2014 BMW 228i showing headlights, 17″ alloy wheel. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jeff Wilson
Like the first daffodils popping out of the flowerbed, only when I complete the first proper sports coupe review of the season does it feel to me like spring has properly sprung.
But I was fooled. Not just by the weather that seems hell-bent on relentlessly punishing eastern Canada (it’s as if Mother Nature is saying “mess up my environment and I’ll mess you up, punk!”), but by BMW too. Sure my test car looks like a right sporting coupe, but it is in fact an economy car.
Don’t misunderstand, I say that in the kindest possible way, since the entry-level Bimmer delivered on its “Efficiency Dynamics” promise and sipped fuel during my highway stints as a downright parsimonious 5.9 L/100 km. Even with Sport+ selected and me chasing redline on the tach time and again, the 228i still managed a very reasonable low 8 for the litres per 100 km measure.
This fuel frugality was pleasantly surprising since the same engine and transmission set up in BMW’s next-size-up 428i coupe last autumn only managed an average of 10 L/100 km. The larger and heavier sibling was saddled by all-wheel drive, but it was less efficient than I had anticipated.
What should not be a surprise to anyone getting into a BMW coupe is the wholly engaging driving experience one enjoys behind the thick-rimmed (and in this case, heated) steering wheel, and this littlest Bimmer delivers in spades.
I will confess to being envious of Editor Black claiming the highly coveted M235i last month, what with its sporty suspension bits, nearly 100 extra horsepower and proper manual transmission. Any disappointment of missing out on the hairier-chested version quickly disappeared when I hit the first back roads with the 228i.
The 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque 2.0L “TwinPower” (twin-scroll turbo) inline-four is ample to keep the 1,497 kg 228i accelerating at a pace that will quicken the pulse. And while there are few joys in life greater than rowing a BMW stick shift, the eight-speed automatic fitted to my press car does little to diminish the driver’s enjoyment. Indeed, the automatic is not only notably more efficient with fuel (churning the little engine at highways speeds at a relaxed rate), but is also quicker too (BMW claims a 0-100 km/h time of 5.7 seconds for the eight-speed versus 5.9 seconds for the slightly lighter six-speed manual). A “slush-box” this is not.
To help maintain the Ultimate Driving Experience, Sport and Sport + mode produce more aggressive throttle mapping and snappier shifts, or the driver can make use of the ergonomically pleasing paddle shifters. This eight-speed is being used frequently across several manufacturers these days, but nobody has programmed it to be as dialed in as BMW does. And while I’m sure I’d still choose a manual transmission version simply for the initial cost savings ($1,600 versus the automatic), it is honestly a lot of fun to exercise your fingers on those paddles given how responsive and quick the shifts are.
Aside from beautifully sorted shifters, BMW is also famous for its inline-six-cylinder engines, renowned for their inherent smoothness and refined yet ripping snarl. I admit that I am one of those Bimmerphiles who adores that drivetrain (so much so, I’ve put my own money into buying three of them so far), but believe me when I tell you that the 228i’s engine is very nearly as good.
It is incredibly smooth – not just for a four-banger, but by darn-near any engine standards, and it doesn’t even sound half-bad with a much deeper and more refined soundtrack than one would expect from such an eco-friendly machine. BMW enables drivers to set a speed-warning feature whereby the car will emit a chime and flash a warning message at you if you exceed a prescribed personal speed limit. I’ve encountered this function before but have never paid them much mind. This is the first car I’ve driven where I was thankful to have the gentle finger-wag as it startled me to see I had hit 130 km/h repeatedly on a cross-town highway drive. Yes, this engine is charming and remarkably quiet on the highway.
2014 BMW 228i dashboard & gauges. Click image to enlarge
The 228i is available with three different suspension choices: regular (like my test car), M-Sport and Extra Spicy (Adaptive M-Sport). Although fitted with the tamest version, my car was no slouch on the back-road twisties I found. The compact dimensions of the 2 Series along with quick steering conspire to create a nimble car that transitions eagerly, in particularly tight maneuvers.
The all-season Pirelli P7 tires are best described as sporty touring tires rather than truly grippy pavement claws. This means that boisterous play in Sport+ (where the traction control is disabled) results in a lot of tail-end friskiness. While it can be a lot of fun for hooligan enthusiasts, it wouldn’t necessarily be the quickest way around an autocross course.
If you are serious about your performance, you’d do well to spec your 228i with the optional Adaptive M-Sport (or even just the non-adjustable M-Sport) suspension and a proper set of summer-dedicated rubber. The ride of the non-sport suspension is decent, but certainly not what you’d call supple and luxurious, so you might as well button things down a little tighter and get the proper sport suspension to maximize the car’s handling capabilities.