BMW lite

As BMW’s venerable 3 Series continues to grow ever larger – and costlier – with each generation, the Bavarian brand has decided to finally bring a smaller four-door to the Canadian market. But is the 2020 BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe, which shares most of its mechanical parts with front-wheel-drive Minis, worthy of the storied roundel badge?

Styling: 7/10

The first contentious aspect to the new 2 Series sedan is its styling. It’s not that the new baby Bimmer is an unattractive car – it’s not – but it doesn’t really look like a BMW from any angle except the front. The visage is pure, contemporary Bimmer from the expansive twin-kidney grille to the ringed quad-lamp headlights. But the rear of the car is more of a strange styling mish-mash of horizontal lines. The profile is stubby, and this 2 Series could easily be mistaken for an upper-trim Toyota Corolla or Kia Forte – both of which are attractive, affordable sedans, but they lack the proportions expected of premium cars.

At least the 228i looks – and smells! – undeniably like a BMW inside. The cockpit is driver-centric with dark plastics dominating most of the dashboard space, accented by metal-look trim. The switchgear will be familiar to the BMW faithful, and the look is both modern and high-tech.

Comfort: 6/10

While it may resemble a Japanese or Korean compact sedan on the outside, the 228i is decidedly more, um, compact. Front-seat passengers are provided sufficient space, and the sport seats provide generous bolstering and extendable under-thigh support, and great comfort overall. The backseat, however, is cramped.

Legroom is sufficient, but not even the scalloped ceiling panels add enough to the headroom, forcing even your average-height author to have to slouch to fit. Coupes tend to favour fashion over passenger space function, and even four-door ones like the 228i Gran Coupe are no exception. [We move to disallow marketing folks from naming cars from here on out. – Ed.]

The 228i features adjustable drive modes, but even the default comfort mode provides a firm ride, as BMW has tuned the suspension more for sharp handling than suppleness.

Features: 7.5/10

The last few years have seen an amazing technical revolution in the auto industry with high-tech features and functions flowing down from ultra-luxury machines to affordable daily-drivers at an exceptional rate. But when it comes to premium cars, you have to pay to play.

The 228i is BMW’s entry-level offering, and without spending on upgrades, it feels pretty basic. My tester was fitted with an elaborate option package that’s priced at nearly $9,000 that adds features like remote engine start, heated seats, adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and leather upholstery, among other niceties. There’s a head-up display too, but it’s rendered useless by polarized sunglasses.

BMW has finally made Apple CarPlay standard fare instead of requiring the purchase of wildly pricey option packages to get this desirable feature, and Android Auto is said to be available as an over-the-air update later this year.

User Friendliness: 9/10

BMW’s all-digital dashboard – for both infotainment screen and primary gauges – was big news less than two years ago when it debuted in the flagship 7 Series sedan. It’s now made its way into the 2 Series sedan, and it’s excellent. Traditionalists may lament the passing of BMW’s traditional pair of round gauge pods for speedometer and tachometer, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of this new digital system to communicate a lot of information clearly – and most of it requires little more than a passing glance.

What’s more, the system can be configured to suit a driver’s preferences in terms of what information is displayed where. Want a tiny speedo and tach, but a huge map in front of you? No problem. How about vehicle information plus a visual for what you’re listening to on the stereo? You can do that, too.

Better still, the latest iteration of BMW’s infotainment system is excellent, with smooth, lag-free operation, a bright and crisp 8.8-inch screen, and the ability to operate it via a rotary knob, the touchscreen itself, or by simply talking to it (“Hey BMW…”).

Beyond that, BMW pioneered wireless Apple CarPlay, which saves the minor inconvenience of having to plug in your phone at the start of every trip, allowing it to remain stashed in a pocket or purse – or placed in the wireless charging pad.

Driving Feel: 7/10

So, the 228i feels like a BMW inside, but does it drive like one? Sort of. Equipped with the M Sport Plus package, my tester was fitted with a set of extra-sporty brakes and sticky summer tires wrapped around 19-inch wheels. It gives plenty of grip, and can claw aggressively out of corners the way any modern all-wheel-drive car should.

Some will bemoan the humble, front-wheel-drive roots of the new 2 Series, presuming it won’t drive like a “proper” BMW, but the reality is that on the road, particularly when zipping around urban and suburban settings, the little Bimmer is sprightly and fun, just as one would expect.

Road feel through the steering could be better, and if driven harder than is prudent on the street, there’s no lively rear-end sliding that can be coaxed (and ultimately, just understeer prevails), but it’s likely very few 228i buyers will care one bit about it.

Power: 7.5/10

At 228 hp, the on-paper power figure doesn’t seem all that impressive, though the 258 lb-ft of torque is what matters more for daily driving. BMW has been known to be modest with its power claims, and the thrust from the little 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine feels much stronger than advertised. BMW claims a 0–100 km/h time of 6.1 seconds, but early tests from some American automotive publications show 60 mph (96 km/h) arriving a full second quicker than that.

This kind of shove is way beyond expectations for an entry-level compact and adds considerable excitement to driving the 228i. There’s ample power for passing, and squirting through holes in traffic is a breeze – though if you catch the turbo before it spools up there is a hint of lag.

BMW’s excellent eight-speed automatic transmission – the only one offered – provides lightning-quick shifts when driven aggressively, and pleasingly smooth ones when driven more sedately.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

With official consumption averages pegged at 10.2 L/100 km in the city, 7.2 on the highway, and 8.8 combined, the 228i Gran Coupe xDrive is decently efficient. During a week of driving primarily back roads and highways, I saw an average around 7.5 L/100 km, meaning the 50 L tank should easily accommodate 600 km of cruising. Still, compared to the competitive Mercedes-Benz CLA 250, the little BMW is slightly less efficient – and it runs on premium-grade gasoline.

Practicality: 6/10 /10

BMW has been offering a 2 Series here in North America for several years, but it’s always been a small, impractical coupe – as in an actual coupe with two doors. Adding two more doors should make this version twice as practical, but that’s not entirely the case. Cabin space remains snug, while the trunk, which is statistically large for the class at a claimed 430 L, is shaped long, low, and wide with a very small opening (imagine an oversized crayon box on its side, and you’ve got the idea).

The larger BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe [Again, not really a coupe since it has four doors and all. – Ed.] has a slick hatchback design that affords significantly greater flexibility, so it seems a missed opportunity here to have not done the same with the 2 Series.

Safety: 8/10

Highly responsive vehicles like the 228i have the ability to avoid potential mishaps better than dynamically inferior machines thanks to quicker, more precise driver inputs in an emergency situation. It’s got strong brakes, too, and the typical active crash-avoidance features expected in the luxury car realm, including automatic emergency braking, parking sensors and, as equipped here, adaptive cruise control.

Value: 7/10

With a starting price of $42,500, the 228i xDrive Gran Coupe undercuts the Mercedes CLA 250 by a few hundred bucks, but it’s a few grand more than the entry point for the Audi A3. Even at more than $40,000, the BMW is not as well equipped as most of the compact cars from mainstream brands that cost barely more than half as much, and most buyers are likely to spend thousands more in options. Of course, nobody shopping for a BMW is likely to consider a Toyota Corolla instead, but a Subaru WRX offers more performance and interior space at a notably lower price.

For those enamoured by the roundel badge, the 228i represents the most affordable four-door in the BMW lineup, and that’s probably all the value they need.

The Verdict

The BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe is a stylish, capable all-wheel-drive sedan with better performance than its entry-level status would suggest. It’s a bit cramped inside, it may not look like a BMW from every angle, and when pushed hard, it doesn’t drive like one either. But for first-time BMW buyers who have never experienced the marque before, it’s likely to meet expectations.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2020 BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupé
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $42,500
Peak Horsepower 228 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 258 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,480
Fuel Economy 10.2 / 7.2 / 8.8 L/100 km city/hwy/comb   Price as Tested $55,975
Cargo Space 430 L  
Optional Equipment
$10,895 – Premium Excellence Package, $8,750; M Sport Plus Package, $1,000; Metallic Paint, $895; High Gloss Black Kidney Grille, $250