Test Drive: 2017 BMW 230i
In recent years, luxury auto makers have been offering at least one "affordable" model to appeal to first-time buyers with limited incomes. The pitch is, now you can buy or lease one of our prestigious cars for less than you think.
The obvious question is, do these lower priced models really meet the company's high standards, or have too many compromises been made to hold the costs down. In our experience, the cars have lived up to their promises, and that's especially true with this week's test car, the 2017 BMW 230i, the lowest priced version of the company's entry level 2 series.
Everything is relative, of course. With a base price of $34,800, the 2017 BMW 230i is still more expensive than a lot of very good cars on the market. But it is a genuine BMW, with all of the company's trademark engineering, styling and refinement. The 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine is both turbocharge and intercooled, allowing to pump out an impressive 248 horsepower. The six-speed manual transmission that came with our test car was a joy to use. The exterior styling was contemporary BMW and the interior was outfitted with the highest quality materials.
Of course, being a car provided to automotive writers around the country, it was not the base model. It came with more than $14,000 worth of options, including a Track Handling package that included 18-inch wheels, upgraded brakes, adaptive suspension and variable-ratio steering that increased performance and pushed the price to 48,070. But we're confident the base model still drives like a BMW.
But like all other "affordable" luxury cars, one very big compromise was made to hold the price down — the size. All of the entry level models are compacts, and the 2017 BMW 230i borders on being a subcompact. And it is only available as a coupe or convertible.
As a result, our test car looked like a 5/8th version of a more common BMW. Several people we drove by downtown did double takes, checking out the corporate double grill, as if to make sure they knew what that were seeing.
That said, seating in the front is surprisingly roomy, although getting in and out of our test coupe was a little tricky because of the low roofline. But the rear seats are only for children, and, even then, we wouldn't want to have to wrestle with a mandatory safety seat in such a confining space. Trunk space is also limited, but sufficient for weekend getaways.
But, as enthusiasts know, cars have an upside. They tend to be more fun to drive than larger cars, even without upgraded suspensions and brakes.
And BMW offers even more fun in the 2 series — a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six that produces a whopping 335 horsepower in the M240i version. And either one can be ordered with the company's excellent X-Drive all-wheel-drive system.
Of course, by the time you've added the more powerful engine, X-Drive and other option packages, you're defeating the purpose of the "affordable" BMW. And really, you could start considering the lower trim versions of larger models for the price — or even an X1 crossover, which has four doors and a more reasonable back seat.
But such mental gymnastics aside, the 2017 BMW 230i more than fulfills the unlikely sounding promise of a relately inexpensive BMW that's actually a BMW. It's the real deal, if you have to exercise a little restaint.
2017 BMW 230i
Base price: $34,800
Price as tested: $48,070
Style: Compact sport coupe
Engine: Turbocharged/intercooled 2.0-liter inline 4 (248 hp, 258 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed manual
EPA fuel economy: 21/32
Length: 174.7 inches
Weight: 3571 pounds
Final assembly: Leipzig, Germany