BMW 220d review
BMW has gone to town on a host of new electric, performance and lifestyle models recently, including the i3, i8, X4, M4, M235i - the list has got so long we're almost struggling to keep up. The idea is that there's now a BMW for everyone. Yet what about the ones that most of us will actually buy and use day to day? Like the new 220d SE coupe.
The 200d is a svelte and relatively affordable (in BMW terms) little coupe that marries BMW's economical 2-litre diesel engine with a slinkier body than the hatchback 1-Series on which it is ultimately based.
It replaces the older 120d coupe, but why the name change? As with the M235i we tested earlier in the year, BMW says that the styling changes made with the new 2-Series model significantly separate it from its 1-Series twin, and thus justify the creation of a standalone name for the range.
What's more it brings the 2-Series in line with other BMWs: 2 is to 1, as 4 is to 3 and 6 is to 5; the even odd number models are the practical, sensible saloons, hatches and SUVs; whereas the odd number models are the more emotive coupes, convertibles and crossovers. So does the BMW 2-Series pull our heartstrings?
A question of style
The 2-Series is all about trying to push the idea of style a bit harder. This isn't merely the 1-Series hatch with a little boot stuck on the back (or so says BMW), it's an altogether more stylish choice aimed at hitting the number one reason for purchase in this segment - the way a car looks.
BMW goes on to list the Audi TT and Volkswagen Scirocco as the 2-Series' key rivals, which means it's got its work cut out. Whether you like the looks or not, it's tricky to make an argument that the 2-Series looks as special or standout as a TT does. And with a new, higher-tech TT about to arrive, life is about to get a degree harder for BMW's smallest coupe.
What you do get is a distinct face to the car, with lamps unique among the BMW range - a design approach repeated at the rear - along with a low roofline and a less difficult set of proportions than the old 1-Series coupe. It's distinctly a BMW too, and you're never going to confuse it with the hatchback. But is it a stunning, beautiful and a leading piece of design? Not quite in our view.
Where the BMW claws ground back is in offering a car that's genuinely capable of swallowing four people and their luggage and transporting them in a great degree of comfort.
Those 1-Series underpinnings mean people in the back aren't going to feel anything like as hard done-by as they would in most coupes.
Meanwhile the boot is large enough to swallow a good airport run's worth of luggage and those in the front have the same level of space as you get in a car from the sector above. For those who tend to feel claustrophobic in small coupes, this could be the car for you.
Ergonomics over excitement
Some years ago, BMW moved to a modular set of parts for its interiors. Bar a few details, when you're sat in the driver's seat of the 2-Series you could just as easily be in a 1-Series, 3-Series of 4-Series. All these cars share a number of key controls and fixtures in the interior. Which can make them feel a little drab and dull - and we have recently sampled various versions of each of these cars. What's the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt?
The issue for BMW is that, when compared against something like the new Audi TT's very digitally-led interior, it all feels a little last generation. And it lacks those "wow" design features that draw you in when you're sat in the showroom.
Which is a shame because, out on the road, this current generation of BMW interiors works extremely well. From the ultra-clear dials, to the intuitive iDrive controller and big, high-definition centre screen it's very easy to concentrate on the task of simply driving the 2-Series. It doesn't distract you with things flashing or beeping at you as they do in so many cars.
Whenever you need to adjust or change something, the knob or button falls close to hand and we really wish other manufacturers would follow BMW's lead in adding the eight dashboard shortcut buttons, which you can use for various functions - be that a satnav destination, a phone number, and so forth - and not just to pre-select a radio station.
Getting on with the skill of driving
Spend more time with the car and a pattern emerges. This car doesn't wow you with its looks, tech or design features but instead just slips into your life with ease. And the more time you spend with it you realise that it seems everything is geared to allow the 2-Series to live up to BMW's tag line of the Ultimate Driving Machine - because while it might look unassuming and be powered by a slightly noisy 2-litre diesel, the 220d is still a ton of fun to sling down the road.
This is the same 2-litre diesel you'll find in loads of different BMWs, from the 1-Series to the 5. And in the 2-Series it seemed a good deal noisier and more obviously "diesel" than when we last drove it in a 3-Series. But that's just about where the bad news ends, because otherwise with 187bhp on tap, the 220d is surprisingly quick with great overtaking ability and an impressive throttle response for a diesel. The engine is usable right around the rev range too, so it doesn't seem to run out of steam and get all strangled beyond 4000rpm like a lot of other diesels.
Meanwhile the benefit of our SE spec test car and its relatively small 17-inch wheels meant it rode beautifully smoothly (no doubt aided and abetted by the £750 optional adaptive M Sport suspension).
If you're a keen driver you'll enjoy the BMW's precise, agile nature. And even if you're not you'll enjoy just how easy it is to pootle about in, how easy it makes covering ground when you're driving across country or the comfort it provides on a 300-mile motorway trip.
Power with economy
What's more, equipped with the diesel engine, it's capable of some truly fabulous economy figures. Maybe BMW's cars are designed to work best with our driving style, but we're still not sure how that means we averaged nearly 60mpg in the 220d, when a similarly powerful Golf GTD, driven in a similar way over a similar distance struggled to break 45mpg.
And herein lies the secret to the small BMW's success, and why, despite perhaps not having the looks or showroom tech to eclipse some rivals, you'll doubtless soon be seeing so many on the roads. Because the combination of a relatively competitive asking price (the 2-Series starts at around £25,000) and low CO2 emissions (119g/km in this spec) means it's an appealing company car proposition. Spec the optional 8-speed automatic, and the CO2 (and company car tax benefit in kind) drops further - the implication being the car has even greater economy potential than the manual version we drove.
All of which might afford you to take a brief foray into the extensive options list if you're buying a 220d, and we'd suggest you need to in order to make the best of the car. Our test car had nearly £7k of extras thrown at it, and while some are almost pointless, the ones that stood out were the sports seats, adaptive M Sport suspension and the Professional Media Nav system.
At nearly £2k this navigation system is eye-wateringly expensive but nets you the much nicer, bigger central screen and adds useful functions such as real-time traffic information (enables you to see which roads are clogged even when there's no destination set), a touchpad on top of the controller and a host of online services we found we used quite a lot (call a dedicated call centre and they'll find places for you and ping the destination straight to the nav).
We'd also add the full parking sensor package, automatic air conditioning and enhanced Bluetooth USB (so you can steam music from your phone) - but it grates that BMW charges extra for all of these things at this level. Step up a spec level and some of them become standard, so choose your 2-Series model carefully, depending on what you actually want and need.
We find ourselves a little torn when summing up the new BMW 2-Series. On one hand it's a car that's a joy to drive; a car more practical than you'd expect and that we found not only painless but really enjoyable to use in everyday life. The headline entry price is reasonable and, in this SE guise, its efficiency makes it an appealing company car choice.
All of that makes it easy to commend. Yet we can't help feeling that BMW's missed a trick here and given the shift to a new name, as the 2-Series ought to have more emotional appeal in terms of the exterior design, the interior finishes and the standard kit on offer. What is there works well, but it does in the 1-Series too. And BMW charges for things that really should be standard, like full parking sensors and the ability to stream music from your phone over Bluetooth.
Ultimately, if you love driving, the 2-Series is dynamically the best in its class. But it lacks wow factor in terms of its design and the tech you get as standard - and that will impact your wallet - that other cars in the class play as their ace cards. It feels odd to be saying this about a BMW, but it is the eminently sensible choice, in a sector where emotional pull feels more important.
If you're looking for something which causes you to turn and look back when you park it at night, or to make you smile each morning when you get in it, then other cars hold greater appeal. But if you're looking for a car to simply fit into your life, allow you to get on, and which will slowly charm you over time, the 2-Series might be all the car you ever need.