a small, premium-badged saloony-coupe with a turbo diesel engine and all the M-Division body kit attitude. Then of course, Volkswagen upended the diesel monopoly-board and the car market has fragmented into petrol, hybrid, electric and umm-don’t-knows buyers. Which is a shame. This 220d is a magnificent powertrain. Quick enough to justify all than M-nonsense styling, is it? The numbers suggest a big fat nope – it takes 7.6sec to haul itself from 0-62mph. But the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which comes as standard in the 220d, is so beautifully, perfectly matched to the engine’s Golf GTD-sized 187bhp and meaty 295lb ft, it feels quicker. Honestly, it almost feels EV-ish – the in-gear acceleration is so seamless, so effortlessly elastic. We’re not talking Tesla pace here, more Mini Electric – but the unfussed, polite way the 220d wooshes you from roundabout-to-roundabout as it trudges around its stomping ground of town bypasses and motorway sliproads is excellent. This is by no means some sort of living-the-dream Ultimate Driving Machine you’ll tiptoe out the front door at 5am to take for a drive. But it’ll shrug off a commute as maturely as a 3 Series. It’s that good. Quiet, then? I’m not sure I’ve ever driven a car with a four-cylinder diesel engine that’s this hushed. The eight-speed ZF auto ‘box is a genius art holding the engine in a 2,200rpm-ish limbo that restricts vibrations and keeps any ill-mannered clattering buried. And then, you look down at the fussy digital dials and, after a few minutes of deciphering the muddled, messy data, you spot the 220d refusing to do less than 55mpg. How high can it go, eco-wise? BMW’s official claim is mid-fifties to the gallon, but that’s as pessimistic as a Porsche 911 Turbo’s 0-60mph time. And because what counts as an exciting drive has slightly shifted during lockdown, I went for a motorway schlep and found the 220d happily settled at 65mpg. And the thing is, when we left the motorway and returned to the world of single-lane carriageways, red lights and dawdling n00Bs in Vauxhall Mokkas, it took a very long time for the trip to fall below 60mpg again. You could get 500 miles per tank in this thing, no trouble. Sounds like you’re rushing headlong into a ‘why buy a 3 Series’ conclusion. I’m not, for a few reasons. Firstly the looks – a 3er is hardly gorgeous, but it’s trying SO much less hard than the gawky 2GC. Second, the space inside is disappointing – open the frameless rear door and you can just tell the Gran Coupe’s been hobbled in the rear seat department to maintain the BMW hierarchy. Then again, how often do you see these sort of cars with anyone in the rear seats? That only occupant is usually a suspiciously shiny Moss Bros suit. So, erm, why not buy a 3 Series? Because BMW hasn’t gotten clean away with making a front-wheel drive sports saloon. Particularly with a lumpen diesel engine in the nose, the 2GC, ‘M Sport’ bravado or not, is built for comfort, not for speed. It washes well wide on corners if you start to lean on it, understeering in a most un-BMW-like fashion. If you closed your eyes – well, that’d be very dangerous – but you’d swear you were driving an Audi. This powertrain is a class act, but the chassis is no more than ordinary, which is why, if you’re shopping one size up, you’d buy a 3 Series – because it’s the best drive in its class. The irony of the 2 Series Gran Coupe is that BMW has managed to build a car that’s not as sharp in the corners as a Mercedes CLA. The Benz, on the other hand, has a far more uncouth engine/gearbox combo. Given we like to duff up cars that ride needlessly harshly, we should give BMW its due – the 220d M Sport’s set-up is spot-on for UK roads. It rides quietly, with maturity. Potholes don’t send cringeworthy keerraaangs though the structure. Pity the frameless doors make such an unedifying metal-on-metal clang when they’re pulled shut. Anything else? Despite the raked screen, rear visibility isn’t as pokey as you might fear. The cabin’s all from the 1 Series, which means super ergonomics and a brilliant infotainment system are joined together by an odd mix of trim. High quality on the centre console, but bargain-basement when BMW reckons you won’t touch. Or care. If you like most of it, you’ll be happy making excuses for the rest. Like the handling, then. And the way the 2 Gran Coupe looks.