BMWs are one of the most popular cars at track events and most people tend to select the M versions simply because they are the best for the hard-core drivers. However, the current M3 and M4 cars have been going up in price and most are in the $70,000-80,000 range. If you are willing to sacrifice some performance, the 430i may be a great alternative for you at a base price around $44,000.

We selected a model with the important pieces that you would want on a track-worthy car. The right options are important, so you need to pay attention. Your first decision would be to choose between the 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo 430i or the 3.0-liter turbo six cylinder 440i. The 440i does 0-60 in 4.8 seconds while the 430i does it in 5.5 seconds. We chose the four-cylinder to save money, with the added benefit of less weight on the front axle for improved handling. We also went with the six-speed manual transmission and the M Sport Package ($3,300), which includes 18-inch wheels, adaptive M suspension, sport seats, M steering wheel, aerodynamic kit, and some sportier trim pieces.

As soon as you get in, you notice the sport seats really make a difference. They have great adjustments that should fit everyone and they have the perfect balance of firmness. They are one of the best seats in any car at any price. The M steering wheel is thick and feels great in your hands as well.

This is no M4, but the 430i is a fun vehicle that is far more usable. There is enough horsepower to easily get in trouble, yet you are still getting 33 mpg on the freeway like your old Honda Accord. Romp on it from a standstill and take a look at your mirror, and you will see a bunch of cars get smaller. Just because this is a base engine does not mean it is slow. Put it in Eco mode for better fuel economy or put it in Sport+ mode and have blast with crisper engine response.

Once you get underway, we found that the steering is not as communicative as we like. It feels overly boosted at low speeds and overly hard when driving hard. But the variable ratio steering is quick and precise and does offer a tight turning radius of 37.1 feet. The suspension is perfect for a car that sees double duty. It is nimble and playful on a racetrack with minimal understeer, yet can be super comfortable on the ride home. Our car’s 225-45-18 Bridgestone S001 summer performance front tires and 255-40-18 rear tires are a huge part of the reason why the 430i sticks so well.

The four-cylinder engine produces 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, but the power does not come on until at least 4,000 rpm, so you do have to rev the engine to extract maximum performance. It is smooth and quiet and will happily live in the upper rpm range. The 430i is governed for a top speed of 130 mph, but with the right options it can hit 155 mph.

If the fastest lap time is your goal, then you can spend more money and go faster. But going faster does not always mean more fun. With its huge weight advantage, the balanced and nimble 430i actually can be more fun — and paying less is always a plus.

Specifications

Engine: GTDI 2.0-liter DOHC Inline Four
Horsepower: 248 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 258 @ 1,400 to 4,800 rpm
Front suspension: Double-pivot strut
Rear suspension: Multi-link independent
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Axle ratio: 3.90:1 limited slip
Curb Weight: 3,541 lbs.
Base MSRP: $44,800
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