A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but does a four-cylinder BMW 2-series by any other name drive as well?
Great engine, great chassis, great performance.
Miserly standard equipment, cramped back seat, rear-drive version is better balanced.
After three model years, BMW has retired the 228i nameplate in favor of the numerically greater 230i moniker. (Similarly, the six-cylinder M235i is now designated M240i.) The name change reflects the adoption of BMW’s new B46 inline-four engine. Like the N20 engine in the former 228i, the 230i’s engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter unit. Boasting a 4.5-millimeter-longer stroke, a 2.0-millimeter-narrower bore, and a slightly higher compression ratio than the N20, the 230i’s new powerplant produces 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, gains of 8 horses and 3 lb-ft. The rear-drive 230i can be optioned with a six-speed manual gearbox, but the all-wheel-drive 230i xDrive tested here is an automatic-only affair.
Fortunately, the 2-series’s ZF eight-speed automatic transmission is a sweetheart that swaps cogs swimmingly and deftly downshifts with a slight prod of the throttle. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and a stubby console-mounted gear selector with a dedicated manual gate allow the driver to take over shifting duties when the mood strikes. And this latest powertrain retains BMW’s longstanding tradition of fuel-economy excellence, achieving 35 mpg on our 75-mph highway test, which is 2 mpg better than its EPA highway rating.
Awesome 2 the Max
Despite being more powerful than the last 228i xDrive coupe we tested, this 230i xDrive was marginally slower. Factors that offset the power gain include a taller final-drive ratio—not quite offset by shorter gearing in the automatic—and 111 pounds more mass in this test car compared with the earlier one.
Regardless, the 230i xDrive is plenty quick. Running from zero to 60 mph takes only 5.3 seconds and the quarter-mile races by after 13.9 seconds at 100 mph. For perspective, a 1995 BMW M3 coupereached those marks in 5.6 and 14.3 seconds at 98 mph. Performance that once marked BMW’s pinnacle is now rivaled at the brand’s entry level.
Our test car was equipped with the $2300 Track Handling package, which buys a set of two-mode (Comfort and Sport) adaptive dampers, variable-ratio steering, and staggered-width Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires on 18-inch aluminum wheels. The latter worked with the package’s bigger front and rear disc brakes to bring our 3571-pound BMW to a halt from 70 mph in a fade-free 152 feet. That matched the braking performance of our 62-pound-lighter M2 long-term test car that sits on a wider set of Pilot Super Sports. This 230i circled our 300-foot skidpad at a hair-raising 0.96 g before losing grip. The only part of the package that disappointed was the 2’s electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering. Variable ratio notwithstanding, it continues to lack tactility, and adding the task of driving the front tires to the forward axle’s list of jobs doesn’t really help. You really need to step up to a model wearing an M, either the M240i or the all-in M2, to get the driving enjoyment that won those BMWs a slot on our 2017 10Best Cars list. And we really prefer the balance and lighter mass of the rear-drive variants.
2 Much For 2 Little
In other ways, too, the 230i xDrive is unexceptional as an entry-level luxury car. Its exterior is handsome but not striking, its 60/40 split- folding back seat is small and cramped, and its interior is nicely assembled but more technical than it is inviting—even with our test car’s $1450 worth of optional white Dakota leather seating surfaces and $350 in aluminum interior trim. Worse, no 2017 2-series model offers a blind-spot-monitoring system or adaptive cruise control, features found on less prestigious cars that sell for less money. On the benefit side is that, like other 2-series cars, it’s nimbler than the 3-series sedans and even the previous-generation 3-series coupes, giving the driver BMW performance without the bloat.
With a starting price of $36,145, the 230i xDrive commands a $2000 premium over its rear-wheel-drive counterpart. Standard creature comforts include push-button starting, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and dual-zone automatic climate control. In addition, an overabundance of options lifted our 230i xDrive’s as-tested price to $50,070, or $2625 more than the starting price of a 335-hp M240i xDrive and $4625 more than our favorite, a rear-drive M240i with the manual transmission.
A quintet of option packages—including the aforementioned Track Handling package—accounted for $7800 of our test car’s sticker price. The costliest was the $2950 Premium package, which included items many would expect to be standard in a BMW, such as auto-dimming mirrors, a proximity key, ambient exterior lighting, power-adjustable front seats, and a sunroof. The $950 Driving Assistance package added a backup camera as well as front and rear parking sensors, while the $900 Lighting package replaced the standard halogen headlights with a pair of adaptive HID units. Finally, the $700 Cold Weather package brought heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and headlight washers.
Our test car also came equipped with an $875 premium sound system and a $1950 navigation system that supplants the standard 6.5-inch infotainment screen with a larger 8.8-inch unit employing BMW’s iDrive 5.0 software. Adding navigation also opened the option book to a $500 wireless phone charger and a Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as to Apple CarPlay compatibility for $300. A final $700 went toward Valencia Orange paint.
Although the four-cylinder 2-series bears a new name and engine for the 2017 model year, the 230i xDrive is just as sweet as the 228i xDrive that came before it. Still, the six-cylinder M240i xDrive is even sweeter, and we’d gladly trade some of this BMW’s optional toys for the additional performance of an M240i.