Remember the joke about the BMW and the porcupine? Part of the reason for that slur against Bimmer aficionados could be rooted in reality, at least to some degree. BMW makes cars that are fun to drive, meaning it can difficult to resist driving like a jerk at least once in a while. Then again, people may just be jealous.
Among BMW's impressive arsenal of sporty coupes and sedans, the 228i coupe is something of a secret weapon. With a sticker price of more than $38,000, it's not inexpensive. But compare it to the marque's higher end offerings and it seems a grand bargain. Fast, attractive and even fuel-efficient, it offers usable space and driving fun in a package that will have status seekers at least partially satisfied on the personal image front. It's a BMW, after all.
The 2-liter twin-turbo 4-cylinder engine cranks out 240 horsepower at about 5000 rpm, but, thanks to turbocharging, its 255 pound-feet of torque comes into play at a very low 1450 rpm. That means stomping on the accelerator pedal excites instant results in a car that weighs just over 3300 pounds. It may not be as fast as its fire-breathing, six-cylinder engine-equipped M235i and M3 siblings, but the smaller engine makes it feel more agile. Not a bad quality in a car that accelerates so quickly; rapid adjustments in the car's direction are often necessary to avoid the slow-moving obstacles that so often litter its path.
Are you getting a better idea now why BMW drivers are so aggressive? Perhaps it's not their fault.
The four-cylinder engine is a double-edged sword, but in a good way. Its torquiness combats the boredom that can arise from a life devoid of acceleration, and its diminutive displacement helps fend off the ill effects of high fuel prices. In other words, I had no problem accelerating to the upper reaches of acceptable highway speeds in only a few seconds, but with the car in "Eco" mode and the cruise control set to a moderate speed, the 228i sipped fuel with the parsimoniousness of a Honda Civic. On a drive from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to New York City, with the cruise control set at a very conservative 67 mph, the car averaged more than 37 miles per gallon.
Back in town, when I was more apt to mash the pedal to the floor to get around obstinate lane-hoggers, fuel economy dipped back below the 30 mpg mark.
Granted, part of what made this car so appealing was the fact that it was press-fleet speced, which is to say outfitted with the dazzling hues and sporty side items designed to make enthusiasts tingle with excitement. Lured in by its stunning Valencia Orange paint and cream-colored leather interior, the hack should, by design, be overjoyed to find that this particular 228i comes with the track handling package, which includes big M sport brakes (whose looks are as amazing as their functionality), adaptive suspension and sport steering. Do normal people go for these options? A look around the dealership lot will answer that question. But they certainly seem worthwhile.
The ability to switch between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes added much to the versatility of the 228i. Eco detunes the engine, changes the transmission's shift points and shunts power to the rear wheels. The Comfort setting didn't seem to boost power too much, but made for a cushy ride and smooth shifts. Sport stiffened up the suspension and steering, boosted power and made use of the car's all-wheel drive system. Sport Plus turned the 228i into a snarling beast – rock-hard suspension aided fast cornering and the car's exhaust belted out a primal scream that would have made even die-hard V-8 fans take notice.
In the real world, the track goodies this 228i came with could help someone with a heavy right foot avoid the dangers of suddenly-stopped traffic and manatee-sized potholes (these are everywhere in the Big Apple). Even if the car never sees track time, there's always something to be said for better brakes, which the 228i demonstrated that it had. That, combined with comfortable front seats, real back seats, a fairly large trunk and all-wheel drive make for a car that could, if it were so pressed, serve as someone's Swiss army knife car.
The cream-colored upholstery and carpets that came with the press mule were nice to look at, but not very realistic, daily driver-wise. Every time I set foot on those perfect floors, I had to hold back tears. By the end of a week, the New York City street filth I had inadvertently tracked in on my shoes, along with whatever it was that rubbed off of my pants onto the light-colored seats, made for a car that no longer looked new. If it were possible to get the whole thing wrapped in plastic, grandma's couch-style, that would be a good option for those of us who can't seem to keep things clean.
On top of its versatility and the joy driving it inspires, the 228i has another pleasant surprise in store for potential buyers. Well, not a surprise, really – the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which subjects new vehicles to a battery of crash tests more stringent than the ones the federal government conducts, gives the 228i its highest rating, Top Safety Pick+. It's good to drive fast and better to do it in comfort, but the ability to walk away in one piece when everything goes wrong is priceless.
By the numbers: 2015 BMW 228i xDrive
MSRP: $38,600 (as tested, includes $950 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 2-liter, 240-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder; selectable all-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 23/35 city/highway mpg
Safety: IIHS Top Safety Pick+
In showrooms: Now