BMW is a brand that captivates and excites, and many of us were looking forward to the 2 Series Gran Coupé with great anticipation. This was to be BMW’s long awaited foray into the entry-level luxury front-drive segment, which was ushered in by the Audi A3 and, perhaps more importantly, the hot-selling Mercedes-Benz CLA. Within hours of the first press photos surfacing this week, however, it was clear that the 2 GC would be with divided reactions, many of them negative.

Interestingly enough though, many of the claims of dissatisfaction over a model no one in the press has yet had a chance to drive center not around BMW unveiling its first front-drive car in the U.S., but rather with its looks. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been primed for this event for a long time; the X1 and X2 have been available in front-drive configurations for a while now, and although they’re technically classified as passenger cars, BMW markets them as SAVs and SACs. The 2 Series Gran Coupe, on the other hand, is the closest thing you’ll soon be able to buy that resembles an entry-level BMW sport sedan—too bad it looks like a Kia Forte in the eyes of many vocal forum- and social media-based pundits.

What specifically is fueling the criticism and comparison to a budget vehicle that represents nothing more than reliable transportation to many? According to our impromptu surveying of the court of public opinion, it’s that the 2 GC has a front end that looks like a Kia Forte, with the kidney grille acting as one of the only differentiating factors. The awkward rear end, which tries to preserve BMW’s Gran Coupé lineage, is another point of contention, while the side lines don’t seem to be helping either, even if they don’t look too far off from the current S3 sedan.

Okay, so what if we assume that the 2 GC, with its short hood and abrupt trunk does look a bit…cheap? It’s got more power and torque than the twin-turbo six-cylinder 335i had when it debuted for 2007, and better yet, pairs that motivation with xDrive in the M235i. It’s only available as an automatic and yes, it rides atop a UKL platform shared with MINI, but the interior can be specced with much of the cutting edge tech from other more expensive BMW models, and most importantly, rear legroom is within 0.2 inches of the E90 3 Series sedan. Trunk volume is identical to the 3er from three generations back as well, showing us that the forward march of technology and design have continued, whether we’ve been paying attention or not.

So the 2 Series Gran Coupé is the new 3 Series replacement, in that it fills the role of the entry-level BMW sport sedan (or four-door coupe, if you must). But how does it drive? No one has had the chance to gather any impressions just yet, but it won’t be long before impressions begin surfacing. With 301 horsepower from 5,000 to 6,350 rpm and 332 pound-feet of torque from 1,750 to 4,500 courtesy of the transverse-mounted B48 four-cylinder, the M235i xDrive Gran Coupé should be plenty spritely, and thank heaven for the all-wheel drive to mitigate torque-steer. BMW claims a zero-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds, a figure which drops to 4.6 with the addition of the M Performance Package—thanks to a turbo overboost function which likely yields increased torque under maximum acceleration. Considering how BMW rates its engines and manufacturer acceleration times, we wouldn’t be surprised to learn if the M235i GC was a good bit closer to the four-second mark, but the question of how behaves when tasked with traversing a twisted mountain road remains a mystery for now.

We can’t overstate how important the interior of a car in this segment is either. While exterior visuals remain up for debate at the moment, the interior seems to offer a serious amount of technology and features packed into a small space, and it does so without feeling like the entry-level model that it actually is. The M235i pictured here isn’t a base-model by any means, but something about the interior just feels higher quality with a better design than what’s found in the current Audi S3 or CLA 45 AMG, but let’s not forget that both of these are on the cusp of being replaced by new generations which are sure to come with larger, more smoothly integrated screens among other improvements.

One also can’t ignore the clear driver-oriented design, indispensable elements of which are also present in the 228i Gran Coupé. Like other current BMW models in the portfolio, the center console and stack are angled toward the driver, while the geometric characteristics of the dash, door panels, and elsewhere contribute to the personality of a driver’s car. Opting for the M Performance model obviously enhances things to another level, with one of BMW’s best steering wheels acting as the main interface between the driver and the vehicle, and seats that look downright awesome—hopefully we get those in the U.S., but we aren’t holding our breath.

BMW has already announced an array of M Performance parts for the 2 GC, but they follow the current trend of adhering primarily to visual and superficial modifications. A few exceptions include a nice set of lightweight Y-spoke wheels, and M Performance brakes which can take the place of optional M Sport brakes, although no specific details about the hardware have been released yet.

Production of the 2 GC is scheduled to commence next month, while pricing will be announced as we approach the market launch, which is scheduled for next March.

Where do you stand? Are the looks of the 2 Series Gran Coupé a dealbreaker, or are you willing to let the driving experience speak for itself?—Alex Tock

[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]



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