Like a fair number of you, I came of driving age in the mid-80’s when BMW had a total of four car lines – the 3-series, the 5, the 7, and the sporting 6, traditionally all rear wheel drive and for the most part inline 6-cylinder powered. Sitting in Chemistry class while reading a car magazine tucked into your textbook, you’d consider starting your stable with a basic 3 like you’re the character Blaine in Pretty in Pink, then you graduate to the 5 once you mature a bit and perhaps start a family, if you eventually replace your boss at work you may move up to a 7, and if having to cart multiple kids around isn’t a consideration, then a 635CSI would be just the ticket (teen Molly sat in front when she was dropped off in one for detention at The Breakfast Club).
In those days (ca. 1985) the big news was the imminent release of an all wheel drive option on the 3-series as well as a convertible version (but not together on the same car), and of course the M5 became available as the first M-series car deemed suitable for general public sale in any kind of quantity over here in the United States. And that was considered quite a range of vehicles with lots more choices than just a few years earlier.
Jump forward 35 years and all of a sudden there are sports cars co-developed with a Japanese maker, every possible size of SUV, more sedans than you can shake a stick at, a couple of electric cars, several two-door coupes, some convertibles, all wheel drive all over the range, and even a few things that are some sort of fusion between a sedan and a coupe that they call “Gran Coupe” as well as engine sizes that have nothing to do with the numbers on the bootlid.
There’s now also been pretty much every number that wasn’t included in the ’80’s available such as 1, 2, 4, and 8 but the 6 is gone again, at least in car form. And various prefix letters as well on some others such as a different 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 all preceded by a big X to denote an SUV form factor. Pretty soon they might dial that up to 11. Literally.
Oh, and there are even front wheel drive platforms now! There were wagons in the interim but there aren’t anymore, over here at least. It’s enough to boggle the mind and wonder how this little independent Bavarian brand got to have seemingly (or perhaps actually) more different models than General Motors.
My tester for last week was an amalgamation of several of the above ingredients. It’s a Gran Coupe, meaning it has four doors for access but a roofline more reminiscent of a two door. It’s a 2-series, so larger than a 1 (not currently offered here either) and smaller than a 3 as well as in this particular form based on a FWD platform but the x-Drive means that it does have all wheel drive to sort of correct that sin. The badge reads 228i, in days past you’d likely have a fuel-injected 2.8-liter inline-6 under the hood, but this is a direct injected turbocharged 2-liter four (still inline though!).
The xDrive badge denotes all wheel drive. If it matters, there is in fact also a 228i regular coupe (2-door) available as well as a convertible but no regular sedan but, and this is a big one, those are a completely different chassis and basically unrelated, this one shares a chassis with the X1 and X2 mini-SUVs instead.
So this Gran Coupe is it for a four door 2-series even though some of the other lines have both a sedan and a Gran Coupe version (and regular coupe), albeit sometimes the number changes as the even numbers are the coupe/convertible models (both two and four door coupe varieties) and the odds are reserved for the real sedans. Confused yet? Check out the BMW web site to keep it all (sort of) straight.
It also has an “M-Sport” package on it as a major option that doesn’t make it an M-car but does add some of the goodies to make it sportier. Of course a decent dollop of sportiness was pretty much always included on any BMW, even the most dour 318i or 733i or eta-engined cars back in the day.
To me it certainly looks like a BMW when walking up to it. It’s sleek, has the famous grille even though it’s blanked off about an inch behind the brightwork (the real air aperture is under the bumper), includes sort of a techy-squared-off look that became a BMW thing sometime in the last decade or so, of course includes at least a vestigial “Hofmeister kink” at the rearmost side window, and being a non-SUV is on the lowish side.
Note that I’m relaying this impression as a general enthusiast with an appreciation for the marque but not a savant as regards all things BMW, some will perhaps find things not befitting tradition. That’s fine too, it still looks a lot more like a BMW of yore than something shaped like an X7 does no matter how much you shake a fist at a passing cloud.
The car (painted here in a very appropriately named “Storm Bay Metallic”, a deeply moody gray that changes appearance depending on the light) beeps as you get close to it and you can hear the doors unlock well before you even reach out your hand. Do so, grab the door handle, pull it open and there’s a well-trimmed cabin that looks the business.
Deeply bolstered seats with an extending thigh cushion, lumbar support adjustments for every direction, and even a button to make the bolsters on the seat back squeeze you like your grandmother will once there’s a Covid vaccine and she sees you again. Whoever drove it before I did clearly had the physique of a 12-year old girl and the bolsters dug into my kidneys so I opened that up to something more commensurate of someone who was born a couple of hundred miles west of Bavaria and enjoys his “Wurst mit einem Bier” after which it was perfect.
The steering wheel is just the right thickness and inviting to hold, the instrument cluster is more TRON-like than I expected it would be but it works well and one gets used to it although it IS different as is becoming more common with full digital displays these days instead of dials, and the engine start button is on the center console.
The instrument cluster screen has an interesting background that’s composed of the navigation system’s street map and as such moves as you drive and zooms in and out depending on your rate of progress, however there are no street names so it’s purely decorative although it could be more useful as well with that small change. And there’s a familiar BMW aroma that’s a blend of the leather and the glues and plastics used here. It’s weird how BMW and all the other German makers each have their own very distinct scent even though they must use the same suppliers for the interior pieces for the most part.
That dashboard is wide and fairly low with lots of buttons including about ten for the exterior lights to the left of the wheel (what was wrong with a dial? Although by pushing one and setting it to Auto it does mostly everything for you in that regard and you CAN in fact turn the front fog lights off on a BMW, who knew), the center console has a bunch more topped with a wide touchscreen that can also be controlled by the iDrive controller on the console or in many aspects by voice.
One strange thing I noted repeatedly is that there was (for me anyway) an inclination to have my right hand sort of rest on or near the iDrive controller to dial through the music stations, however the volume adjustment is done by a separate knob much higher on the console or by buttons on the steering wheel, both of which also needed that same right hand. If you want people to use the iDrive controller, having a knob for the volume next to it would be handier. The space for it exists.
That’s a minor niggle though. There’s a trim piece that goes around the cabin at mid-dash height. It’s black plastic with a geometric pattern on it that would likely be criticized were it in a Chevrolet. It looks sort of cheap and plasticky and worse it flexes to the touch in the middle when using the touch screen via fingers and resting your hand on it but it does have a party trick; at night it lights up in a sort of linear (as opposed to circular) hotplate pattern. I can’t decide if I like the way it lights up, is it so cool it’s hot or so hot it’s cool? I didn’t really warm up to it but that’s just my opinion.
There’s a handy clip-thingy sort of tray to stow your phone in but no wireless charging in this case (optional), although Apple Car Play is included (without a subscription fee as that idea was dropped due to lots of criticism), and it’s of the newer wireless variety, yay! I did connect via Bluetooth but the car dropped me several times likely due to not having the BMW specific app installed on my phone.
After connecting a couple of times manually it seemed to “take” for some reason and then was able to read my incoming texts to me which was a handy feature and didn’t have any trouble going forward. The whole car is composed with a very technology intensive setup and while I’m not a computer scientist I’m not a fool or lazy either, but it did take me some time to discover that in the settings for example there is a menu that lets one control and adjust minutae such as the maximum airflow when the HVAC is in automatic mode.
Apparently mine was set on the second lowest fan speed as a maximum which frustrated me when I got into the car on a 90degree day and remained roasting due to the meager airflow when I dialed it down to my preferred 62 until I overrode the auto setting and cranked up the fan manually. After that I changed it in the settings to max out at the second highest setting instead and then it seemed to always be blasting air instead even for the smallest adjustments until the desired temperature was achieved.
Like a new phone or computer it’s the kind of car where, if one were to purchase one new, one might want to make a appointment with the dealer’s tech genius (yes, they have that there, the salesperson doesn’t just toss you the key and send you on your way) to go over everything with you in order to learn about stuff that the car will do that you’d never have even thought a car would be able to do. If purchased used from somewhere else, prepare to really read the manual.
Otherwise you’ve ended up paying for a bunch of stuff that someone slaved over that you won’t even know about. It’ll fundamentally work even if you don’t but will work harder for you if you know how to ask it to or even what to ask it. Another great example is the row of eight buttons next to the volume knob center bottom of the above picture. They look like radio presets but in reality they are “anything” presets.
You could make #1 your favorite station which would work as you’d expect. But #2 could be the phone number for your spouse, press that and it dials the number for you. #3 could be the address of your home, when pressed it will navigate you to it, and so on with everything you could imagine. It’s also programmed to the individual key so if you share the car with someone and they drive, it becomes their preset preferences instead.
The backseat, while in this case just as luxuriously swathed in lovely “Mocha perforated Dakota Leather”, looks just as inviting as the front, however keep in mind this space is not really meant for a full grown human adult. I was able to get in quickly enough but it took me far longer to extricate myself again. My knees were either jammed into the seatback when adjusted for me as the driver or splayed wide around it and my head was cocked into the headliner at an unnatural angle.
I am 6’1″ with a 32″ inseam, I estimate anyone over 5.5 feet tall with more than a 28″ inseam will not be comfortable back here. Perfect for a mother-in-law. If you must have four doors and need to ever carry four full adults without hearing about it afterwards, perhaps kind Sir would consider looking at a 3-series sedan which would still fit in the budget? Or most anything starting with an X in the BMW catalog. But it looks good.
Anyway, once comfortably ensconced (in the front), tickle the start button and the engine fires with a gruff little bellow. Choose Sport mode or just leave it in Comfort, pull the monostatic shifter back into Drive and give it the beans. If in Comfort it will pull out smoothly and quietly and rapidly shift its way to illegal speeds. If in Sport mode the engine’s voice drops an octave, it seems to shift faster and gets you up to speed feeling more athletic and in charge and you have the option to change various parameters to create a further “Individual” Sport Mode.
The engine in this case is as stated previously a turbocharged 2-liter four cylinder with an output of 228hp and 258lb-ft of torque while mounted transversely in what is essentially a MINI-derived platform and pretty lowly stressed in regard to the output relative to the size in this application. The x-Drive all wheel drive is required and gives it a rear wheel bias although the power can move all around the chassis wheel by wheel as needed. The engine sounds great, it’s one of the better fours in that regard, it has a very smooth but still gruff voice that sounds precise if that’s even possible.
The 8speed automatic pops off shifts depending how aggressive you are with the throttle, but if you suddenly give it all the Welly in mid turn it will take its time to downshift, so if being really aggressive is on the menu and you absolutely need to nail that apex and power out at the limit, then the wheel mounted shift paddles are required to be used, just be careful you note where the paddles end up as the wheel can turn further than your arms can keep up to keep your fingers on the relevant paddles…
But booting it from a standstill makes it move out quickly and confidently. It’s an engine that leaves the car feeling not overpowered but not at all underpowered either, it’s really just right and perfectly usable every day with enough left in the equation to reward some finesse and planning ahead as to what maneuver to attempt when. With a manual transmission this would be a total gem but that’s sadly not a thing because you and I aren’t running out and buying them.
It feels very well balanced, zips around corners at speeds far above the local recommendation, is delightful to swing back and forth through the turns with the wheel being very sensitive and even fairly communicative as to what’s going on underneath. The ride on the other hand, as in most BMWs, is far more compliant than one might expect given the handling irrespective of the road surface. It thumps across bumps of course but not in a violent way, just sucks it up and puts it away.
The tires, Bridgestones in a 225/40-18 size, surprised me as I quite liked them and found them plenty grippy with good characteristics all around but I didn’t realize until I was writing this and reviewed my pictures that they are in fact a Run Flat Tire, specifically part of the Turanza LS100 All-Season line in this case, neither aspect of which I would have thought would be as agreeable had I known beforehand.
They do tend to follow the grooves on concrete freeways and my passenger asked me if it was very windy as she noticed the car moving side to side without me mentioning anything. That was an astute observation as it felt exactly like side winds, however it was all due to the tires interacting with the drainage grooves.
Is it still a real BMW being on a FWD platform? I don’t know, who really cares though besides the internet warriors that would probably never consider a new BMW anyway. It’s engineered by the same people, it’s built in Germany (although in the city of Leipzig in the former East Germany instead of the state of Bavaria), all the oily bits are used elsewhere in the catalog as well, and it has the roundel so for an ever-increasing percentage of people that last bit is likely what matters most anyway.
BMW gets their money either way so no harm, no foul, and really most BMWs these days seem to be AWD anyway so it’s masked anyway. It likely feels a bit different to drive compared to a traditional longitudinally-engined RWD-based 3-series etc., (I didn’t have the option to try one back to back to compare) but the current 3 drives different than an older 3 too and ever more so the further back you go, so whatever. Call it progress if you must, the bottom line is it drives well and otherwise has all the same traits as everything else in the showroom.
It’s not overly heavy at under 3500 pounds, has tons of cool tech such as LED headlights that swivel as you turn the wheel (love that feature), and while trunk space doesn’t seem huge at first, there’s a large bin under the floor that holds seemingly almost as much again, of course there’s no spare tire in this one. The seats fold down for added utility as well.
The size is right for the city, and it’s a car that you wear more than you just sit in it. In fact, I was bulging the seams a bit in this car (as opposed to an actual MINI such as the one I drove a few weeks ago which left me with more perceived lebensraum inside, surprisingly).
The panorama roof likely had a lot to do with the bare minimum of headroom clearance I had here and my arms and legs, while having enough room, didn’t have any wasted amounts of it. But it’s not an overly large car and the roof is on the low side by design, so if you are interested this is NOT a car to just order blindly off the rack, you must try it on first.
Gas mileage was exceptional though, I averaged right at 29.1 mpg for the week and 347 miles I drove it. The sticker calls for 23City, 33Highway, and 27Combined. My miles included a 120-mile freeway journey to the Boulder suburbs, another high speed 80-mile freeway roundtrip to a tile shop north of Denver, and then the balance around town running between houses for work stuff, a few errands and a bunch of shuttling and idling for some picture taking as well as a few good runs along the lake road. While it calls for premium unleaded, that average is quite a good result.
Price. And Value. Where to start…I suppose the starting price would be appropriate and here it’s $37,500 plus $995 destination (one of the lower destination charges we’ve seen recently even though this comes from far away).
Options though add up quickly. The paint goes for $550, the Mocha leather for $1,450 so $2000 total for anything but black or white over gray or black vegan leather. (My sticker says this particular paint is $550 but the online configurator now lists it for $1,200 while the other colors are still $550 so not sure what happened there or which price is correct). Remote Engine Start can get your motor running for $300.
There are two major options to round things out, first is the M-Sport package at $4,000 and then the Premium package at $3,000. The M-Sport package includes such things as the M Steering wheel which above I found to be wonderful, the 18″ double spoke wheels (17’s are standard), and the rear spoiler. It also includes an Active Driving Assistant, Shadowline Exterior Trim (black where shiny bits usually reside except the grille), M Sport Steering (presumably a tighter electric rack), Frontal Collision Warning with City Collision Mitigation, Lane Departure Warning, and Active Blind Spot Detection.
The Premium Package on the other hand also adds a Heated Steering Wheel and Front Seats, the Comfort Access Keyless Entry, Panoramic Sunroof, Lumbar Support, those lovely Adaptive LED Headlights that swivel, Ambient Lighting, Head-Up Display, SiriusXM Radio, Connected Package Pro, and Live Cockpit Pro (incl. Navigation System).
It appears that you can customize all sorts of stuff in this package including not having a Panoramic Sunroof or even ANY sunroof as a delete option which is something that is generally hard to get a maker to do for cars delivered over here but something that should warm the cockles of any true enthusiast’s heart, get rid of that highly placed weight!
It’s a very well equipped vehicle, but still doesn’t contain every option on the list, and as equipped here as detailed above rings in at $47,845 including destination. That’s a fair bit of change and there is no shortage of competitors looking for that pile of money for themselves (including other options in the same showroom, I’ll add.)
The other Germans all offer what they would argue is competition for this, some at lower prices, some with more power, but really none that offer a much different formula so it’s competitive in that respect. Of course there are other makers from other continents that are also playing in this space to a somewhat smaller degree.
But there are now also non-traditional options including alternative powertrains from other maker(s) as well that might be considered too, especially for those open minded enough to consider this non-traditional BMW in the first place. This car is an interesting development that fits into a very small niche in BMW’s portfolio, but that’s how they’ve been positioning themselves over the last decade or so; evermore finely specialized variations on the sport sedan/vehicle theme, many of which overlap in many aspects.
It’s probably as close to a bespoke mass market maker (if those two words/terms can even be used together) as one is likely to find these days and they do seem to be building things now that would be absolute heresy back when BMW was a true religion. Still, as here they tend to work better in real life than they would be thought to on paper. Amen.
Thank you to BMW for providing us with this vehicle and a tank of premium unleaded for a week.