During the mid-nineties
, Acura tried something different with the Canada-only 1.6 EL.
Essentially a spiced up Honda Civic sedan, the EL’s mission was to offer consumers an entry level luxury car in order to attract new blood to the brand. The strategy proved remarkably successful for Acura; so much so that a total of three generations of EL (the last one was called the CSX) ended up being produced, making it Canada’s best-selling Acura-badged automobile at the time.
Acura’s innovative idea eventually caught the German big three’s attention. While it’s true that Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been offering entry level subcompact models in Europe for quite some time, we only started seeing them here by the late 2000’s, with models like the Audi A3, BMW 2-Series and Mercedes-Benz CLA. All of these cars ended up being a commercial success of their own.
Today, the segment is boiling. Acura is still in the game with ILX, an all-new Audi A3 is just around the corner and Mercedes-Benz now sells not one, but two entry-level cars: the A and CLA Class. Plus, Cadillac is now giving it a try with the CT4
. It’s fair to say that luxury carmakers see a value in these little sedans.
This brings me to the car featured today: the 2020 BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe, a car that completely resets the 2-Series lineup so it can better compete against its newfound rivals. The last-generation 2-Series was a fantastic little machine, a rear-biased, two-door enthusiasts dream that could be had with a manual transmission and even a super hot M2 variant. As good as it was, it wasn’t mainstream enough to grab a large enough slice in the market, hence this new model.
In order to better align itself with its rivals - which are all front-biased four-door sedans - the 2020 BMW 2-Series inherits an all-new architecture taken straight out of the MINI parts bin. It’s called the UKL platform, and it’s currently underpinning every MINI vehicle currently on sale, as well as the current BMW X1 and X2 crossovers.
So yes, the rear-wheel-drive sports coupe of the past is now gone - although it’s technically still possible to order a last-generation 2-Series on BMW Canada’s website
- in favor of something a little more sensible.
Two variants are currently available for the new 2-Series, which BMW comically names “Gran Coupe”. Base models get the 228i nomenclature, while a significantly spiced up 235i variant brings things up to 301 horsepower. The manual gearbox is now a thing of the past, while all-wheel drive is now standard on all models sold in Canada.
But enthusiasts shouldn’t worry, because BMW stays a next-generation M2 is in the works, a car that will, apparently, retain the famed rear-wheel-drive, manual transmission combination.
In 228i form (as tested), the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, also taken from MINI and other BMW vehicles like the 330i, makes a stout 228 horsepower and a meaty 258 lb-ft of torque at just 1,450 rpm. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, allowing this baby BMW to sprint from 0-100 km in about 5.3 seconds, making just as quick as a larger 3-Series powered by the same engine.
I’ll admit that I counted myself among the sceptics when I first laid eyes on this new 2-Series. I’m a personal fan of the old car, and I figured shoving a transverse engine underneath the hood of a BMW would be sacrilegious considering its rich history of rear-driven driving machines. Yet, the 228i charmed me in ways I did not expect.
The immediate sensation behind the wheel is how much of a premium car you get considering its entry level pretentions. While not as snazzy as a Mercedes A-Class, build quality is BMW-accurate, with a spartan, but well-laid out cabin. BMW tries to jazz things up with hip urban lighting, but never quite matches Mercedes’ colorful pop.
What it lacks in flamboyance, the 2-Series’ cabin makes up for it with sheer ergonomic common sense. All controls are impeccably well laid out, readouts are clear and easy to comprehend, and BMW’s iDrive infotainment system continues to impress by its sheer user-friendliness, quick-reacting menus and downright ease of operation.
The 228i is also quick off its feet. The 2.0-litre engine feels and sounds much larger than it is, with a butter smooth powerband and an ability to rev eagerly without noticeable turbo lag, but it lacks the aural melody of naturally aspirated units. Steering is precise and well-weighted while the entire car feels rock solid and of good quality, a typical BMW trait. Handling is also impressive, with high cornering grip and pleasant suspension damping that transcends to a fun to drive experience.
That said, it’s definitely more MINI than BMW in the sense that the platform was designed for short wheelbase vehicles. The result is a somewhat choppy ride. The 2-Series bounces eagerly over rough pavement, while the low-profile tires will lead to occasional “knocks” when driving over holes. This lively character can prove annoying at times, especially during spirited driving where one needs to remain alert as the car can quickly change trajectory without giving you a heads up. In that respect, a Mercedes A-Class feels much more grown up.
Inevitably, rear seat room is on the cramped side, a problem most German cars of this segment keep having. You’ll be getting considerably more legroom from the rear seat of an Acura ILX
. But the 2-Series makes by having the largest trunk in its class. With 424 litres of total cargo space, this BMW eats its German, American and Japanese rivals in a single bite.
The 2020 BMW 228i feels fresh, is fun to drive, surprisingly capable and offers a lot of premium car for the price. But while it does offer more standard features out of the box than its main rivals, it’s base price is considerably bloated when compared to an A-Class or an A3. And once you start piling options, this “affordable” Bimmer
quickly crosses 3-Series territory.
But as far as securing a larger audience into the BMW bloodline goes, all the ingredients are in place for cooking up a sales hit.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval