By Jim Bray
BMW's 2 series is yet another example of how the German automaker can get away with calling itself "the ultimate driving machine." That's because, like most of BMW's vehicles I've been fortunate enough to spend time with, it's wonderful to drive, offering handling and performance that are the stuff of dreams (if you've never driven a Porsche, anyway!) and I can see easily why people love being behind their steering wheels.
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Alas, there's another important aspect of modern cars in today's ultracompetitive market, and that's the experience of living with them - how do their interfaces work and how easy are they to learn? - and in that respect BMW still has a way to go.
It's a shame. I love driving BMW's but really can't fathom the company's thinking in how they design the occupant interfaces. But let's talk about the great things about this car before I start dumping on it.
Time was when a x28i designation would have meant the BMW was powered by a normally aspirated 2.8 litre inline six cylinder engine, but the industry's current downsizing trend means the 228 is now powered by an inline four cylinder engine, in this case displacing two litres and offering dual turbochargers. When I found that out, before sliding my bum into the Bimmer, I was disappointed and a tad afraid that the "ultimate driving machine" may now just be a "driving machine." Not to worry, though; the engine's 241 horses (from 5000-6500 rpm) and 258 lb.-ft. (available from a nice and low 1450 rpm) are more than adequate. My lead foot never had issues with motivating this coupe.
And if that isn't enough for you, you can choose a 235i, which has a lovely, three litre twin turbo inline six that cranks out what must be an intoxicating 322/332 hp/torque. I've driven a 335i (now a 435i thanks to BMW's bizarre naming convention) with that engine and it was an absolute peach - and back then it "only" put out 300/300 horses/torque.
That naming convention, by the way, means that at heart the 2 series is an updated version of the former 1 series. Nothing wrong with that other than a bit of potential confusion. BMW seems to be trying to name its sedans with odd numbers (the 3, 5 and 7 series) while its coupes are even (2, 4, and 6 series). That may be have been a decent rule of thumb, but since then BMW has also released Grand Coupe versions of the of the 4 and 6 series that have four doors! Go figure.
Anyway, the 2 series that used to be the 1 series is a darn fine vehicle. I was lucky enough to have it for a week during which I celebrated my birthday, and that naturally meant a road trip - albeit a short, day trip. So my best friend and I slid our four cheeks into the front seats - there's a rear seat but if you put up the folding wind blocker you lose any of its functionality other than as a luggage bench - and sallied forth toward the mountains. And what better environment could there be for an ultimate driving machine?
You'll want to use that wind blocker when the roof is down. Not only does it give you an excuse to leave two people at home, but it also means you don't have to suffer the howling banshees that blow around you and your hairdo won't end the trip looking as if you've been in a wind tunnel. The blocker stores in the trunk (which is surprisingly generous considering that the drop top has to go somewhere when it's dropped) and it's easy to fold out and attach.
The Cabriolet roof is child's play to open and close, and you can do it while moving slowly - which came in very handy when I was putting it down at a traffic light that, Murphy's Law being what it is, changed to green about halfway through the process. I'm not a convertible buff, but they can sure be great on a lovely evening or during Alberta's legendary winter Chinooks. Alas, the sun was beating down relentlessly during my week with the 228i xDrive (yep, BMW Canada's sample even had all wheel drive) and this encouraged me to drive with the roof up, in my best "weather wuss" mode. You lose quite a bit of visibility this way, obviously, but the BMW is actually pretty good in that department anyway. And when you do open the roof, the world feels just right, as if it's your oyster.
BMW's sample 228i xDrive Cabriolet listed its base price at $45,200, but of course it also came with a bunch of options - the $2000 M Sport Line (which includes 18 inch M Light Alloy Ferric Grey double-spoke wheels with performance tires and lovely sport seats), the $3695 Premium Package Enhanced (includes a heated steering wheel, rear view camera, auto dimming mirrors etc.), the $1200 performance package (adaptive M suspension and variable sport steering), the M Track package ($1200, including M Sport brakes), $2400 worth of leather seating inside and metallic paint outside, and the $500 ConnectedDrive Services (includes Advanced Real Time Traffic Information, Concierge services, BMW Apps and extended smartphone connectivity).
All that stuff brought the price up to $56,190, not including the usual destination charges and other kilos of flesh. That's a good chunk of change, but if you can stand living with a BMW it'll give you a lot of pure driving enjoyment.
Ah, but BMW is still BMW and that means you have to suffer for their art. For instance, the review car had keyless entry and push button start/stop, but not proximity sensing for the door locks. So you have to take the fob out of your pocket, press the button to unlock the door, then put the fob back in your pocket and start the car with its push button. And when you leave, you have to take it out of your pocket to lock the car again. That's just annoying.
So is the fact that you have to pull the inside door handles twice to get out of the car - once to unlock the door and once to open it. You can unlock the doors from the central button as well, but that still adds a step. And to shut off the engine you have to press the button twice - while making sure your foot isn't on the brake pedal - before the thing will shut down.
The iDrive interface - a cursor control knob thingy that works with the LCD to let you access the audio system and other features - is better than it was when first introduced, but it's still weird and hard to figure out. A trip through the owner's manual will undoubtedly help, but why can't they just make the darn thing straightforward?
Things like this mean that BMW's leave a sour taste in my mouth, which is a shame because I adore driving them - and obviously this 228i xDrive Cabriolet is no exception. Even with only a four banger under the hood, it's a remarkable driving experience - and with hardly any turbo lag to worry about, and the handling and overall driving experience is sublime.
If only they could get the other things right.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
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