The new BMW 2 Series four-door has yet to have its official market introduction here in the U.S., but its configurator has gone live on BMWUSA.com. To refresh everyone’s memory, the 2 Series Gran Coupé is BMW’s latest entry-level effort. Beat to the market years earlier by the likes of the Mercedes-Benz CLA and Audi A3, these cars have been the new volume sellers as far as conventional models are concerned, and have displaced the likes of venerable German sport sedans like the C Class, and A4. With this in mind, the 2 Series Gran Coupé taking the placing of the long running 3 Series seems only natural—or is it?
When it comes to pricing, the BMW 228i Gran Coupé starts at $37,500. Compare that with a starting MSRP of $36,650 for the CLA 250, and $33,300 for the Audi A3 40 TFSI. The CLA is the the better comparison, as it is also advertised as a coupe even though it has four doors, and it uses a similar aerodynamic design language. The CLA matches up with the new 2 Series nicely in terms of price as well, and this is where things already begin to get both interesting and convoluted. Mercedes started selling the A Class here not too long ago, and the entry-level A220 sedan starts at just $32,800—$500 less than the A3.
While cars like the CLA and A3 have done well to essentially replace the C Class and A4 in terms of where people get their start with either brand, whether or not the 2 Series GC can do this for BMW remains to be seen. We’ll happily assume that the 2 GC will be the most fun to use of the bunch, thanks to a sporty driving experience, and it should be noted that the 228i, which starts at $37,500, comes standard with xDrive all-wheel drive. Adding 4Matic to the Mercedes bumps the price of the CLA 250 $38,650, and the cheapest A3 with Quattro will cost you $36,500, so these cars are actually priced much closer than they initially appear.
The 3 Series offers something none of these new entry-level models have, however, something many of us will always prefer over xDrive—and that’s rear-wheel drive. All of these new budget luxury models are built on front-drive platforms (well, Audi’s A4 always was), and this marks a substantial change from decades of tradition, especially for a company like BMW, and to a lesser extent, Mercedes.
And this is where BMW North America may have pulled a fast one on us, at least for the time being: Although you can buy front-wheel-drive versions of the X1 and X2 in the U.S., BMW does not sell a front-drive car here—as noted above, the 228i GC comes standard with xDrive—at least for now.
Opting for the 3 Series gets you some other things buyers can’t ignore, though, and one of these is styling. When the 2 Series GC was unveiled after months of camouflaged testing, it was almost universally met with skepticism; complaints centered around its appearing cheap and too similar to a handful of economy-oriented brands. The seventh generation of the 3 Series, internally referred to as the G20, despite being initially criticized for its rear-end design, has had no such problems, and has been selling well since it hit dealership showrooms early in 2019.
A 2020 330i sedan starts at just $40,750, too. That’s a decent step up from the outgoing F30, which could be had in the low $30,000 realm in 320i form, but the G20 330i is substantially more powerful and offers cutting-edge technology. It also costs just $3,250 more than the 228i GC.
Options are where one might expect the 3 Series to quickly run away from the its smaller four-door stablemate, and while that’s certainly possible, a fully loaded 228i comes in right around the $50,000 threshold. A comparably equipped 3 Series maintains its $3,000 separation, while offering more standard equipment to begin with, and a handful of additional options.
The biggest equalizer between the two cars is BMW’s latest digital gauge clusters and iDrive suite. Both cars come with a decent standard setup, and both can be upgraded to Live Cockpit Professional with a head-up display and iDrive System 7.0. Gesture control is optional on the Two, but in previous years, optioning a base 3 Series with the best tech blurred the line between models at different price points, in essence driving buyers to more expensive cars.
While the 3 Series offers more in terms of quality, space, luxury, and overall fit and finish, the 2 Series easily competes on the technology front, which is where many entry-level buyers cross-shopping brands make their decision. The performance realm is just that—another world entirely. The M235i Gran Coupé is expected to be a strong performer, but 300 horsepower from a four-cylinder in BMW’s smallest four-door comes at a price—a starting MSRP of $45,000, to be exact. The good news is that the M235i comes well equipped in standard form, and adding almost everything you want in a modern car places it between a fully-loaded 228i GC and a comparably equipped 330i sedan.
At the end of the day, while some have called the 2 Series Gran Coupé too expensive, digging into the options and examining the competition suggests that it’s actually rather well positioned. As we’ve mentioned here before, the BMW lineup tries to offer something for everyone these days. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is a topic for another article (or series, part one and two), but it makes sense here. The practical, bang-for-your-buck choice without xDrive is the 330i. If you want something sportier, the M235i Gran Coupé is the cheapest M Performance model in the lineup. For entry-level buyers seeking good tech in something with four doors, the 228i Gran Coupé is the way to go.
There’s just one problem with this thesis: the reality of what BMW builds and what dealers stock. Good luck finding a stripped-down 3 Series without special-ordering one, especially now that the 2 Series is the new entry-level BMW sport sedan.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]