Being a BHP-obsessed petrolhead, it’s usually the most powerful, most shouty car in any model’s range that interests me the most. Audi A4? I’ll have the 4.2-litre V8 RS4, please. Honda Civic? It’s sure as hell going to be the Type R. Porsche Cayman? I’m sure by now you’ve worked out it’s the GT4 I’d be clamouring for. And yet, this personal philosophy of more is better has been challenged by what I’ve been driving most recently: the BMW 228i.
Of course, the most obvious 2-series for petrolheads is the M235i. After all, it has 322bhp, a sweet-sounding turbocharged straight-six, and handling to die for. But in many ways, it’s bettered by its lower-powered sibling.
For a start, the 228i is £6000 cheaper at £28,410, despite still being pretty damn quick. I’m not going to pretend 242bhp and 255lb ft of torque churned out by the 2.0-litre turbo four-pot isn’t a sizeable drop from the M235i’s 322bhp and 330lb ft, but 242bhp is hardly a limp figure. It’ll hit 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds, and top out at an electronically-limited 155mph.
Even more important than the price difference, is the weight saving: it’s a full 70kg lighter than the M235i. Crucially, much of the weight reduction is over the front axle.
On the road, this played out exactly as I’d hoped. The 228i is more nimble, less nose heavy, and amusingly chuckable thanks to its relatively modest proportions. Grip is excellent, so don’t go expecting a tail-happy monster, but it gives those oh-so satisfying little movements at the back during heavy cornering, reminding you that this car sends its power to the ‘correct’ wheels.
The suspension was softer that I’d been anticipating, but it’s not a blancmange in the corners - the 228i never feels anything less than properly balanced and composed. The steering’s good, too, with decent feedback and near-perfect weighting when you’re in Sport Mode.
To give you an idea of just how good this car is to drive, I’m going to make quite a bold statement: I had more fun behind the wheel of this than any other car I’ve driven this year. Few motors are so perfectly matched for the road; it’s far from slow, but not powerful enough for you to be straying dangerously above the speed limit with every enthusiastic throttle prod. Back that up with a brilliant chassis and handsome coupe looks (the 2-series has grown on my considerably over the last year), and you have one incredibly tempting car.
The one drawback? The engine isn’t the most dramatic, in terms of both sound and delivery. Turbocharged four-pots can be entertaining things with boosty mid-ranges and boisterous exhaust notes, so it’s disappointing the 228i’s 2.0-litre possesses neither. There’s a little pickup at around 3000-5000rpm, but that’s your lot. I’m also not overly keen on the car’s ‘amplified’ engine note being pumped in through the speakers, which - as you can hear in the video above - almost makes it sound like a six-pot.
An engine lacking in drama isn’t enough to stop this being a hugely compelling package, however. The draw of the six-pot 2-series would probably prove just a little too strong if it was my money on the table, but the fact that a petrolhead could pick one of these over the M235i and not be labelled a madman is a measure of just how good this car is. And in the real world, how often are you going to get to use that extra power? Few people do apply that logic, though: last year in the UK, just four per cent of 2-series buyers opted for the 228i.
So it’s clearly the most underrated 2-series, but I’d go further than that. In the Bavarian world of hot M Division cars, futuristic hybrids and cutting-edge EVs that grab all the headlines, it’s the most underrated new BMW money can buy. If you ever pass one driving in the opposite direction, give the driver a nod, he or she has damn good taste.