Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 27, 2023
Base, base, BMW, baby. The new 230i xDrive is the most inexpensive two-door BMW you can currently buy at $47,950. Loaded up with a punchy 255 hp turbo-four engine, a standard 8-speed automatic, and a rear-biased all-wheel drive system, it really is one of the best bang-for-buck combos under $50,000 if driver engagement and cabin quality are of paramount importance. Loaded up with winter tires and it even makes a compelling case as a winter beater.
Okay, so it’s almost base. Our 230i xDrive test car does come with a few options like the M Sport Package ($2,000) which equips it with a bolder aero kit with black exterior elements, a stiffer M Sport suspension, variable sport steering and a leather steering wheel. Well worth it in our opinion. And there’s also the Premium Enhanced Package ($5,400) that adds a sunroof, heated steering wheel, head-up display, keyless entry, ambient lighting, and a Harmon Kardon audio system - all added fluff and distractions to the drive if you ask us. That swells the price tag up to $57,795. Stick to the essentials, skip the creature comforts, just get the M Sport Package, and you’re out the door at $50,000 before taxes, about the same as a Toyota GR Corolla, Honda Civic Type R, or Volkswagen Golf R.
Within a few minutes behind the wheel, we are already smitten with the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. On paper, BMW says it produces 255 hp and 295 lb-ft, but it feels like more low 300s. The way it delivers maximum thrust so early in the rev range is amplified by the 230i’s small footprint, punching way above its pay grade zipping from 0-100 km/h in 5.6 seconds, and the journey there is exhilarating and flawless. It doesn’t feel too far off from the last 2014 BMW M235i we drove. Yes, the new M240i extracts even more out of the 2 Series platform with 382 horsepower and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.3 seconds, but when you consider that this is just the entry-level 2 Series, the amount of accessible and exploitable performance is astonishing.
The fixed damper and spring setup with the M Sport Suspension means the ride is stiff and not comfort-oriented in any way. It’s not Honda Civic Type R levels of bumpiness, nor is it as graceful and polished as the M240i with its adaptive sport suspension, and you will feel every road imperfection as the tires oscillate. But it also means the ride is very compliant and connected to the road, exhibiting little body roll and lean, letting you carry more speed through corners.
While the ride is non-adjustable, the steering, throttle sensitivity, and gearbox mapping can be tinkered with. No matter the setting though, the steering remains numb and devoid of feel. It is nicely tuned for accurate wheel placement so you can place the front wheels exactly where you want them, but it’s difficult to feel connected when there isn’t a whole lot of grip or contact patch communication bristling through your fingertips. The driving position is spot on, though I would have preferred a slightly lower seat with a steering column that can telescope more toward the driver. On the flip side, cabin ergonomics are sound despite another new and awkward BMW gear shifter, and outward visibility is excellent from all sides, aided by a rearview camera and a blind spot monitoring system.
Disable traction control and the 230i xDrive loves to swing its tail out with egregious use of the go-fast pedal - drive it like a rear-wheel drive coupe and it becomes one of BMW’s purest and unfiltered expressions of driving theatre in its modern lineup of sports cars. Ultimate Driving Machine? This is damn close, and we found it more engaging and rewarding to drive than the comparatively priced Mercedes-Benz CLA 35, Nissan Z, Ford Mustang GT, Audi TT, and MINI John Cooper Works. That’s some list, but it is praise that’s well deserved.
That said, if having to choose between the 230i and the raucously hyped-up Toyota GR Corolla, I’d be hard-pressed to choose the BMW if raw performance was the goal. The Toyota is so much more focused and it even comes with a six-speed manual. Be that as it may, the 230i is the better daily driver that doesn’t sacrifice interior comfort or tech for the sake of shaving a tenth off a lap time. It’s also nice to see a full leather steering wheel - including the airbag cover - at this price point. Those familiar with the BMW and MINI infotainment system will appreciate the vibrant displays and ease of use and interaction with both touch and rotary dial inputs
The 2023 BMW 230i xDrive makes for a feasible winter car too while your RWD garage queen hibernates. Of note, the 230i normally comes with 18-inch wheels and optional 19s, but our test vehicle wore skinnier 17-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli Sottozero 3 rubber, so the ride quality we experienced might vary slightly.
As our familiarity with the 230i grew, it became increasingly difficult to find reasons and justifications to penny up for the more powerful M240i xDrive. The 230i does everything so well at a usable and approachable, yet exciting pace. It’s the sports coupe for both casual and hardcore enthusiasts, marrying a passionate engine and a composed ride into one stellar base package.
Model: 2023 BMW 230i xDrive
Paint Type: Melbourne Red Metallic
Base Price: $47,950
Price as Tested: $57,795
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,537 / 1,838 / 1,390
Curb weight (kg): 1,620
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 255 hp
Torque: 295 lb-ft
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.0
Tires: Pirelli Sottozero 3; 225/50R17