I’ve long been a fan of the whole ‘wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing’ ethos when it comes to cars. Being discreet about being quick is cool. Looking back to the late ’80s, BMW took the concept by the horns, when it started to put larger six-cylinder engines into 3 Series models – notably the E30 325i. And as time went on, the range only got better.
In 1985 the first E30 M3 was produced, and despite it not being as discreet as a true Q car, it backed up its pumped looks with performance to match. Under the bonnet was a high-revving race-inspired 2.3-litre four-cylinder. Regardless of brand allegiances, anyone calling themselves a car enthusiast would have to acknowledge that the BMW E30 M3 was, and still is today, one of the greats.
What has that got to do with the newly released BMW 228i? Well, in my mind at least, the two are similar. The new 228i has a small-capacity engine – much-like the naturally aspirated E30 M3 – though its 2.0-litre four-cylinder does employ a single twin-scroll turbocharger. It’s also only 86mm longer and 94mm wider than the original M3. Being 240kg heavier, weight is another story…
I have to admit something here though. I’ve never actually driven an E30 BMW M3. I have, however, lived vicariously through countless E30 M3 drivers’ experiences thanks to YouTube and the like, so I feel I’m in a position to judge. Not to mention, I do own a 1990 E30 318is – widely considered the poor man’s E30 M3 – so close enough.
Lucky enough to have been lobbed the keys to the BMW 228i over the Christmas/New Year period, I was looking forward to racking up some serious kilometres and seeing how it stacked up against the first M3 and, of course, my ‘dirty thirty’.
Optioned with Sport Line upgrades, our F22 2 Series looks suitably athletic and equally smart in Mineral White metallic paint. Other noteworthy options include heated seats ($2400 as part of a Comfort package), semi-automatic parking ($1000), and a Professional multimedia package comprising 8.8-inch display screen, satellite navigation and 12-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo ($2300).
Having the 228i around during Christmas would also give me a chance to drive my car – unfortunately something I don’t get to do anywhere near often enough. That might initially sound odd, but gauging if, and how much, the fun-factor has changed over 25 years of BMW evolution was of the utmost importance to me.
Any time I get the chance to jump back into my car, without fail, it puts a smile on my face. And as soon as you crack open the 228i’s frameless door and hop in, there’s an identical sporty feel about it.
Aided by the Sport Line touches, the interior feels ‘right’. There’s a low seating position, great bolstering and all relevant instruments are angled towards the driver. It feels extremely comfortable and, if you’ve spent any time in a modern BMW, familiar.
There are even subtle hints of my E30 in there, with a classic orange backlit dash and thick steering wheel (the latter albeit now equipped with paddles for shifting gears).
Keen to see how the 228i would perform on quieter roads, I take off for a drive up to Victoria’s Lake Mountain.
Steering on the 228i is classic BMW, with lovely feel and nice and direct response. Activate ‘Sport’ mode and resistance increases making things tighter, and heavier. Mind you, given not all people enjoy weightier steering, being able to adjust the steering setting independently of the specific modes would be a good idea. If you’re into a sporty drive, though, adaptive M suspension is a $1538 option worth ticking, as the 228i can feel a bit floaty over bumps and undulations on its standard suspension.
Undoubtedly the 228i’s highlight, the combination of the turbo engine and eight-speed ZF transmission is a beautiful partnership. The slick-shifting gearbox is often well praised, and with good reason.
With 180kW and 350Nm, the 2.0-litre petrol engine provides ample performance for a car of its size and is joined by an impressive note pumped through the cabin – though it’s got nothing on the sound of a rev-happy naturally aspirated engine.
The 228i also performs practical duties, ferrying around friends and family, with all finding the ride comfortable. My 17-year-old sister, however, was not overly impressed with the rear legroom on a two-hour Christmas day journey.
Although there’s twenty-five years between my 318is and the new 228i, you can’t ignore the continuity between the two. With the 228i, BMW has kept the things I love about my car and improved the not so good things.
There’s no doubt that the spirit of a fun drive is still alive within BMW, however, compared with my 318is, things in the 228i are noticeably subdued. There’s just something about the mechanical E30 experience that fails to translate into the modern F22.
Sitting $15,530 below the flagship M235i, the $64,400 BMW 228i is easily the discerning driver’s pick of the 2 Series range. There’s plenty of power for a car its size and, when optioned with the adaptive suspension, is a firecracker of a weapon dressed as a ‘normal’ 2 Series. With its understated styling giving it almost sleeper-like status, the BMW 228i is reminder that the world needs more ‘wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing’-type cars.
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