If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that the No.1 contender to replace my 2014 Fiesta ST is the Mk7 generation Golf R. Where that car improves the Fiesta in terms of practicality, value for money and all-weather traction is where the BMW 228i does a complete 180 (hence the blog post title). The 228i is cramped, rear wheel driven, and despite a base price of nearly $40,000 offers essentially no standard features. That being said, the 228i has always appealed to me in its classic front engine, rear wheel drive, 6-speed manual gearboxed sports car way, sort of like an FRS/BRZ but with actual torque. The N20 motor in these baby Bimmers also has a decent amount of aftermarket support and should be able to make around 300hp with simple bolt-ons and a tune. While not necessarily the most pragmatic choice, the 228i appeals more to the purist side of me and would offer a more unique and intriguing driving experience than the Golf.
After owning a Mk6 GTI and now the Fiesta ST, I fear that the Golf R just doesn’t feel different enough to justify a change. While the extra space would be nice, it’s primarily for my passengers who rarely spend too much time in my cars anyway. As a stoplight-to-stoplight racer a modded DSG Golf R does have appeal but I feel I’m quickly growing out of that type of driving and more interested in flogging a car around a track or twisty back road. That’s where I feel the balance of the FR Bimmer can excel with it’s lower seating position and nearly perfect weight distribution. It’s also fantastically useless with a small trunk, small back seat, and plain-jane interior with no standard features. Frankly, I don’t think the 2-series looks all that great either and it also carries the burden/judgment that comes along with owning the cheapest model BMW available in Canada.
But just how bad of a value is the 228i? Just to get a backup camera requires ordering a $4,000 Premium Package which also includes navigation, a heated steering wheel, power seats, and a sunroof. However, the premium package doesn’t include the must-have comfort access (BMW lingo for a smart proximity key) feature though, that would require the $2,200 Executive Package. And unless you want the car in “lose in any Richmond parking lot” Alpine White, every other colour is a $900 optional extra. That’s $7000 in options for a car that has a $36,000 base price and about $2000 more than a similarly equipped Golf R which has more power, more driven wheels, and more space. If I can put up with clicking a key fob to unlock my doors (like it’s 1998) and hook up my own backup camera, I could easily save myself $6000 at which point the 228i starts to make a lot more financial sense.
Ultimately, it’s hard to make a strong defensible case for the 2-series other than “I want one” for some inexplicable reason. Part of the appeal is that there aren’t that many on the road here and it’s nice when you don’t see yourself coming and going all the time. By that same token, the used market for both the 228i and 235i in Canada is pretty sparse meaning you might as well buy new and take advantage of a full warranty and attractive financing offers rather than save a couple thousand bucks. The point of exclusivity is further emphasized when you consider just how much of a dying breed sub-$50k compact FR coupes are. The Golf R, and to some extent my Fiesta ST, are dual purpose heroes which combine practicality and performance but will always lack a certain je ne sais quoi that a low-slung 50/50 weight distributed BMW coupe offers. For that reason, and that reason alone, the 228i makes the cut on my short list.