New BMW coupe neue klasse
It was a good idea to use Australia's oldest race track to introduce BMW's newest car.
The track was the Baskerville Raceway on the outskirts of Hobart, a hilly 2-kilometre circuit that has been in continuous use for 56 years and which places a real premium on driving skills via an often lumpy surface, nine challenging curves, and a short, steep climb to a tricky corner that you must negotiate before zooming down a downhill straight.
Just the ticket for the introduction of a new BMW the German carmaker claims is everything a good BMW should be: agile, perfectly balanced and powerful.
The car is the first-ever BMW 2-Series Coupe.
From a marketing perspective the car, which replaces the previous 1-Series Coupe, is important because it is the latest example of BMW's model designation strategy which is giving even numbers to coupes and coupe-like cars, odd numbers to four-door sedans, and the X prefix to offroad-capable vehicles.
But the coupe is much more than that - because the number 2 gives a strong historical connection to what has made BMW such a successful car company.
At the very time the Baskerville Raceway was being conceived in the late 1950s, BMW was an increasingly unprofitable maker of large, heavy and outdated cars. The company rectified that by developing its Neue Klasse (New Class) compact sedans and coupes that began with the BMW 1500 and which soon morphed into the 02 series that included the iconic two-door BMW 2002 Turbo.
Ever since, BMW has enjoyed a rich heritage of creating sporty and dynamic cars with a high degree of driver engagement, most notably these days with the compact 1-Series and 3-Series model lines that are direct descendants of those Neue Klasse models of the 1960s.
Now we can add the new 2-Series Coupe to the list, because it promises to quickly make a name for itself as one of the most engaging BMWs yet built.
This might not be so much with the 2.0-litre four cylinder 220i that arrives in New Zealand this month, but it will most certainly be the case with a 3.0-litre six cylinder- powered M235i that will go on sale in the second half of the year and which will be the most powerful six-cylinder petrol-engined BMW yet built.
IT WAS this model that proved the hero of Baskerville during the media launch of the 2-Series Coupe last week.
Built on the 3-Series platform but with smaller bodyshell dimensions and a shortened wheelbase, under its bonnet is the same TwinPower twin-scroll turbocharged straight six that also powers such products as the 225kW 335i sedan and the stonking little 235kW M135i five-door hatch. But this time the engine has been given the works by the marque's M Performance Automobile people so the power is upped to 240kW, sufficient to get the M235i to 100kmh in a blazing 4.8 seconds with the help of Launch Control.
And once the car gets to speed, it can offer an exhilarating drive. The rear-driven M235i offers perfect 50:50 weight balance, and it boasts adaptive M suspension and variable sports steering as standard. Its eight-speed automatic gearbox has the Driving Experience Control switch which, among other things, changes the gearshift points for performance driving.
Journalists were invited to try things out through slalom courses and acceleration tests and to then indulge in full-on hot laps around the Baskerville track. Each time the helmeted journos returned to the pits full of smiles after pounding across that undulating circuit with its uneven seal.
This new 2-Series is considerably larger than the 1-Series Coupe it replaces, to the extent it isn't that much smaller than a 3-Series. While it probably wouldn't rate as the most spectacular-looking coupe on the market - its rear design is a little too conservative for that - it still strikes a highly attractive low- slung pose.
BMW says a side swage line that wraps around into the rear end is particularly important because it picks up on a styling element that was such a feature of the BMW 02, which draws a link between this new model and the brand's long tradition of sporting and agile compact models.
The increased exterior dimensions mean more interior room.
For example, front headroom has gone up 6mm over the old 1-Series, rear-seat legroom is up 21mm, and the boot has increased 20 litres in size to now offer 390 litres capacity with all seats in use, and the width of the tailgate aperture between the lights has been increased 38mm for greater ease of access. For the New Zealand market the rear seats are split 40:20:40 to increase load space if required.
It's a lovely interior that is compact without being too small, particularly for those in the front seats. The rear seats are reasonably cramped, but it always has to be remembered that this is a coupe.
Where the new vehicle is outstanding is in its performance capability, particularly its handling balance.
The 220i is powered by an improved 2.0-litre turbocharged four that develops 135kW of power which is 20kW more than its predecessor, and its peak torque of 270Nm is available from just 1250rpm. It's an engine that loves revs, and it will get the coupe to 100kmh in seven seconds on the way to a top speed of 235kmh. But at the same time the engine is up to 25 per cent more fuel efficient than before.
Meanwhile, the M235i offers 240kW of power, and its torque of 450Nm from 1300rpm gives the engine its imposing pulling power. That's why, with Launch Control activated, the sprint to 100 is all over in 4.8 seconds which is a time that could be achieved with only the V8-powered BMW M cars not that long ago.
Punch the Driving Experience Control button so the car moves into Sport+, turn off the electronic stability control, and you can slide this BMW through a slalom course with ease.
When this car does arrive in New Zealand, probably in July, it will be able to have its performance potential enhanced even further by being fitted with an M Performance limited-slip differential.
No pricing has been confirmed, but the cost of the LSD is likely to be several thousand (the cost in Australia is going to be $4300).
The one 2-Series Coupe that we are not getting that will be available in Australia is the diesel.
Across the Tasman a 2.0-litre 220d is being introduced, but BMW New Zealand has decided the relaxed flexibility of turbocharged diesel performance is not in keeping with what a sporty coupe should be all about, and so our range will remain exclusively petrol.
After driving the 220d across some of Tasmania's public roads during last week's media introduction, I have to agree.
Sure the diesel is a nice car to drive, but I think it the correct decision to leave that style of motoring to the 1-Series hatch or the 3-Series sedan or Touring.
But as for the other two? With their rev-happy petrol power and superb handling ability, they are the perfect way to introduce the neue klasse of BMW - the 2-Series, which will be added to in the not too-distant future with introduction of several other models, including a four-door coupe and convertible.
The Dominion Post