The thing about the BMW 2 Series is its size. It’s the original size, the correct size, before nimble small cars got big, like about 50 years ago when the truly iconic BMW 2002 ruled the back roads. So that’s what the 2 Series gives you, that the 3 Series doesn’t. More feel, more nimble, more thrill if you care to take it there.
The engines were new for 2017. The BMW 230i gets a beautiful 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo, while the BMW 240i outrageously and wonderfully gets a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbo.
The 2.0 turbo in the 230i makes 248 horsepower, while the 3.0 turbo in the M240i makes 330 horsepower. Two transmissions are available, an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual. The xDrive all-wheel drive is available with either engine, mated to the automatic transmission.
There’s also an M2 model that’s pretty extreme in its capabilities, overkill for the street. But if you intend to use it for track days, it’s a winner. It’s still the 3.0 twin-scroll turbo engine, but built with stronger pistons and cylinders, to handle 365 horsepower created by more turbocharger boost pressure. The M2 rockets from zero to sixty in 4.2 seconds with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, or 4.4 seconds with the six-speed manual. Top speed is 155 mph.
One thing BMW does to keep tradition alive and the price low, is offer a base model with fabric seats and few options, to go with the manual transmission. Bare bones, like the original 2002. So, fewer expensive features, but you still get the best of BMW engineering, engine, transmission and handling without having to pay for the luxury you can live without. You’ll have just as much fun with this car.
With rear-wheel drive and the eight-speed automatic, the 230i gets an EPA-rated 24/35 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 28 mpg Combined. With all-wheel drive, the M240i xDrive gets 21/31/25 mpg, not bad for 330 horsepower and awd. And the 2 Series aced its IIHS crash tests.
Not much has changed for 2018, different options packages, a couple new colors, some other small things.
The rear-wheel drive 2018 BMW 230i coupe ($33,150) comes with fabric seats with manual adjustment, and no rearview camera. Also available: the 230i Convertible ($38,950).
The high-performance M2 Coupe ( $52,500) comes with the six-speed gearbox, or optional seven-speed dual-clutch with paddle shifters. Standard equipment includes heated seats, navigation, adaptive cruise control, and electronic safety features, but still not a rearview camera. An Executive package adds a heated steering wheel, plus park distance control, automatic high beams, active driving assistant, and that rearview camera. The Drivers Package adds 13 mph to the 155-mph top speed.
The 2 is clean and taut, with a comfortable greenhouse. It clearly reflects German design thinking.
But it’s actually prettier, definitely classier and more eye-catching, in the convertible. It’s a lovely cloth top that comes in several colors.
The M2 has all the right body clues, without being overstated or in-your-face aggressive. At both ends, between black mesh and big pipes, it looks ready for business.
For a sports coupe, the cabin is spacious in front, with a smaller version of the 3 Series dash panel, and a standard tilt-telescope steering wheel, to give the driver more arm room. There’s something we like about a BMW with cloth upholstery, but it is true that the optional leather is more in keeping with the BMW image.
There is a glove box, two cupholders, and roomy pockets in the doors. There are some hard plastics tucked in low-traffic places.
The rear seat is a long way from being comfortable for everyone, but at least there’s a function that makes climbing in and out easier. It’s particularly useful in the convertibles, whose rear seat is narrower to fit the top and its mechanism.
The convertible’s power top can be dropped or raised at speeds up to 30 mph, in about 20 seconds.
The trunk is 13.8 cubic feet, about average for a compact coupe. It’s not a hatchback (but think of the added versatility if it were). But the rear seat’s ability to split and fold allows room for cargo.
We know what we want, it’s the 230i for its perfect match between the 2.0-liter turbo engine and the car’s size and platform. For its balance; for the engine itself. With direct injection, it makes 248 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. It’s strong and fast all through the powerband, like a moving wall of thrust; and it’s super smooth. It even sounds almost throaty. We don’t need to look any farther. And we’ll take the eight-speed paddle-shifting automatic, since the six-speed manual transmission costs the same, almost unheard-of.
But if you now want to cut one second off the 230i’s zero-to-sixty time, for another $10,000 or so, there is the M240i, with its almost-masterpiece 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbo inline six-cylinder engine making 330 horsepower. Almost all of the torque is available low in the rev range. It’s the perfect engine for the larger 3 Series, but it brings more power than is needed to make the 2 Series an ideal car.
Speaking of more power than needed, we have the M2. If what you want is to get on the track, it’s about right, with 365 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 343 pound-feet of torque between 1400 and 5560 rpm, with overboost to 369 lb-ft.
Back to the real world of the 230i. The electric power steering is extremely precise but a bit numb. The optional limited-slip differential, giving grip to both rear wheels instead of just one, is helpful in cornering and especially in icy conditions; we’d spring for that.
But for real winter, you want the xDrive, even with the convertible. It’s worth it for $2000 and the couple less miles per gallon.
The 2 Series is the BMW to snatch, and the entry-level 230i is the best value. Excepting luxury, it does everything the more expensive models do. The 2.0-liter turbo and eight-speed automatic are flawless, always there for you. Like any coupe this size, the back seat won’t hold adults for very long.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with staff reports from The Car Connection.