Strap in folks, this one is going to be controversial.
The first step is to decipher the hieroglyphics that is the modern BMW nomenclature for the 218i Gran Coupé. All odd-numbered BMWs are four-door sedans. Even numbered cars have two doors, thus the 2 Series, is a coupé version to the 1 Series, the brand’s smallest car. Eighteen no longer denotes a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre engine, instead, one that is 1.5-litres, has 3-cylinders, and is turbocharged. You might have looked at the photos and noticed it’s got four doors, not two like a coupé should. That’s where the last part comes in. Gran Coupé in BMW-speak means two extra doors.
This makes the 218i Gran Coupé, a four-door version of a two-door car, powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine, and blasphemies of all BMW-blasphemies, its front-wheel drive. Got it! All the BMW fanboys reading this have just flipped over their imported marble coffee tables and are getting ready to acid burn their roundel tattoos from the unmentionable areas on their bodies.
You see, this car isn’t for them. This is a BMW for the rest of us that didn’t grow up believing that the Ultimate Driving Machine could only be rear-wheel driven. Hell, even BMW has given up on that, see xDrive. The 218i Gran Coupé fills a spot now vacated by the 3 Series, that of a compact premium sedan. The real question of it being any good is answered by a resounding yes, regardless of the wheels being driven.
The 2021 218i Gran Coupé reinforces every BMW experience one can expect as they move up the model range. For starters, the 218i Gran Coupé is a very attractive sedan. As a Gran Coupé, it doesn’t have the usual upright box shape, instead, the rear roofline takes a pleasing decline into the trunk giving it softer coupé-like styling, which from certain angles makes the back doors visually disappear.
Positioned as a premium product, the 218i Gran Coupé doesn’t fail. It’s upmarket from the word go, packing in many of the main technological features of its bigger brother, and then some. Keyless entry and exit on all four doors, lit door handles for night use and a driver’s side BMW puddle lamp, put you in the frame of mind that this isn’t your normal small sedan. Speaking of frame, frameless door compliment the sporty nature of the interior.
Once inside, the attractive styling of the exterior continues across the dashboard and doors. Soft-touch materials mingle with sporty trim elements and BMW’s high-performance seating, whose adjustability ranges from comfortable to race car levels of grip due to side bolsters and extendable thigh support. User-selectable ambient lighting sets the mood at night, while the Panoramic sunroof does the same at all hours.
Tech reigns supreme in the 218i. The simple functions are all automated or powered. Touch the large clear 9.5-inch screen, use the standard rotary dial, or speak using the Personal Assistant — activated by saying Hey BMW, to access the remaining options through the iDrive. If that’s not enough, Android Auto — wireless, and Apple CarPlay are seamlessly integrated. Higher abilities like self-parking or reversing itself out of any space up to 50 metres are all here. Stereo performance is also way above average.
On the surface, the 218i Gran Coupé comfortable cruiser can handle the daily grind of a junior executive, a young couple, or a family. Left in ECO PRO or COMFORT mode, the 218i goes about its business sipping fuel, easily hitting 30mpg or more. Occasionally, one will be reminded of the performance side of things, either through the suspension or an accidental deep step into the throttle.
It’s at these moments the 1.5-litre springs to life. On paper, it may only have 134bhp, but with 162lb-ft of torque on tap once, spooled up the or in the more aggressive engine and transmission SPORT mode the 218i takes on a whole other feeling. At this end of the spectrum, there’s enough power and speed to have fun while not being a handful as the 3 Series, especially in the hands of the target demographic for this car, the newly minted.
The chassis is playful, giving plenty of feedback for grip levels. There is a bit of rear-based rotation on off-throttle moments which shakes off the rear-wheel-drive only mantra of BMW history to deliver a worthy BMW experience for the buyer not yet willing to go full tilt on the monetary investment or in possession of the driving skills required for a 3 Series.
Work your way up the BMW model line up with the 2021 218i Gran Coupé, available from ATL Autobahn at JA$8.5 million.