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Gadget on Wheels: The car that orders its own upgrades

The new BMW 2 Series Coupe pushes the boundaries of the BMW brand, but also of the connected car, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

“We are pushing the boundaries of the BMW brand,” said Ryan Warnasuriya, product manager for the 2 Series range, during the launch of the new BMW 2 Series Coupe range this week.

He was talking about the visual appearance of the cars, but could as easily have been referring to a new way of car owners managing the life of the vehicle.

The 2 Series entrenches a capability BMW calls “functions on demand”, which is already built into the BMW Connected Drive system. It allows not only for more intuitive interaction between driver and vehicle, but also integrates the My BMW App for remote vehicle status checks and controls, and remote software upgrade. The BMW Shop, on the other hand, provides options for equipping a vehicle with digital services or extending subscriptions to commercial services.

“It is about the ability to upspec a vehicle after purchase,” said Warnasuriya. “Maybe there are features you don’t want now, but an option programme allows customer to upspec cars at the moment in time they want it, through Connected Drive.”

The My BMW app is linked to a specific car, and is able to pick up that a car has certain hardware. Based on the spec of the vehicle, it shows what allocation of options the owner can and cannot purchase.

For example, it allows one to add Remote Engine Start functionality after one has started using the car, based on discovering that this would be useful after all. USB map updates can be ordered, and installed by loading the USB stick and clicking on a digital button.

An Intelligent Personal Assistant comes standard, offering features like voice-activated climate control and integration of Spotify playlists through Connected Music. However, the functions-on-demand option allows it to be enhanced with various digital services packages, available for subscription. The Connected Package Professional option provides additional features like Remote Services, Real Time Traffic Information, On-Street Parking Information, and over-the-air map updates.

The new 2 Series also supports BMW Digital Key, which turns a smartphone into a car key. The owner creates a digital master key via the My BMW App, and can then unlock, lock and start the car with the smartphone.

That is all before even driving the vehicles. 

Test rides of the hybrid diesel 220d, the petrol engine 220i and top-of-the-range M240i xDrive revealed compact but powerful sports vehicles, with effortless handling and effective acceleration in a variety of driving conditions. Rear-wheel drive, a 31mm wider track compared to its predecessor, and low centre of gravity makes for wonderful road-holding in various weather conditions.

While the vehicles are all exceptionally comfortable for both driver and passenger, the manual seat-adjustment options on the 220i are a disappointment.

The infotainment system and driver’s digital cockpit for all three vehicles runs on the 7th generation of iDrive, called BMW Operating System 7.0. It includes BMW Live Cockpit Professional, which features a high-resolution 12.3-inch instrument cluster behind the steering wheel and a 10.25-inch control display.

Changing display options is not as intuitive as one would like for a first-timer, but become second nature after extended use. iDrive keeps getting better, with voice control being one of the enhancements that has aligned BMW with 2020s consumer technology. 

Heads-up display coming to the 2 Series for the first time emphasises that evolution. It projects driving-related information onto the windscreen, and complements driver assistance systems like the Driving Assistant with Lane Change Warning, Rear Collision Prevention, rear crossing traffic warning, Active Cruise Control with Stop&Go function, Park Distance Control, Reversing Assistant, Reversing Assist Camera, Surround View and Remote 3D View. 

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both connect wirelessly to the car’s operating system.

Is it a car or a smartphone on wheels? The driving experience positions the new 2 Series as certainly more car than gadget, but there is enough of the latter to delight the techie in many drivers.

Prices, including 15% VAT and CO2 tax, start at:

BMW 220i Coupé – R771,900

BMW 220d Coupé – R819,278

BMW M240i xDrive – R1,062,420

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