Many automotive enthusiasts these days have decried that "BMW has lost their way." In many ways, they have a point. A not insignificant number of their models these days are luxury vehicles that handle well, but they seem to lack that special stuff that made the company so legendary in times past. Some of their cars only really exist to sell BMWs to people that normally couldn't afford a BMW. It's sad, but BMW isn't doing much to prove the enthusiasts wrong.

Except for the 2-Series. In fact, the 2018 BMW 2-Series may be the automaker's most interesting and compelling model currently on sale, outside of some of the hardcore M models. The diminutive size of the 2-Series allows for handling that harks back to some of the best BMWs of yesteryear, and all trims are quick, and you can even get a convertible version. Even the base model has the special stuff, making the 2-Series deserving of the moniker "the Ultimate Driving Machine."

Best Value

The M240i is a great car with a fantastic engine, but there's plenty to be had with the base 230i model. Unlike many other basic BMWs, the 230i will make you feel like you've spent your money well, and it's plenty fast. We'd stick with the coupe roof, rear-wheel drive, and a manual transmission because the 2-Series is actually offered with one.

We think the Sport Line Design is better looking than the chrome of the Luxury Design, and it's much cheaper than the mostly aesthetic M-Sport Package, and the M-Sport's non-aesthetic additions are available to the Sport Line through the $1,300 Convenience Tier, so we'll just pick that. We'll stick with the leatherette to save some coin, and spend that money instead on the Track Handling Package to highlight the BMW performance of which the car is capable. For standalone options, we'd be sure to select the heated front seats.

  • Model: 2018 BMW 230i Coupe
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
  • Output: 248 hp / 258 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 24 City / 35 Hwy
  • Options: Sport Line Design ($0), Convenience Tier ($2,200, a garage door opener, ambient lighting, auto-dimming mirrors, satellite radio, a moonroof, keyless entry, lumbar support), Track Handling Package ($2,300, Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, M Sport Brakes, sport steering, adaptive suspension), heated front seats ($500).
  • Base Price: $35,945 (including a $995 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $40,945

Performance

BMW 2-Series

The 2-Series is available in two trims, and both are equipped with great running gear. The 230i gets a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo that spits out 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Despite being the base option, the turbo manages to be full of life with great power delivery throughout the rev range, allowing the 230i to hit 60 mph in less than six seconds. The M240i comes with a classic BMW 3.0-liter straight six with a turbocharger that can generate a hefty 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, which is quite a bit for a car as small as the 2-Series, to say the least. This powerplant allows the M240i to sprint to 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds, which is properly fast.

The 2-Series is available in rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive saving you a couple tenths of a second off of the zero-to-60 time over the rear-wheel-drive models while also providing some extra grip in the corners. Unfortunately, all-wheel drive is only available with the eight-speed automatic transmission, as the six-speed manuals only come on the rear-drive coupes. The eight-speed auto isn't a bad transmission by any stretch of the imagination, but we do love the fact that BMW is still offering this car with a stick when the rest of the world is quickly moving away from them. The M240i comes standard with an adaptive suspension, upgraded brakes, and sport steering, but you can add those to the 230i by selecting the Track Package.

Dynamically, the 2-Series is sublime. It pivots around the driver accurately and predictably, and it feels at home on the racetrack. Cars keep getting bigger and bigger, but the 2-Series smaller stature makes it feel nimble and playful. Pair the manual transmission with rear-wheel drive and the result is a car that feels alive.

Style

The BMW 2-Series certainly looks like a BMW. According to the designers, the 2-Series is meant to convey the style of its spiritual successor: the 2002 coupe from the 1970s. This can be seen in the relatively upright roof and low window line, which allows for a nice view outside of the vehicle. Overall, though, it's a small BMW that looks exactly like a small BMW. Inside, the 2-Series looks a little plain, but the cheaper materials are well hidden with the exception of the leatherette, as it's not very convincing. Leather is available as an upgrade provided you have the money.

The rear seat is almost vestigial at this point, but if you insist on using it, the convertible with the top down would be much less claustrophobic for anyone stuck back there. The front seats are supportive and comfortable, although you don't get lumbar support without paying extra. The option list for the 2-Series isn't nearly as expansive as the rest of the BMW lineup, but they still manage to goad you into paying a bit more. Apple Car Play, which is a standard feature on many economy cars that cost half as much, will set you back an extra $300.

The Best and Worst Things

The 2-Series' greatest asset is the combination of the car's driving dynamics and available engines. It'll put a smile on your face as you find the twisty roads, and it encourages you to drive harder. It's an old-school feel that's missing in many cars these days, and we're delighted to find it in the 2-Series.

The biggest downside is that the options are expensive and can inflate the price quickly. You can easily spend $10,000 on various options and packages to make it feel like a luxury car. This is the BMW way, but it still makes us feel like they're nickel-and-diming us.

Right For? Wrong For?

BMW 2-Series

The BMW 2-Series is the perfect car for those who pine for BMWs of yore. The M240i in particular, with its 335-hp engine, compact size, and optional manual transmission draws many parallels to the legendary E46 M3 from the early 2000s. If you're a fan of the blue and white propeller, but you're not excited by the company's recent focus on electric cars and herds of SUVs, you owe it to yourself to look into the 2-Series. It reminds us that BMW is still capable of building a fantastic driving machine.

However, having only two doors can get annoying sometimes. If you have to carry around more than one passenger at all, look at an Audi A3 or S3. Those cars are equally fast as the 230i and M240i, but also have an extra pair of doors in the back.

The Bottom Line

It's easy to be cynical about BMW these days, but the 2-Series is the BMW that lets us know they still have the ability to build a car that's full of life and fun to drive. While it may feel a bit cheap in some ways, the 230i and M240i are some of the most entertaining cars on the road today, with a feeling that reminds us of some of BMWs greatest hits over the years. If you only need space for one or two, it's hard to go wrong with a 2018 BMW 2-Series.