Most people would never give it a second thought, but long before a new BMW makes it onto the dealership floor, it undergoes thousands — maybe millions — of kilometres of testing. Most of it takes place in the harshest environments imaginable: 40-degree heat in Death Valley, sub-zero temperatures in far northern Sweden, lap after tire-shredding lap of Germany’s infamous Nürburging circuit.
The goal, in part, is to make sure each car drives like a BMW: engaging, sharp, confident, weighty, solid and with that precisely balanced response that lets you know this is a driver’s car. They all feel as if they were made by people who — like us — also wanted something much more from a car than simple transportation. It’s what makes a BMW a BMW, and you can feel it from the first few corners.
Now, some small part of that testing and honing process for the first ever, all-new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupé took place on a beautiful sunny summer day in southern Germany, near BMW’s Munich headquarters.
Back then, the fact BMW was about to launch a compact four-door coupe was still a closely guarded secret. The car we now know as the 2 Series Gran Coupé was covered in camouflage and false panels meant to obscure its true shape.
Even covered up like that, it was obvious there’d never been another BMW like this. It was small enough to easily thread through a cavernous condo parking garage, but spacious enough to pack with friends on a road trip. The fastback shape gave it a race-y, aggressive stance. (Have a look for yourself at BMW’s slick new virtual showroom.)
BMW’s engineers lent us the keys to their precious prototype to drive around near Munich. The sun dappled through the trees. The streets were perfect, winding endlessly through picturesque Bavarian forests and towns.
The top-of-the-line M235i xDrive Gran Coupé bursts to life with a hungry bark. Its newly developed turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes an impressive 301 horsepower. So much power in such a compact machine is a glorious thing; 0-100 km/h comes up in as little as 4.9 seconds and it feels like the car is just getting started. This thing punches way above its weight class.
In villages, people turn to watch the car go past. In the countryside, it carves corners with relish. It doesn’t wilt as the pace increases (as most compact cars do). Instead, that’s when the M comes into its own. The all-wheel drive system can send as much as 50 percent of the car’s torque through the rear wheels so, as you roll onto the throttle coming out of a corner, the front end digs in and holds its line. It’s an addictive experience. Even the 228i xDrive Gran Coupé, which packs a very respectable 228 horsepower from its turbocharged four-cylinder motor, has the same eager, balanced feel.
In short, all that testing work has paid off. The first ever 2 Series Gran Coupé is a thrill to drive, with that unmistakable feel that only BMW seems able to reproduce.
That day spent in Bavaria seems like ages ago now. We took it for granted back then of course. The 2 Series gave us a new appreciation for what BMW does, and the current situation has given us a new appreciation for getting out there, anywhere, and exploring.
Now, as Canada begins to re-open we will all be looking to expand our horizons again, to recapture that thrill of driving, of the open road and freedom and adventure. You’ll need a capable machine to deliver on that thrill of course, like the 2 Series Gran Coupé. But whether you’re planning a short blast around local roads to clear your head or a longer road trip, we won’t be taking the experience for granted anymore.