Back in the day, less than 20 years ago, BMW was known for its 3 Series compact sport sedans and coupes. They were cute, taut, models that were meant to introduce enthusiast drivers to the Bavarian automaker’s wares.
The 3 Series was an entry-level sportster that with some budget stretching, maybe selling some of your favorite vinyl or the kid’s Cabbage Patch dolls (but not one of your kidneys), you could afford.
Things change and cars always grow. So now the 3 Series is less compact and less affordable. But not to fret, BMW now has the 2 Series, which is what the 3 Series was as recently as the mid-2000s. The 2 is compact, riding on a 105.1-inch wheelbase, is just 178.5 inches long and starts at a modest (for BMW) $36,295 for the coupe.
Good news too in that lucky 2 Series buyers can choose from a coupe (2-doors), gran coupe (4-doors), or a convertible. Mine was a Storm Bay Metallic (medium gray) 228i xDrive Gran Coupe. The xDrive is AWD, so appropriate for Wisconsin’s slushy climate. But being summer, I had to deal with only a bit of rain.
BMW loves to tout its meticulously built metal as the Ultimate Driving Machine and the 2 Series certainly comes close. Not many other compacts handle like this, although the styling here is not as sporty as some former 3 Series in their day, and the coupe is more a looker than the gran coupe. In profile you might not be able to tab this as a BMW from a lineup of entry-level sport sedans. And the gray color was less than inspiring, although this medium to light gray seems to be the new “thang” among carmakers.
Still, the 228i has the twin kidney grilles up front to signal its BMWness, and a built-in trunk spoiler to add to its sporty appeal.
But the 2 Series isn’t about flash and glamor, it’s about seat of the pants fun and games.
Power comes from BMW’s 2.0-liter twin-turbo I4 that it also uses in the 3 Series. But here it has fewer ponies at 228 horsepower. That’s plenty for a 3,500-lb. sedan though. The test car featured a silky 8-speed Sport automatic that put the power down in a hurry and with the xDrive there was no torque steer either. Being a turbo there was a bit of turbo lag in Normal drive mode, especially coming off corners or tight turns when you may want to get back on the gas pedal with some expediency.
Dial in the Sport mode and that lag disappears, plus the steering and ride firm up. The ride didn’t need to. It’s sport sedan firm already so you can feel the tar strips and frequent creases in Wisconsin roads. But it was controlled enough with the multi-link suspension in back to not be jarring.
Handling is sports car precise to be sure in Normal mode, but is stiffened almost to a fake feel of heaviness in Sport mode. Both modes are fun, but really I enjoyed Normal for everyday driving. Sport could be better on a highway drive.
Traction and braking were first shelf too thanks to the low-pro Bridgestone R18 tires and sizeable disc brakes. Gran Coupe comes with 13-inchers up front and 11.80-inch discs in the rear. A couple of times I surprised myself at how quickly I could stop from highway speeds. A bit embarrassing to stop 10 feet short of the stop sign on an exit ramp!
Now, be forewarned that if you want maximum power from the whiz-bang twin-turbo you’ll need to fill the tank with 91 octane petrol. It will accept less, but then you’ll need to be prepared for a little less oomph upon acceleration.
I was happy with the gas mileage too. I got 29.8 mpg in about 70% highway driving, but plenty of around town stop-and-go too. The EPA rates the 228i at 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. I think those numbers are attainable.
One thing that may not help you cruise and save fuel is BMW’s funky cruise control that insists on setting itself at the speed limit instead of, say 59 or 61 mph. So you’ll find yourself being passed by the Prius and Elantra crowd if you engage cruise. Most cars’ cruise controls either go up by 5 mph increments, or engage at the speed you’re driving, which more than likely keeps you at a pace commiserate to the traffic flow.
Also note there is a mild lane assist feature here that tries to keep the car in its lane, but I noticed it does not quickly see that you’re heading into an exit ramp on a highway and tends to push the car back toward the highway. Just something to be aware of and to be alert to.
Inside, BMW delivers a fine interior in its 2 Series, much more luxurious feeling and looking that many, even at this price range. Plus, the wide touchscreen is nicely integrated into the dash design, another point many automakers shrug off.
The gray test car’s interior was a black over brown with that combo on the doors and dash and the seats being perforated brown leather with lighter brown stitching. Gone are the grim days of all black BMW interiors. Wunderbar!
The Gran Coupe dash’s center stack has a flat black face with carbon fiber-look trim and piano black gloss trim on the console with satin chrome steering wheel hub and door releases.
I liked the layout and the wide screen was easy to use, something BMW has worked hard to revise and get on top of after a few years of balky radio controls.
The 228i’s steering wheel is a manual tilt/telescope model that combined with the power driver’s seat was easy to adjust into a great driving position. Plus the lower cushion has an extension to help taller drivers find proper thigh support. Side bolsters also can be power adjusted to snuggly hold the driver in place for performance driving.
Front seats are comfy and easy to adjust along with two memory settings for the driver’s seat. Rear seats are snug on leg and headroom. I’m a shorter driver, yet still a rear seat rider had minimal legroom. Likely you wouldn’t want to haul the family in this unless two members are in child car seats. Adults would be ok for a trip to the mall or a socially-distanced bar/restaurant.
BMW also nicely spreads the climate control buttons under the center dash air vents so they are easy to see and use while driving. There also was a heated steering wheel and heated front seats here. And get this, there are even 8 radio station select buttons under the climate controls. I wish there were a wireless phone charger though.
Yet overhead is a panoramic sunroof and in back is a reasonably sized trunk with a bit of hidden storage space beneath the floor.
While the test car started at a reasonable $38,495, including delivery, it was beladen with pricey add-ons. Even that, yawn, gray paint added $1,200 to the sticker.
Then there was the handsome upgraded mocha perforated Dakota leather seats for $1,450 and remote engine start for $300.
The big blow was an M Sport package with M Sport steering and rear spoiler for $4,000. Ouch! And the Premium package that includes the heated steering wheel, comfort access keyless entry, panoramic moon roof, heated front seats, lumbar support, adaptive LED lights, ambient lighting, head-up display, 1year of SiriusXM radio and connected package pro and live cockpit pro. Price for all that is $3,050.
Final tally is $48,495, or about what you’d pay for a moderately equipped 3 Series. Hmmm!
Also note that BMW offers a couple higher horse 2 Series selections, the 230i, a front-drive coupe with 248 horses that is actually the low-cost leader. Moving to the xDrive 230i pushes the price up to $38,295, so virtually the same as the tested 228i xDrive.
Need more power to prove something? Go with the 240i and its 3.0-liter six that pumps 335 horses. A front-drive model starts at $46,795 and the xDrive model at $48,795. Again, if you jump to that price point, you may want to consider the larger 3 Series.
Yet at its entry-level price the 2 Series provides an awful lot of fun at a reasonable price. I’d go with the xDrive model, in coupe form, to make it a year-round driver in Wisconsin.
Hits: Sport sedan with precise handling, excellent power and powerful brakes. Handsome interior, wide touchscreen, easy climate control buttons, heated wheel, heated comfy sport seats with adjustable side bolsters, panoramic sunroof, 8 radio select buttons.
Misses: Snug rear seat, stiff ride, poor cruise control, and prefers 91 octane fuel.
Made In: Leipzig, Germany
Engine: 2.0-liter twin-turbo I4, 228 hp
Transmission: 8-speed Sport automatic
Weight: 3,534 lbs.
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 178.5 in.
Cargo: 13.8 cu.ft.
MPG: 23/33, 29.8 (tested)
Base Price: $38,495 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Storm Bay metallic paint, $1,200
Mocha perforated Dakota leather seats, $1,450
M Sport pkg. (M Sport steering, rear spoiler), $4,000
Remote engine start, $300
Premium pkg. (heated steering wheel, comfort access keyless entry, panoramic moonroof, heated front seats, lumbar support, adaptive LED lights, ambient lighting, head-up display, SiriusXM radio 1 yr., connected package pro, live cockpit pro), $3,050
Test Vehicle: $48,495
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.