BMW's mid-spec sporty coupé might be easy to overlook on paper due to its four-pot engine and lack of an M badge, but it manages to find a sweet spot that shows BMW at its best.

It’s safe to say there’s been a wind of change through Bavaria in recent years as BMW’s identity has pivoted, with manual gearboxes, beautifully simple designs, and a dedication to rear-wheel drive making way for electrification, bold bumpers, and front-wheel drive platforms. It’s a necessary change, but one that has left some polarised.

If you’re one of those people left scratching your head at the change, fret not because there are still some cars in the company’s arsenal that hit on all the marks you might be after. Cars such as this – the 2023 BMW 230i M Sport Coupé, a car that combines all the right ingredients into a beautiful home-cooked meal rather than an edible deconstructivist artwork.

Right off the bat, it wears the sort of classic styling we’ve come to expect from a BMW coupe, its slight boxiness and overall size and proportions giving off a healthy a hint of E30 3 Series. Small but low and wide with a long bonnet and slightly set-back cabin, it looks every bit a proper BMW sports car, with a lack of quad headlights the only big departure in terms of design language.

As you’d also expect from a BMW coupé, it packs a somewhat Tardis-like interior that’s roomy enough to bely the 2 Series’ relatively petite exterior. There’s what feels like all the room in the world to get comfortable in the leather-clad and suede-centred bucket seats that feature up front, with more seat and steering wheel adjustment on offer than I require to comfortably fit my 6’2″ frame behind the wheel.

Although the rear seats are understandably on the smaller side, there’s still a surprising amount of legroom on offer so it’s not like in some coupés where the front and rear seat bases will be touching, rendering the latter useless. There’s also no cheapening of materials back there like you’d find from some brands, while there’s even a unique climate control zone for the rear, showing that BMW has really thought the design of the 230i through from top to bottom.

While the 230i misses out on the latest BMW infotainment tech, the outgoing iDrive 7 system it uses still holds up incredibly well with clear and quick graphics, touchscreen capability as well as the classic control dial on the transmission tunnel, and integrated sat nav and wireless Apple CarPlay. My tester only featured the standard audio system rather than an upgraded brand-name one, but the quality of these standard speakers is honestly pretty good.

Naturally, the array of interior materials is also impressive with aforementioned leather and suede seat upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that’s no longer too girthy as some BMW tillers have been in recent years, aluminium trim inserts, and an array of coloured ambient lighting projections and panels that all work together to give this cabin a real air of quality even without using the absolute cream of the crop interior finishes BMW offers in more expensive models.

Although the basic BMW 230i comes priced from $70,900 before on-road costs, my tester came fitted with a few options packages including the titular M Sport Package which adds upgraded brakes, bucket seats, and black exterior trim; the Enhancement Package which includes the 19-inch alloy wheels, Brooklyn Grey metallic paint, and glass sunroof; and the Comfort Package which adds heated seats, a heated steering wheel, and powered lumbar support for the front seats. All told, this car sat at $79,000 on the dot with these options factored in, and they’re all options I’d certainly be adding if I was specifying my own – especially as items such as heated seats would be nice to have as standard.

Despite being a small car, there’s still a surprising amount of practicality on offer from the 230i as it has a rather sizeable 390-litre boot, along with big door pockets that will fit all but the largest water flasks and a few other handy storage cubbies. The one located in front of the shifter also contains a wireless phone charger and smaller cupholders sized ideally for a take-away coffee, so this is certainly a car you could use every day if rear seat access isn’t a regular issue.

READ MORE: Subaru’s rear-wheel drive sports car is now better in every regard, although there’s still some room for improvement

Powering the 230i is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 190kW and an impressive 400Nm, with it paired to a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission and, of course, rear-wheel drive. Able to scoot from 0-100km/h in just 5.8 seconds, putting it right on pace with hot hatches, the numbers all make it stand out beyond its mid-spec position in the range.

A four-pot may not sound too thrilling to some in a sports car, but this engine is genuinely entertaining. With the rush of low-down torque it delivers, it genuinely throws you into the back of the seat, and it delivers some entertaining turbo flutters whenever you back off the throttle, but the smoothness of its power delivery throughout the rest of the rev range and the silkiness and instantaneousness of its eight-speed auto serve as reminders that this is still a car that can still be utterly civilised when required.

With a short but wide footprint, the 230i handles as confidently as you’d perhaps expect. With firm but direct steering and grippy Pirelli P Zero tyres, it holds its line confidently and allows you to link corners together with razor precision, its width shrinking around you but always offering a feeling of absolute stability. The smaller engine up front also gives it impressive 51:49 weight distribution which only further aids handling.

However, as with its drivetrain, there’s a second and more leery side to the 230i’s handling package. With this much torque sent rearwards through such a short wheelbase, it’s incredibly easy to engage the 2 Series in a perfectly-timed powerslide – the sort of tail out action that elicits a giggle and a grin but is unlikely to see you end up through a hedge. Mind you, it’ll only do so when asked, rather than struggling to ever find traction like an 86.

The ride is typically BMW, so as to say that it’s a little on the firmer side on our potholed and tree root laden Australian roads, but never does it feel uncomfortable – especially by sports car standards. It’s also quite quiet inside and its exhaust only gets particularly vocal when you flick it into Sport mode.

What surprised me most about it, though, was how economical it is. Despite punching above its weight in terms of performance, this 2.0-litre beats out a good few economy cars for fuel efficiency. BMW claims a mere 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle, but even after 553km of foot to the floor driving, the needle only sat at 7.7L/100km. Irrespectively, BMW’s low claimed figure means it’s Luxury Car Tax exempt due to a fuel efficiency clause added last year.

As with all BMW models, the 230i is now covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, something the company only introduced in late 2022, making it the last top 20 brand to offer five-year coverage in Australia. BMW also offers pre-paid servicing packages, with all 2 Series variants charging the lowest $2050 rate for five years/80,000km of basic servicing.

It’ll be easy to overlook the 230i in favour of the more powerful M2 or the all-wheel drive M240i, which there’s no denying are incredible offerings, but with both costing six-digit price tags once on-road costs are factored in, the more budget-friendly option the 230i presents isn’t one to turn your nose up at.

With precise handling, the ability to get sideways almost on command, impressive fuel economy, plenty of standard features, and a relatively smart price tag, this might just be the sweet spot in the 2 Series Coupé range. It’s refreshingly simple, and quite frankly, that’s when BMW is at its best.

2023 BMW 230i M Sport Coupé List Price: $70,900 | As Tested: $79,000
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Turbo four-pot has plenty of poke, handles with precision or can hang its tail out, impressive fuel economy, surprisingly roomy and practical despite its size
Cons: Some optional features should probably be standard, ride tends towards the firmer side, everyone will ask why you didn’t buy an M2

In a nutshell: The 2023 BMW 230i Coupé might be easy to overlook in favour of its six-cylinder siblings, but with a torquey four-pot, impressive rear-wheel drive handling, and a surprisingly smart base price tag, this could just be the sweet spot in the range.

Photography by Marcus Cardone.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by BMW Australia for six days with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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