Time was when there was a predictability about car manufacturers and their products. Those days are long gone.
It used to be that car makers would have a stable of three or maybe four model lines and variants thereof, but the multiplicity of market segments has opened up hugely in the last ten years or so and niche models are now mainstream and – with a few exceptions – what were once conventional automobiles are becoming fewer and fewer.
Why, even manufacturers with guiding principles and traditions going back to their very origins are beginning to scrap these in favour of more cost-effective methodologies. Some might even be accused of ditching orthodox design guidelines because research has shown that the younger buying public does not care about such traditions.
In one such instance, BMW ditched its rear-wheel-drive only-policy with the advent of the 2 Series Active Tourer model line-up. That this was a sea change of unthinkable proportions to legions of the company’s fans, seemed to matter little to the decision-makers in Munich.
When they then went and decided its 1 and 2 Series models would be front-drivers from here on in, that it was not greeted with the same sort of dismay as when the Catholic church decided the Latin mass was too old-school, was something of a shock.
There was no public outcry; no demonisation of BMW among the faithful. What should have been a bitter pill to the traditionalists, was swallowed whole and without demur.
There were few, if any, cries of ‘sell out’ and the company’s slick PR machine justified this volte-face on the basis that “the gains far outweigh the negatives.”
In the case of the 1 and 2 Series machines – not to mention whatever future small cars they have on the drawing board – those gains include more rear legroom and bigger boot space. Wow.
On the other hand, BMW’s engineers and designers have had to adapt to a new mindset in building front-drivers because of a complete change of dynamics and that has resulted in a lot of chassis stiffening, the installation of braces on the engine mountings and the adoption of various other measures designed to negate the overbearing characteristic of front wheel drive cars – understeer.
While BMW insist their primary aim in all these moves is to still provide cars with what they describe as “an engaging drive,” they do admit they will never be able to gloss over the negativity this realignment of company has brought upon them.
We’ve already tried the petrol version of the 2 Series Gran Coupe and found it to be a decent enough steer without being anything terribly special. We also noted that the 1.5 litre three-pot engine, with just around 135 bhp has hardly a thing which would cause rampant understeer unless you completely shredded it.
This time around we got to drive the two-litre turbodiesel version which has the same sort of mini-me design chops which align it directly with such as the 3 Series and even the 8 Series (especially when you cast your eye over the interiors), but has a lot more to offer the enthusiastic driver.
Oh yes, indeed. With 190 bhp on offer, a 7.5 second 0-100 km/h time and a top speed of 235 km/h, this is a car which will please many a petrolhead and positively give quivering pleasure to dieselheads. Given that it performs to such a level while also delivering 4.3 l/100 km (64.4 mpg) on the economy front, you won’t find too many complainants.
Sure you have to balance that performance against the constraints of the front wheels being the driven ones. You will, if heavy footed, chirp the fronts every time you take off from a junction or a set of lights. With 400 Nm of torque available at between just 1,750 and 2,500 rpm, that’s hardly a surprising outcome.
The eight-speed auto gearbox is a delight to live with and definitely the way to go if you want the most relaxed drive on offer – even if it is an option which adds just over two grand to the bottom line.
A sophisticated ESP system helps greatly with traction control, however, and speed up reaction times within the car itself to any driver-induced impending dangers, while the car also comes as standard with ARP which is designed to stop you rolling the thing.
I suppose that should be a comfort to some, but its very existence tends to suggest to me that the car might be prone to such an outcome.
I did not test the car to that sort of destructive level, obviously, but sometimes you wonder about the sense of highlighting certain safety technologies for fear of frightening the bejaysus out of the punters.
In any event, the car rides particularly well on good surfaces, but the multilink rear set up and the M Sport suspension make this a bit brick-like when you run it over unevenly surfaced B-roads. You will feel every bump and pebble on the road. That said, if you can put up with punishment, body control is top drawer.
The interior is very classy indeed and a mirror of the 1 Series in many respects and – as averred to earlier – something of a ‘mini-me’ when compared to the 3 Series and even the 8 Series. That it lives up to the sort of sophistic