by Frank A. Aukofer

With automobiles, especially an expensive sport coupe like the 2018 BMW 230i xDrive, it’s all about the return on investment.

It is the same in business as well, but there the focus is on profits measured in dollars. With cars, it’s about the tangibles and intangibles they deliver.

Buy a minivan and you get practicality for family vacations. Buy a BMW 230i xDrive and practicality flies out the window. The return on that investment comes in driving enjoyment, preferably with two people on board.

This compact two-door coupe, though it delivers strong performance, capable handling and decent fuel economy, has a cramped back seat. And because the front seatbacks move minimally forward, it requires athletic ability to access.

Offsetting that is a large trunk of almost 14 feet that can swallow a couple’s luggage for a week. If the trip is longer or you have a lot of stuff, the rear seatbacks fold to expand the cargo-carrying capability to 53 cubic feet.

Arguably, the 230i xDrive, which is the lowest-price sedan in the BMW lineup, is the lineage successor to the 1967 BMW1600-2, which had a bigger and more accommodating back seat. Car and Driver Magazine  trumpeted it as “the World’s Best $2,500 Car.” It was a boxy two-door with a cavernous trunk that in this writer’s family was big enough to conceal all of Santa Claus’s gifts for four children.

It had an 84-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that drove the rear wheels through a four-speed manual gearbox. Its independent suspension system and rack-and-pinion steering delivered great handling and the capability to hammer steadily over railroad tracks at 100 mph, all while delivering fuel economy in the mid-20s.

P90258121Contrast the 1600-2 (later joined by the more powerful 2002) with the tested 2018 230i xDrive and you see a great deal of price creep. The writer’s 1600-2, with options, had a $2,850 price tag, which has inflated over the years to $20,920 in 2017. The 2018 230i—the lowest-priced sedan in BMW’s expensive lineup—starts at $34,145, much of the difference because of modern emissions, safety and convenience requirements.

The tested xDrive, which is BMW-speak for all-wheel drive, started at $37,795. With $12,520 in options, it ended up with a $50,315 price tag.

Whether that investment delivers a substantial return depends on the individual owner’s delight and involvement, and whether he or she concludes that it merits the “ultimate driving machine” label. But the 230i xDrive is a sweet piece of machinery.

Its tidy size—three inches shy of 15 feet long—and quick steering makes for confident moves in city and freeway traffic. Need to make a quick lane change or dodge a clueless and careless driver intruding into your lane? A flick of steering and tap on the throttle and the troubles are gone.

Open highway cruising is relaxing. A supple ride, supportive sport seats with good seatback bolstering and a quiet interior means you can put on many miles without fatigue.

The engine is a 248-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 258 pound-feet of torque, or twisting force. Power gets to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel. For traditionalists, the 230i xDrive can be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Though the engine slurps premium gasoline, city/highway/combined fuel consumption with the automatic works out to 24/33/27 mpg.

The test car was well equipped with optional leather upholstery (leatherette is standard), navigation system, rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, motorized glass sunroof, power front seats with memory settings, SXM satellite radio, wireless smart phone charging, WiFi hot spot and Apple CarPlay. A $2,300 track handling package included an adaptive suspension system, sport brakes and variable steering.

Still, there were shortcomings. On the automatic settings, the air conditioning could not keep up on a hot day. Fortunately, BMW included a knob that delivered a manual maximum air conditioning blast. However, with a capable system it should not be needed.

In addition, the infotainment system is needlessly complicated, sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the side, and there was no blind spot warning, though it is not needed if the outside mirrors are properly adjusted.

For those drivers who value a car for visceral entertainment as opposed to pedestrian competence, the 230i xDrive returns a bonus on the investment.

P90258118Specifications

  • Model: 2018 BMW 230i xDrive two-door coupe.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 248 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 90/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,483 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/33/27 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $37,795.
  • Price as tested: $50,315.

Disclaimer: This test drive was based on a loan of the vehicle from the manufacturer. It was driven by the author in circumstances similar to everyday driving by consumers.

Photos (c) BMW.