Baby Beemer is a Bavarian hit
Remember the BMW 2002?
Taut to look at and responsive to drive, it may not have been endowed with massive power but still turned heads and rewarded drivers accordingly.
Now in the age of the M Car, a lot of performance-biased drivers may have overlooked that good things can still come in small BMW packages: Enter the 228i.
While the 220i and 220d are both capable – if underpowered – steers and the M235i is ballistic but lacking that final on-limit polish, the 228i which now joins the BMW 2 Series lineup promises the best of both worlds.
BMW takes the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine from the 220i and amps it up from 135kW to 180kW from 5000-6500rpm. Torque is also inflated from 270Nm to 350Nm, on-tap from 1250-4800rpm. Zero-100km/h acceleration drops from 7.0sec to only 5.7sec, though curiously the 228i’s weight balloons 40kg to 1405kg kerb. Fuel consumption also suffers, though only marginally given the leap in performance: 6.3L/100km plays 6.0L/100km.
Priced from $64,400 for the entry-spec 228i Sport tested here (in eight-speed automatic form, though a six-speed manual is available as a no-cost option) is perhaps less well-equipped than you might think, with full keyless entry, leather seats and satellite navigation remaining on the options list, though the latter two are fitted to the tested vehicle as cost options.
The seats themselves mimic the M235i’s, being a little small-framed in the sides to truly cosset. There’s also a slight head-room issue for taller drivers (over six feet), who may have to hunch (or wind the seat adjuster back for the Chapel Street look at the expense of vision).
Otherwise, the relationship between steering wheel, pedals and your choice of gearshift (there’s nicely-shaped, weighty paddles mounted on-wheel, or you can use the console-mounted shifter for nicely-weighted sequential shifting) is good, and forward vision reasonable.
The BMW 228i feels linear and accelerative, but without that bombastic feeling vehicles such as its M235i brother achieve. As a result, you feel that you can enjoy its delivery more on regulated, open roads, where its from-any-revs punch and ability to rev towards 7000rpm are both welcome.
If the engine works well within the modern landscape, so too does the eight-speed automatic gearbox. It may not have the ultimate up-change feel of the DCT seven-speeder still found in the M3/M4, it remains a better everyday proposition, though you have to question if eight gears is simply a sop to modern emissions requirements rather than the most appropriate driving setup; coming into corners from a 100km/h, eighth-gear cruise has you smashing the left-hand paddle multiple times, leaving you less time to set-up for the next bend.
So, you’ve dropped five gears down to third, and perhaps late-braked yourself in the process. What happens next?
Braking is solid, if unspectacular; if you can convince the dealer to fit the M235i brakes we suggest you do so if you’re aim is for fast road driving and occasional track use, as things become a little warm and fuzzy when you’ve been working the chassis hard for a while.
Despite the run-flat tyres (measuring 225/45/18 front and 245/35/18 rear) the steering feel and response is crisp in a modern context, the fronts unsullied by the need to both drive and steer. The 228i’s rack response is also more consistent than the system found in BMW’s 3 Series vehicles, though the run-flats will lean it towards understeer first, requiring additional lock until you’ve played yourself in.
From mid-corner, there is strong grip though more roll than you might expect, the 228i leaning hard on the outside-front. The trade-off arrives in the baby Bimmer’s bump absorption. Although it can feel a little firm over larger imperfections it is rarely wrong-footed, even over multiple surface changes.
The combination of rear-wheel drive and just enough power also enables balance adjustments to be done on the throttle, though this would be easier if the electric throttle system was fixed. Ranging from flaccid in Eco mode through to artificially edgy, something in the middle would be welcomed.
Riding back home on the highway the 228i is comfortable, albeit with a little tyre roar. The engine is quiet, transmission cruise-capable and the ride more than acceptable.
It’s rare that such a balance of power, grip and size is available in a modern machine, but with the 228i BMW has found a sweet spot.
|Specs||2015 BMW 228i|
|Price||$64,400 (plus on-road costs)|
|Engine||1997cc turbocharged four-cylinder|
|Power||180kW at 5000-6500rpm|
|Torque||350Nm at 1250-4800rpm|
|Power to weight||7.81kg/kW|
|Tyres||225/40/18 front, 245/35/18 rear|
- Well-judged grunt to grip ratio
- Perfectly sized for back roads
- Good steering
- Electric throttle response
- Cockpit a little snug
- Most good kit is optional