2015 BMW 228i xDrive
A Softer, More Civilized Coupe, But At What Cost?
EngineTurbo 2.0L I4
Power240 HP / 255 LB-FT
0-60 Time5.3 Seconds
Top Speed130 MPH (limited)
Curb Weight3,470 LBS
MPG23 City / 35 HWY
As Tested Price$41,375
That's our question after a week behind the wheel of the BMW 228i xDrive, a vehicle that succeeds the beloved, driver-focused BMW 1 Series. In some ways this new car is a let-down, but in many other areas the new 2 Series is just plain better.
The latter is particularly true if we're talking about the new sheet metal. While the 1 Series was a great source of compact, rear-drive entertainment, it wasn't a pretty car. The new 2 still isn't a stunner, but it benefits from BMW's latest design language. It looks wider and more muscular than the squat 1 Series, although certain elements, like the daylight opening and rear taillights, look like they were plucked right from the old car. Overall, BMW has crafted a more premium aesthetic for the exterior of its entry-level coupe.
A weak spot for the 1er, the 2 Series cabin sports a similarly upscale redo. Like the last-gen car, the top of the dash is home to a master display for the iDrive system (a neutered, non-navigation version on our test car), while the lower half of the center stack is dedicated to analog controls for the HVAC and audio. The dash layout is similar to the 1 Series, but the execution feels more upscale. The trim around the radio and climate controls includes aluminum and gloss accents. The passenger side dash and center console ditch soft-touch plastic for authentic materials – our car uses real brushed aluminum, although piano black and wood are also available. As with all recent BMWs, the combination of the automatic gear lever, the knob and buttons of the iDrive system, and the toggle switch for the Driving Dynamics Control system mean there's a lot of clutter where the driver's right hand falls.
What hasn't changed with the 2 Series is the excellent relationship between the driver and the primary controls. Our test car wears the Sport Line package, which does without BMW's obnoxious, too-large-diameter M Sport steering wheel. Instead, there's a thick-rimmed wheel with textured leather and red contrast stitching. It feels more natural than the oversized M wheel, while this car's large paddle shifters have a solid, well-damped action. The sport seats, standard with either our 228i's Sport Package or the M Sport trim, are snug and supportive, allowing you to stay upright while corner-carving. The buckets are also manually operated (aside from the side bolsters), which is weird in a $41,000 car. Deciphering the chairs' eight-way motions requires not only time, but also a willingness to throw your weight about in a decidedly uncivilized way to make certain adjustments, such as seat height.
The 228i is powered by the 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder found in every other Bimmer that comes with a "28i" moniker. Power output is identical to the 2er's bigger cousins, with 240 horsepower, though the 255 pound-feet of available torque is 5 fewer pound-feet than what's offered in the 5 Series and X3.
Accessing all 255 lb-ft is effortless, with peak twist available from 1,450 to 4,800 rpm. That's fine on its own, but with all 240 hp on tap between 5,000 and 6,500 rpm (just 500 rpm south of redline), the 228i always has plenty of grunt. In fact, the xDrive-equipped 228i feels quicker than its manufacturer-estimated, 5.3-second sprint to 60 miles per hour. Stab the throttle from a standstill and two things happen: First, you're pressed back in the sport seats, and second, you revel at how well the all-wheel-drive system puts the power down. And all that fun comes with a burly exhaust note that might trick the uninformed into thinking there's more than four pistons banging away under the hood. Make no mistake, it is a trick: the 228i uses BMW's Active Sound Design technology to re-create engine noises through the car's speakers.
Tapping the engine's potential is made easier by working the Driving Dynamics Control system. After a week behind the wheel, we recommend just leaving things in Sport. It delivers a sharp throttle response that's better suited to the 2.0-liter engine's output than the default setting, which is a bit sluggish. The other upside to Sport mode is that it makes the ZF eight-speed transmission hold gears longer and fire off upshifts with more urgency. Downshifts are snappier as well, requiring less throttle input to eke the transmission to kick down. We also recommend taking the computer out of the equation and working the wheel-mounted paddles or the pull-for-up, push-for-down gear lever. It doesn't speed up gear changes, but it is significantly more satisfying.
The four-cylinder, eight-speed auto combination in the 228i xDrive returns 23 miles per gallon in the city and an impressive 35 mpg on the freeway. Our testing, spent largely in Sport mode and working the paddles, produced numbers in the mid-20s, although we don't think it's representative of the real-world 2er's overall efficiency. If you're into fuel sipping, Eco Pro mode is a strong ally and your best bet at hitting the lofty EPA highway figures.
But now, dear readers, we bring you some bad news: The steering is horrible. It seems as though BMW spent the last four or five years completely forgetting how to tune its steering, and the 2 represents a new low. The Servotronic electric power-assisted steering is supposed to "adjust the amount of steering assistance to suit the current speed, enhancing driver comfort by lowering the effort needed to turn the steering wheel," according to BMW. Instead, the turning action is vague, disconnected, and lacking in any real weight. The on-center dead zone is substantial, and going from lock to lock it's hard to tell that the front wheels are even connected to the steering wheel. This is a small, rear-drive-biased coupe from the "Ultimate Driving Machine" company. It should have sharp, informative steering. Instead it just feels lifeless.
On paper, the suspension components look promising. There are bits and pieces of aluminum in the strut-type front setup, and the rear uses an independent, five-link geometry. It's not adjustable or adaptive – you'll want the M Sport trim or $2,200 Track Package for those goodies – but it works. The chassis tuning makes the 228i feel like a better luxury car than its predecessor, but that comes at the expense of the 1 Series' charm and character.
In general, the 228i xDrive feels less precise than the 1er. It's not sloppy, but it's not as tight as we expect from BMW. Instead, the handling is more relaxed, with plenty of fore, aft, and lateral body motions. Despite a nearly perfect weight distribution – 50.7/49.3 front/rear – and 70 percent default rear torque bias, the 2er just doesn't have the balance of the 1. It's more isolating too, delivering less feedback to the driver than the old car.
Yet the 2 series is a more comfortable car. It feels stable at speed, smoothing out the ride quality over the crummy highways of southeast Michigan. The damping doesn't completely soak up bumps and imperfections, and bigger potholes are particularly brutal, but for a compact, sporty coupe the 2 Series is surprisingly composed over the rough stuff.
Prices for the all-wheel-drive 228i start at $33,900, not including a $950 destination charge. From there, our Sparkling Brown Metallic two-door added $6,525 in extras: $550 for that gorgeous paint, $1,450 for Oyster Dakota leather, $2,200 for the Sport Line trim, $950 for the Driver Assistance Package (rear-view camera and park distance control), $500 for heated front seats, and $875 for a Harman/Kardon stereo. Total as-tested price: $41,375.
That's not without a few oddities, though. For example, upgraded leather upholstery comes without power seats, which are a $995 standalone option. Push-button start is also standard, but if you want to lock and unlock the doors without taking the keys out of your pocket, you have to shell out $4,050 for the Premium Package. It's frustrating, especially considering how common both of these things are on far more affordable vehicles – like a Ford Mustang EcoBoost.
So, has BMW lost its edge? With the 2 Series, we believe so. There's little arguing that this is a more comfortable, refined and, most importantly, livable vehicle than the car it replaces. But the cost of these improvements is steep. The 228i xDrive isn't only less enjoyable; it's less interesting. And for that reason alone, unless you need all-wheel drive on your small coupe, there are better-equipped, more entertaining vehicles that offer the charm and personality that the old 1 Series had in spades.
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