The 2023 BMW 230i is the base model of the 2 Series lineup in the U.S. It stands below the all-paw M240i xDrive and the bonkers M2, both cars with serious performance credentials. You could be forgiven, then, for thinking the 230i is unworthy next to its siblings. Drive one, though, and you’ll realize that’s anything but the case.
The reality is, there are plenty of customers that are looking to buy cars that aren’t fodder for the covers of magazines. These customers still desire performance and luxury but simply don’t have the wallets or the interest in the shouty look-at-me models that enthusiasts obsess over. BMW has always built its lineups to serve these customers as well as any other, and the 230i is a great example of that ethos.
Of course, the challenge of such a model is to justify its existence against both a crowded market and its capable siblings. As I found out, the 230i does this perfectly well. It’s the sweet spot model that’s an absolute delight to use as your only car, assuming you’re hip and cool enough to join the coupe set.
2023 BMW 230i Specs
- Base price (as tested): $39,195 ($44,645)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbo inline-four | 8-speed automatic | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 254 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1,550 to 4,400 rpm
- Seating capacity: 4
- Curb weight: 3,362 pounds
- Cargo volume: 13.7 cubic feet
- 0-60 mph: 5.8 seconds
- Top speed: 155 mph
- EPA fuel economy: 26 mpg city | 35 highway | 29 combined
- Quick take: Both an adequate daily and a joyous companion on a twisty mountain road.
- Score: 9/10
The 2 Series was spawned almost a decade ago, back in 2014. Now in its second generation, the 2 Series has benefited from a clear focus. It’s not a model for everyone. It’s a model for people who want a fun coupe without the usual compromises for children, friends, or associated hangers-on.
Externally, the 230i draws from BMW’s current design language, without going ham on the large nostrils that have dominated recent models like the 4 Series. It’s restrained while still looking athletic, the kind of elegant sporting beauty that made the world fall in love with the E30. Those seeking a more boy-racer aesthetic won’t find it here; that’s reserved for the lairy M2, of course. Most will be specced out in various shades of black and grey, but BMW does offer one particularly compelling color option: the rich purple known as Thundernight Metallic.
Inside, the cabin is clean, simple, and well laid out. It's not striking, by any means. It’s a purposeful Teutonic interior that puts everything you need at your fingertips. There are buttons for all the major features, and a proper volume knob, too. BMW’s excellent dial control for the infotainment system means there’s no need to lean over and fuss with the touchscreen, which is perhaps the biggest win of all. The materials are of the quality you’d expect in a BMW, with all touch surfaces providing a suitably premium feel.
Under the hood sits a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 254 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The 220i that slots underneath this car in other markets uses a significantly less powerful version of this same engine, while the hotter M240i and M2 both use brawnier straight-sixes.
Driving the BMW 230i
The turbo 2.0-liter is beautifully smooth and refined around town paired with the eight-speed auto. Meanwhile, it’s got just enough pull to put a smile on your face during a whip through the canyons. It’s not a roaring, snorting racehorse raring to go at all times. It’s a more humble engine that happens to have a bit more in reserve on the occasion that you decide to lean into the pedal and go for it. For enthusiasts who only have one car, and want something dailyable that is nonetheless fun on a spirited drive, it’s the perfect combination. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t have the exhaust note, throttle response, or rev ceiling to really excite when you give it some hot beans.
The great thing about the 230i is that it’s just a coupe. No less, no more. Get in, and you’re not thinking about the storage space in the boot or the seats in the back. No, this is a sports car. The steering wheel, the nicely-bolstered seats, and the view out the front window all tell you the same thing. This car is meant to take you and maybe one other person somewhere cool, and it’s supposed to be a right laugh to drive along the way. Start it up, listen to the deep exhaust note, and aim it at the start of a mountain road. “This is gonna be a good day," you'll think to yourself.
The ride is taught and on the stiffer side, but stops short of being an uncomfortable boy racer. BMW likes to give its cars a firm, direct feel and the 230i is no exception. The steering is nicely direct, and the handling inspires confidence. You’re never left unsure of how much lock you need for any given situation. It’s a joy to point the front end into a tight corner and wind on the power on the way out. It doesn't dart like a race car, but it's more than happy to grip up and swerve at the driver's request. Fundamentally, it’s a supple, well-balanced rear-wheel-drive platform from a company that long ago mastered the format.
The benefit of the 230i is that it doesn’t make you suffer when you get back to reality and your daily life. The exhaust is a perfectly reasonable volume, it’s easy to park, and it’s not so low that it scrapes over speed bumps or driveways. For those unburdened by regular school runs, there are two front seats and enough room for luggage in the trunk. If you really need to drive a couple of friends around, you can always squeeze them in the back. Ideally, you’ll hang out with shorter, smaller people from now on though.
The Highs and Lows
It’s no secret that BMW can make a car that does both daily duties and spirited driving well. What’s amazing is just how special it feels to get in a real coupe in a world dominated by ho-hum SUVs. Sitting in the seat reminds you of what it means to be an enthusiast, and how cars in this format used to be so much more mainstream. At the same time, BMW should be commended for the sheer usability of the 230i’s interfaces. The dial control makes using the infotainment system a dream compared to most brands’ touch-only interfaces. Oh, and being able to tap a single button to match the cruise control to the current speed limit? Bellissimo. Someone buy that engineer a cheesecake.
Perhaps the only regret is that the 230i doesn’t offer just a bit more excitement when you’re giving it some. It could really use a better exhaust note; it simply doesn’t bark, rise, or bite like the brand’s glorious nat-atmo sixes of the ‘80s and ‘90s. It feels like an aftermarket exhaust would be a really fun upgrade. The throttle response and transmission could also be tuned to put you more on a ragged edge. But really, if you want those thrills, there’s a simple solution. Save up for the M240i xDrive or M2, and you’ll likely not be disappointed.
BMW 230i Features, Options, and Competition
Options-wise, the list is limited, but it’s worth popping for your favorite exterior color (purple, as we discussed), and the 19-inch wheels if you like the design better than the stock 18s. Make sure you get the moonroof, too. The extra light really opens up the interior. The model can be had with all-wheel drive in the U.S. market, but it’s really only a game-changer if you’re often driving in slippery conditions.
The 230i ends up in a weird position in the broader market, though. At around $40,000, its main rivals on price are the Nissan Z and the four-cylinder Toyota Supra, with a nod to the pricier Lexus RC. However, they don’t really serve the same market. The BMW is a refined luxury vehicle with adequate power for a little fun. By contrast, the Nissan Z delivers a mighty 400 hp in a shiny candy wrapper. The four-cylinder Supra may have similar power, but again, trades the BMW’s dignity for youthful flair.
The choice is pretty straightforward between the three. If you want to stunt on your fellow real-estate agents or graduate lawyers, get the BMW or the Lexus. If you want to rip burnouts, hit the track, or vape at a parking lot car meet, get the Nissan Z, ideally in yellow.
For this author’s money, the 230i deserves the nice 19-inch wheels at an extra cost (in the U.S.) of around $600. The moonroof delete should absolutely be avoided, too, as the extra glass really makes a difference. Beyond that, I’d spring for the premium Thundernight Metallic paint for a further $650, along with the Cognac interior leather.
The 230i shapes up well in the fuel-efficiency stakes. It outperforms the four-cylinder Toyota Supra and Lexus RC 300 by a few mpg each. It trounces the Nissan Z, too, as that car’s twin-turbo V6 drinks mightily to make big power. Realistically, if you’re spending over $40,000 on a new coupe, you’re probably not too concerned about a few percentage points of fuel economy, but it’s worth remembering that the BMW will cost you less at the pump over time. And it’ll look great doing it, too.
Value and Verdict
The 230i hits its brief well. It’s a luxury suit that its owner can wear to project an image of wealth, and as a bonus, it’s got a little bit of performance, too. Meanwhile, it remains affordable. Few cars will give you the style and cache of a 230i for under $50,000. BMW’s own 4 Series is perhaps the biggest threat in that regard, but its massive nostrils mean the 2 Series is the more elegant choice.
Overall, the 230i is a car that feels richly satisfying to drive. If you need to have the highest-numbered BMW in the parking lot, a 2 Series will obviously never be for you. But if you want a nifty coupe to get you through the working week and the canyons alike, look no further. You’ll cherish the charms of the 2023 BMW 230i.
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