2020 BMW 228i Gran Coupe Road Test | Pint-sized sedan is peppy but pricey

Byron Hurd

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Occupying the same space as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class (and CLA variant), the Audi A3 sedan and Cadillac’s forthcoming CT4, the 2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is intended to recapture the ground it abandoned when the previously small 3 Series grew out of its compact footprint. The 228i versions I'm testing here would be entry-level, but with a price tag that approached $50,000, this particular test car was awfully pricey for a pint-sized luxury sedan ... even if BMW insists on calling it a Gran Coupe. 

Like the X1, with which it shares much of its underpinnings, the 2 Series Gran Coupe is front-wheel drive (with an all-wheel drive option). In fact, they have quite a bit of mechanical commonality with offerings from Mini. This represents a significant departure from the 2 Series coupe (small “c” here), which is a rear-wheel-drive, two-door vehicle that is more akin to a shortened 3 Series. The two 2's share little in common besides their names.

The 228i is the variant we didn’t get to drive when BMW launched the 2 Series Gran Coupe late last year; that honor went to the 301-horsepower M235i. While both utilize the same fundamental 2.0-liter engine, the 228i makes do with – appropriately – just 228 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. Both exclusively come with xDrive all-wheel drive and eight-speed automatics. 

But is it a “real” BMW? That’s the fundamental question here, and it was with that in mind as I set out for an afternoon on the roads around Ann Arbor, Mich. But first I tackled how it manages to drive.

The first chunk of my outing was all highway and mostly interstate, with 70-mph limits and a generally pleasant traffic flow. This gave me the chance to try out BMW’s driver assist systems, which, on this particular car, were not plentiful. It was equipped with basic cruise control and a few other must-haves, but adaptive cruise and other more elaborate convenience features were notably absent. Once again, this car cost nearly $50,000.

The basic cruise control is solid, doing a fine job of maintaining speeds. When going both up and down hills and through more significant highway bends, it never deviated by more than 1 mph or so from my set target. I found the basic lane departure warning and lane keeping assist to be nonintrusive; I didn’t notice them 99% of the time.

The 228i Gran Coupe’s cabin is pure BMW. The same minimalist design elements and decent-but-not-spectacular interior materials we’ve come to expect from the company’s less-expensive offerings are on full display. It’s reasonably quiet on the freeway, but the tires are a bit loud — another common BMW trait.

I tried playing around a bit with the Gran Coupe’s drive modes and found that both “Comfort” and “Sport” were entirely palatable. The more aggressive gear selection and engine tuning of Sport mode were not overwhelming while cruising (as they can be in some cars), and since this car was equipped with a fixed suspension, there was no tradeoff in ride quality.

Once I made my way onto country roads, I popped the gear selector over to manual and let it run a bit. The 228i took instantly to this switch, and likewise I found it effortless to acclimate to its mannerisms. Within minutes, I found myself kissing the soft shoulder in fast turns, kicking up faint wisps of dust that dispersed in the warm breeze almost as quickly as they appeared.

All in all, the 228i is willing and responsive, but not outright sporty. It’s quick enough, but not fast. Nimble enough, but not begging to be thrown around like a true sport sedan.

On paper, the 228i Gran Coupe is a solid entry in the subcompact luxury sedan segment, but this quasi-dominant position comes at a price — and not just on the top end with this over-equipped $50,000 test car. True, the entry-level models offered by Mercedes-Benz and Audi make do with less-potent engines, but they also cost many thousands less. The 228i starts at $38,495, while the A3 kicks things off at $34,295 and the A-Class at $33,795. The Mercedes CLA 250, which is closer to the 2 Gran Coupe in terms of power and body style, still costs less at $37,645. 

The bigger problem, though, is when comparing the Gran Coupe to fellow members of the BMW lineup. The more spacious and powerful rear-wheel-drive 3 Series, long considered the benchmark for German sport sedans, has a base price only $3,250 higher than a zero-option 228i Gran Coupe. That gap is far narrower than those in the Mercedes and Audi lineups. 

So, as entry-level luxury sedans go, the 2 Series Gran Coupe is solid. The front-wheel drive platform makes for a spacious, comfortable interior, and the driving experience is sufficiently sporty. But what about the question posed above? Yes, this is a BMW. But for the money, the 3 Series represents such a small jump in cost that it seems questionable to pass up the option of owning a benchmark sport sedan to save a few grand on something that looks, drives and feels like it should cost considerably less. 

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