The story of me driving the new 2 Series — specifically the 382-horsepower M240i xDrive — really begins with me driving the Alpina B8 Gran Coupe. Frankly, that Alpina is a dumb car. Yes it has gorgeous, million-spoke wheels, and if I see you cruising around in one painted in that slightly cool shade of British Racing Green that BMW offers, I will follow you until my eyes tire of the sight and I can’t see green anymore. Philosophically though, it makes no sense.
What on earth would you do with 612 horsepower, except get yourself banned from anything, anywhere at any time? Also, it’s sort of insulting. You pay $140,000 for the privilege of losing the 8 Series’ paddle shifters for a pair of weird nipples protruding out the back of the steering wheel that serve the same purpose. It’s different for difference’s sake, excess you’ll grow numb to after about 15 minutes. Nobody needs a car like that.
What you need — what we all need — is a 2 Series. I know that’s not a novel take by any measure; the 2 has long been hailed as the purest expression of what BMW used to be. That’s fortunate because it also happens to be one of the more reasonably priced weapons in the German marque’s arsenal. Nevertheless, it’s important I reassure you that the new one hasn’t lost its spirit, even if it looks like it has lockjaw.
Full disclosure: BMW wanted us to drive the M240i xDrive so badly, it flew me out to its Performance Center at the The Thermal Club in Palm Springs to spear one around a track and coast through the canyon. That’s also where I drove the Alpina, rode shotgun in an M3 GT2 and momentarily questioned electric Mini Cooper ownership.
The latest generation of the most precious BMW; the only BMW that truly matters at the end of the day, because it has everything one needs to properly enjoy themselves behind the wheel. OK, almost everything — you can’t get a stick anymore. That part really sucks.
Here’s what you do get, though. The new 2 comes in, well, two flavors — 230i and M240i xDrive. The 230i is rear-wheel drive, has a twin-turbo inline-four with 255 horsepower and weighs about 3,500 pounds. Regrettably, that’s too much. It costs $37,345 including destination before you begin tacking on options.
I didn’t drive that 2 though. Rather, I spent the day with the M240i xDrive, which has two more cylinders, two more driven wheels and 127 more horsepower. This, I reckon, is the sweet spot for this coupe. True it’s even heavier, tipping the scales at 3,870 pounds. But I promise you: The sum total of power and its smooth delivery keeps the action rapid, as does the 50/50 weight distribution, increased torsional rigidity and adaptive M suspension, a standard feature on the M240i xDrive. It starts at $49,545.
I know the creep toward 4,000 pounds is going to scare off a lot of enthusiasts, but the M240i really does feel smaller and more nimble than the numbers would have you believe. The all-wheel-drive system retains a rear bias, which keeps things lively when you’re, say, slingshotting up and down the long straights and tight overtaking zones of Thermal’s south course. But on the road, the steering simply feels natural. Responsive. In tune with you and prepared to handle anything. It’s beautiful for its serenity and total sense of calm it affords you as a driver, like the silence of the California desert on the sunny day I snapped these photos.
And 385 HP and 369 lb-ft of torque is still a lot, with a 0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds still plenty quick. Fifteen years ago, that was F430 or 911 Turbo territory. For this balance and speed, you sacrifice practically nothing in terms of daily usability. The outgoing M2 was tough on itself and tough on you — well, depending on who you ask. The M240i nears that car in power, but is pleasant in all conditions and has the added benefit of all-wheel drive, if you live in a place where that sort of thing becomes relevant this time of year.
Much of the 2's versatility is communicated through those adaptive dampers. They keep the car remarkably compliant over asphalt imperfections in Comfort mode, yet satisfyingly sharp in Sport. The drive is best in the latter of course, coupled with the weightier steering feel. (And the piped-in I6 roar, if you’re into that.) But what impresses me the most is how comfortable the M240i still manages to be even in that Sport setting.
You never really have to compromise, which is sort of a ridiculous thing to say about a compact two-door with questionable rear-passenger legroom. (It’s actually not as awful back there as you’d think, at least for 5'10" me. I could envision someone actually occupying the rear bench in the rare pinch, something I’d never dare say about the Toyota GR86 or Subaru BRZ.)
What’s a new BMW without styling that you have to Stockholm Syndrome yourself into believing is more elegant than it actually is. The old 2 took few chances but cleaned up nicely, especially with the flared fenders and well-placed intakes of the M2. But the new one’s triangular cheeks, wide snout and de-emphasized, shifted-back headlights give it the scowl of a pig mid-transformation into Batman or something.
In profile, the long, bulgy hood in tandem with the surfacing before the front wheels give the M240i a brick-like stature that doesn’t really mesh with what precedes it. It’s very front heavy, very angular. Not quite as offensive as the M4's, well, everything, but still trying too hard.
Rest assured that the worst thing about the new 2 is its exterior. That’s roundly encouraging and disappointing, because BMWs used to be engaging drives that didn’t look perpetually pissed off or smug or bitey, like a roided-out chipmunk at a bar looking for a fight. Those days are long gone, but at least the 2's soul isn’t.
The interior is decidedly more conservative in contrast to the sheet metal. That’s acceptable however, because it’s all reasonably laid out, the materials feel nice to the touch and everything seems well bolted together as you’d expect. I like that the climate controls and heated seats can still accessed through good old buttons, and that BMW retained the iDrive dial for folks who’d rather use that than poke a screen (Though you’re still free to poke the screen.) I personally wouldn’t, but then I like touchpads — so far be it from me to shun people for their infotainment control preferences.
That’s not to say you won’t happen across reminders that you’re in one of the cheaper Bimmers, if you know where to find them. The faux metallic, pseudo-carbon weave finish surrounding the shifter and the cupholder/wireless charger door looks nice until you inspect it more closely, at which point the veneer becomes painfully obvious.
In the vehicle I tested, I noticed a wealth of blank space below the iDrive dial — a worrying detail considering the M240i is the more premium model. Also, generally speaking I wouldn’t have minded a pop of color on dash trim here or there. I know that’ll likely be reserved for the eventual M2, to match the electric green Audi RS3, but this diet M coupe deserves a touch of excitement in the cabin, too.
But those are all minor gripes, and this is a great car with a brilliant chassis, a supremely capable engine and the perfect blend of touring comfort and back-road aggression that you’d ideally want if this was your daily. It easily could be. I mean, the one thing that’d make it more practical is if it were a wagon or a hatch or something. Like a real one, not whatever the 2 Gran Coupe is.
The hardcore set will wait for the big gun, the M2. Or they’ll try to source an outgoing-gen manual, which I can much more readily understand. But the M240i is the optimal small BMW coupe for most people. Sure, its outward demeanor has changed, but don’t let that fool you. It still has a heart of gold.