The easiest way to assess a car is to compare it to its most obvious rivals.
In the case of the BMW 230i, however, that’s not an approach that really works as it sits out on its own in the marketplace like the new kid at school. Sure, there are plenty of cars available around the 230i’s $63,000 ask, but none you’d really consider competitors.
VW Golf R or Mercedes-AMG A250? Too many doors. Ford Mustang or Nissan 370Z Nismo? Too big and brawny. Therefore we’re forced to assess BMW’s smallest coupe on its own merits, of which it has quite a few. The 230i badge arrived in late-2016 along with an all-new engine (the B48) which brought with it five extra kilowatts, bringing totals to 185kW/350Nm.
Hooked up to excellent eight-speed ZF auto, BMW claims it’s enough to propel the 230i to 100km/h in 5.6sec, a conservative figure if the 5.45sec we’ve managed in the (slightly) less powerful 228i is any indication.
It’s a sweet engine, with an urgency lacking in the less powerful 125i; it’s not push-your-head-back fast, but the close ratios make great use of the available power and it feels well matched to the chassis. There’s enough grunt to overcome the rear tyres in slow turns, though the lack of an LSD means the inside wheel often spins away power ineffectually.
BMW claims the chassis is the same between 1 and 2 Series, and wheelbase, tracks, tyre size and type are all identical, however, the 2 Series immediately feels more cohesive and confidence-inspiring.
The standard setup is soft, too soft if you’re a really enthusiastic driver as mid-corner bumps can cause the suspension to run out of travel, but it makes the 230i’s limits easy to read and, at the same time, exploit.
You can drive the 230i very hard, with mild mid-corner understeer giving way to slight corner-exit oversteer, yet it rarely feels flustered, and if you’re after extra body control, tick the adaptive dampers box, it’s $1538 well spent.
The recent 2 Series facelift has brought with it LED lights front and rear, iDrive6 and a $2000 price cut, however, if you’re an out-and-out driver it’s not difficult to find more performance at this price point – BMW’s own M140i firecracker undercuts the 230i by $3000 yet packs another two cylinders and 65kW/150Nm.
There might not be much buyer crossover between the two, but given the chassis are supposedly the same – we’re not convinced – it’s a fair premium for a two-door body, especially as the 2 Series isn’t exactly a svelte beauty. It is, however, an enjoyable and likeable road car.
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If you have around $60,000 to spend on a small two-door coupe, it might be your only choice, but it’s a pretty good one.
3.5 stars out 5
Likes: Lovely chassis; sweet engine
Dislikes: Little pricey; slightly soft
2018 BMW 230i specs:
Engine: 1998cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 185kW @ 5200rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1450-4800rpm
0-100km/h: 5.6sec (claimed)