It might be easy to dismiss the new BMW 2-Series coupe as “just the entry-level model” in the company’s lineup. Sure, it is the lowest priced BMW you can buy (starting price of right around $33,000), but that’s just one facet of it.
Decades ago, BMW was more of a niche brand in the U.S. Beginning with a small coupe called the 2002 in the early ‘70s, driving enthusiasts soon learned that BMW’s base models could be tons of fun to drive when the roads turned twisty.
In recent years larger models like sedans and crossover SUVs have become the bread and butter of the much bigger German brand, yet the purity of those early cars carries through in the new M235i and 228i, particularly the latter. It has a wonderful high-revving 2.0 liter four cylinder engine, turbocharged to produce 240 horsepower.
If you know your BMW history, you know that a four cylinder was what powered those sporty coupes of the formative years. The 2002 and 320i used four cylinder engines; it was only in later years that BMW began also offering their silky-smooth inline six cylinders in the 3-series.
But now that the 3-series and 4-series (essentially the same car, just with different designations for the 4-door and 2-door versions) are larger and more expensive, the 2-series takes the place they once occupied in BMW showrooms, much like the 1-series did before it. (Yes, that new numbering system rears its ugly head again. The 1-series is now strictly a 4-door, though it’s not sold here.)
I purposely requested a 228i from BMW’s local test fleet, rather than the M235i with its more powerful six cylinder engine and much higher sticker price. I wanted the base car, and a base car I got. No navigation, no power seats, no sunroof, and completely lacking those ups and extras that tend to inflate both the curb weight and sticker price of a car.
Ah, but the one significant feature it did have is the BMW M Sport package. You could call this the driving enthusiast’s set-up, as it includes a firmer suspension, bigger wheels, and sport seats and a thicker steering wheel grip on the inside. There are a few visual enhancements on the outside, and at $3000 I’d consider the M Sport package well worth it.
One small fly in the ointment, however, was that this car had the 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s now the standard gearbox, as most people want to avoid shifting for themselves. But as a no-charge option you can choose a 6-speed manual, and I certainly would.
Nevertheless, the 228i is loads of fun, even with the automatic. You can choose a sport mode for shifting, which lets the engine rev a little higher in each gear, and finds the car downshifting a little quicker as you slow for a corner. There’s also a mode selection button that offers settings called Comfort, Sport, Sport +, and Eco Pro. Those are self-explanatory and change the throttle response and even steering feel.
For fun, I tried Eco Pro a few times to maximize efficiency from the engine. Unlike some other systems with an economy setting, this one doesn’t make the car suddenly seem like it’s dragging a huge weight behind it. You’re saving fuel, and the instrument cluster even gives you an estimate as to how many extra miles you can conceivably travel on your fuel supply.
But I also had fun with this car when I wasn’t necessarily trying to be efficient. The engine revs up wonderfully and pulls hard. The chassis is firm but not too stiff, and BMW’s legendary steering feel is there. The 2-series also feels like a just-right size for those who don’t need to carry too many people.
In other words, the size is perfect for a small, sporting BMW coupe. Just like those small, sporting BMW coupes from years ago.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunzT