2015 BMW 228i xDrive Coupe:
Price: $38,600 as tested ($33,900 base price)
Marketer's pitch: "Meet the road rebel."
Conventional wisdom: Didn't you used to be the Ultimate Driving Machine?
Reality: Think of the 2 Series as a high-maintenance partner. She or he may be difficult to get to know and have expensive tastes, but sometimes it's all worth it in the end.
First impressions: I make a point of not learning too much about specific models before I drive them. I try to avoid reading reviews beforehand, and approach a car as someone who landed at an airport and rented one.
In its second year on the market, the 228i failed the intuition test, miserably.
I wanted to hear the traffic report on AM radio, and all I could seem to get were four preset stations. Then I wanted to raise the seat slightly, and the (nonpower-operated) lever was doing exactly zilch. By the time I left for work five minutes late, I was practically shouting at the car. I got the radio to find my stations by . . . simply pressing the joystick button, when the stereo would go into scan mode. Press it again at your favorite station, and it stops.
It took me until the next trip to think, "Let's try pulling that lever before I sit down." Voilà! The seat neatly rose up before me.
First impressions do not always last.
Up to speed: I quickly forgot my crankiness because, by golly, I was driving a BMW, and it sure was fun and fast. And the 2.0-liter TwinPower turbo engine and 8-speed shiftable automatic rocketed me to speed in a hurry.
But, wait, I thought. Am I really having all that much fun? So I clicked over to sport mode, and in less than a second the 228i flexed like the athlete it was, and we were off. I think it even left swirling cartoon lines behind me.
In the snow: I thought a sporty coupe like the 228i would be garage-kept for the continuous snowfall of February into March, but then I discovered xDrive, just added to the model for 2015.
Simply switch the button into SportPlus mode, and the traction control is set to "tank." I made it through snowstorms, sleet storms, and wintry-mix storms. The only time the wheels slipped and the traction light shone was on an icy patch when I floored it, simply to see if I could make it happen.
On the road: On dry road, handling is as awesome as you'd expect from a BMW. This is the company that made the three-row X5 feel like a sports car. The $2,200 Track Handling Package added adaptive suspension and variable sport steering, and here's where it paid off.
Shifty: The electronic shift control looked like the Prius shifter but still had plenty of feedback. Shifts were a bit abrupt in the Sport modes.
Friends and stuff: The two-plus-two coupe configuration hearkens back to an earlier era, as do the rear seats. But the similarities end there. The 2 Series does a fair job with legs and knees, although heads are a little snug. And there's something especially cozy about a backseat without doors.
The Germans were the last to arrive at the American cupholder party, and their attention to our hydration and doodad requirements still lags. The console was too small for CDs; no other trays held cellphones, key fobs, or anything else.
Inside: Nicely appointed, heavy on the Bavarian theme. Black dashboard and tan leather are accented in brushed aluminum, though the aluminum costs $500.
Play some tunes: The sound from the stereo is excellent. The joystick-operated system takes getting used to, as noted. It's hard to believe a $38,000 car does not come with navigation or Sirius XM, and that heated seats ($500) are extra.
Night shift: The headlamps don't project quite as far as I'd like. The map lights provide clear illumination inside without interfering with the driver's view.
Fuel economy: I averaged about 23 m.p.g. in snow and ice, punctuated by bursts of "Yeehaw!" as I tested the acceleration.
Where it's built: Leipzig, Germany
How it's built: Consumer Reports has no reliability data. But the X1 crossover is assembled in the same factory and gets an average rating.
In the end: Go buy it; it's worth it. Cash in the bonds, close out the kids' college funds, turn down the heat. But wait, a Mazda3 is two-thirds the price? Just tell yourself you're getting a Mazda and a Subaru, all in one.