The BMW “New Class”, most well known for the venerable 2002 Turbo, was something of a saving grace for a company that was struggling through a post-war financial crisis. It also created a dynamic precedent, one the German marque has tried valiantly to uphold. Either on-track or on-road, the 2002 created a cult following.
Fast-forward to 2015 and the 228i is, for all intents and purposes, the modern-day equivalent of the iconic 2002 Turbo. It has a rorty four-cylinder engine, two doors and a turbocharger packaged in a light (1405kg) coupe body style. But, thankfully, it is not retro. It is more just a window into the past of seemingly uncomplicated, driver-focused sports cars. Those searching for a brash, look-at-me coupe should look elsewhere.
Commit to a section of twisty tarmac and the 228i's bona-fide performance credentials are immediately evident. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine produces a healthy 180kW and 350Nm – enough to complete the 0-100km/h dash in 5.6 seconds. There is ample, grin-worthy shove for any occasion. Yet, if you don't drive it like you stole it you can achieve 6.3L/100km on a combined cycle.
Revving sweetly and producing an acoustically pleasing soundtrack, the TwinScroll turbo forces air into the engine early to create a lag-free sensation. Peak torque is produced at 1250-4800rpm, offering a broad range of muscle for the talented eight-speed automatic to tap into. The brilliance of the ZF unit is well-documented, but its intuitive nature is rewarding and the tactile steering wheel-mounted paddles fall to hand nicely.
Four driving modes are offered; Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. Each tailors the throttle mapping, gearshift points, and weight of the variable-ratio steering from tame to tenacious. In layman's terms the Eco mode is mundane, with each progressive designation further upping the racy nature. Sport is an enjoyable happy medium.
As the rear wheels deal solely with getting the power down, the front axle is tasked with steering inputs alone. It creates a sublime overall balance with the lighter four-cylinder mill. Shift into Sport+, which relaxes the stability nannies, and the 228i will dance through flowing sections. Crisp turn-in, aided by the communicative tiller, is followed by a squirm from the rear before it settles, grips and fires you out the other side of the apex.
Even the ride quality on the 18-inch alloys with run-flat tyres – and the 10mm lower M Sport suspension – is acceptable considering the cornering agility. It's that fine line between pleasure and pain. The 228i gets it right.
While the dynamic exuberance is deeply engaging, the cabin, by comparison, is underwhelming. Especially given it could be shopped against the likes of the new Audi TT and its elegantly simple design. Yes, the 2 Series Coupe still has a premium edge, commendable ergonomics and perceived build quality – it just doesn't look new. You could also argue that it's under-specified for the price. Although the leather seats are comfortable, the cabin is hushed with good visibility and the once-criticised iDrive is now simple to use.
The boot offers a 390-litre capacity in combination with the 60/40-split rear seats, but the tight opening could become tiresome with those all-important golf bags. Admittedly the interior is more generous for heads and legs than some compact coupes, but adults won't fit in the back – unless you don't like them. Safety is of a five-star level, but servicing could prove more expensive given the European origin.
Frustratingly, issues like the fact you don't get a reversing camera as standard begins to eat away at the value proposition. In isolation a sticker price of $64,400 (before on-road costs) seems commendable, but how pert is that figure when you can have the pacy M135i hatch for roughly the same cash? Some will even happily bridge the monetary gap to the M235i for the extra sense of occasion the 228i can sometimes lack in everyday situations.
When viewed in the light of a precision driving tool (a self-proclaimed BMW must) the inconspicuous Bimmer will win many hearts. On a sunny weekend getaway, the svelte Coupe certainly went a long way towards endearing itself to me. Giving the keys back proved more difficult than I anticipated.
Overall the 2 Series Coupe is a joyous throwback to an age when the Bavarians were not all about bloated SUVs, contrived niches and cutting a bigger share of the sales pie. Cars like the 2002 Turbo generated passion and emotion for BMW among driving enthusiasts. Surprisingly, the 228i has the capacity to do the same.