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22 March 2018 12:09 (South Africa)
Life, etc

BMW 220i: Hello handsome!

  • Deon Schoeman
    Deon Schoeman
  • Life, etc

At its most prosaic level, the new BMW 2-Series is little more than a dressed-up 1-Series. But what an outfit! The compact coupé shares the One’s basic underpinnings, but links those mechanicals to streamlined, eye-catching metalwork that looks, well, just right. Does handsome mean better, though? DEON SCHOEMAN finds out …

It’s an established fact that cars grow bigger with each successive generation. Way back in the 1980s, when the E30 BMW 3-Series made its local debut, it was a truly compact sedan – the first small premium sedan to reach our shores, by the way, and a car that would change local car buying trends forever.

Today, the latest 3-Series is more 5-Series than Three – that’s how much it’s grown. And the 5-Series, for that matter, has been knocking on the 7-Series door ever since the most recent version made its debut. As for the Seven – well, next year’s all-new range is likely to be the biggest yet.

Enter the new 2-Series – a car that fits in at the lower end of the BMW model range in terms of size, and ends up being all the more appealing for it. But just where does the newcomer fit in, considering that the 1-Series can also be had in a sporty, two-door configuration?


In visual terms, the distinction is easy: the 1-Series is a hatchback, squaring up against Audi’s A3 and the Mercedes-Benz A-class. The 2-Series is a standalone coupé, positioned upstream from the One, with a more exclusive presence, and a price structure to match.

That positioning is also reflected by BMW’s new naming convention, which identifies all its two-door models with even-number designations. What used to be called the 3-Series Coupé is now the 4-Series. And what would have been the new 1-Series Coupe is now the 2-Series.

Given just how much more visually balanced, more aesthetically appealing, the 2-Series is, compared to the previous-generation 1-Series Coupé it replaces, the name change is perhaps just as well.

Yes, it still combines two doors with a generous boot. But the shape is more cohesive and more convincing, with proportions that now please the eye, and a streamlined execution that looks good from every angle.


It all starts with a front-end treatment that eschews the One’s koi fish bluntness for an altogether more elegant execution. The kidney grilles are more slanted, the tapered headlights more rakish, while large lower air intakes add some hungry aggression.

The bonnet’s curve flow smoothly to meet the steeply angled windscreen, while the rounded roofline further emphasises the car’s streamlined profile.

But it’s the coupé’s shoulder line that is its most defining feature, extending from the front wheel arch all the way to the rear tail light cluster, and then embracing the short rear deck of the bootlid in a way that adds coherence to the overall design.

Scalloped flanks emphasise the Two’s athletic stance, and create visual muscle around the rear haunches. In short, this is a handsome car that links dynamic promise and elegant design in a eye-pleasing package.


The cabin execution of modern cars has become as much an expression of its brand personality as the exterior styling. And so, the interior of the new 2-Series is unmistakably BMW.

The doors open wide, but getting in and out of the rear seat is still a mission, and rear accommodation remains cramped. At 390 litres, though, the boot is capacious by compact car standards.

The 220i I tested was the M Sport model, which means it gets superbly comfortable and supportive bucket seats with full electric adjustment, a generous colour screen linked to the i-Drive control system, and a new-generation steering wheel that not only feels grippier, but also offers better integrated controls.

The standard equipment levels are generous, but not exactly full house. Keyless start, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, multi-speaker audio with Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary interfaces, and a trip computer are among the highlights.


However, leather upholstery is a R10k extra, while you’ll also have to dish out more for automatic climate control (manual air-con is standard) and cruise control.

Like most of BMW’s mainstream models, there are different executions to choose from – Sport, Modern and M Sport in this instance – with each package offering different levels of standard kit, plus an almost intimidating list of options. It does, however, allow a high degree of personalisation.

There’s been no skimping on safety levels, though: the 220i comes with six airbags, latest-gen ABS brakes, and advanced Dynamic Stability Control. For an extra R5k you can add lane departure warning, approach control warning, and an attentiveness monitor.


The 220i is the entry-level 2-Series model, and it’s urge is provided by a 2.0-litre turbo engine rated at 135kW of maximum power, linked to 270 Nm of torque, the latter already peaking from just 1,250rpm. The result is a drivetrain that always feels stronger and sportier than those figures suggest.

Drive is to the rear wheels via a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed Steptronic gearboxes, The test car was equipped with Sports Steptronic, which ups shift reactions and shift speeds when used in manual-shift mode using the shift paddles.

For diesel fans, the 2-Series can also be had with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel good for 135kW and 380Nm, while the range-topping 235i gets a straight-six turbo with 240kW and 450Nm on tap.

I know this is the so-called entry-level 2-Series, but the brand’s sporting DNA (and thoat streamlined shape) promise dynamic talent, despite the engine’s apparent modest output.

And yes, it is fun to drive – or perhaps I should say, it’s as much fun to drive as you want it to be. In default Comfort mode, it’s too smooth and too easy to be truly engaging, with plenty of low-down urge, but overassisted steering.

Switch to Sport mode, and the auto box swaps cogs with greater urgency and more percussive intent, while the steering gains added heft, and the throttle becomes crisper, too. Such is the transformation that, really, Sport should be the default mode.

Sport Plus mode switches adds greater lenience to the stability control, allowing a measure of oversteer when cornering hard, which adds to the fun. But there’s too much poise and too little power to really turn the car into a hooligan machine, and you rarely step outside the boundaries of the DSC system, even when piloting the car with intent.

The zero to 100km/h sprint time is seven seconds dead, which means a Golf GTI and several other hot hatches will beat the Beemer in straight-line terms. Top speed is 230 km/h – swift, but of academic value for most.

However, as I’ve mentioned, the figures don’t tell the full story. The 220i might be slower than a Golf GTi on paper (and so it should be, given its 27kW power deficit), but the driving experience in Sport mode is always sparkling, helped along by the excellent gearbox and a chassis that responds to spirited driving with confidence.


At under 6 litres/100 km, the claimed fuel consumption of the 220i is impressive – although it has to be said that you’d need to drive with great circumspection and restraint to get even close to those figures. Admittedly, I’m heavier-footed than most, but even normal drivers will struggle to achieve anything more frugal than 8 litres/100km in mixed conditions.

The new 2-Series is arguably the most handsome of BMW’s new-generation compact. It’s a streamlined and sporty coupé, with balanced proportions linked to an equally balanced chassis.

But it needs more poke than the 220i can offer to make the most of the chassis’ undoubted potential, and at R416,036 before options for this M Sport Steptronic model, the value proposition could be better, too.

Even the entry-level 120i Manual, at R378 257, looks less of a proposition than the 125i hatchback, at R383 988, which might lack the Two’s aesthetic aura, but has 160 kW to play with.

However, if head-turning style and exclusivity, linked to a talented chassis and a compact form factor, are on your priority list, the 220i makes for a very satisfying and engaging premium machine. DM


BMW 220i M Sport Steptronic


In-line four-cylinder, 1,997cc, turbocharged


Eight-speed Sport Auto


135kW @ 5,500rpm


270Nm @ 1,250rpm

0-100 km/h


Top speed


Fuel consumption

5.7 litres/100 km (tested)

CO2 emissions

134 g/km


R416 036

  • Deon Schoeman
    Deon Schoeman
  • Life, etc

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