Automobiles

[REVIEW] BMW M235i

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When it comes to coupes, 3 main things matter. Looks, value for money, and driving appeal.

But when it comes to ranking these 3 items in order of priority, arguably style and power come first.

However over the last few years, purists of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s vehicles have been lamenting the softening of the automaker’s vehicles.  The shift towards less sport but more comfort and technology has some long time fans of the brand up in arms, at least in the enthusiast forums on the interweb.

Admittedly some of the recent BMW offerings I’ve reviewed have lacked that razor-sharp handling and balance that many have come to expect from the Ultimate Driving Machines.

As far as the M235i is concerned though, BMW fans will be glad to know that the proverbial bathwater and baby can be thrown when it comes to those pre-conceived impressions.

BMW has listened, and taken action.

Looking back into the past, one can think even think of M235i as the modern day spiritual successor to the E36 M3. A car that many enthusiasts still regard as BMW engineering at its best.

M235 vs E36 M3 front three-quarter HDR resized 1

In fact dimensionally, the 2-series is quite close to the beloved E36 and E46 3-series coupes.

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BMW’s “M” designation now applies to performance versions of their standard road cars that have been fettled by the in-house tuners. The M235i represents the first M Performance BMW model to arrive on our shores as part of that effort.

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These “M Performance” cars are equipped with more power and improved handling. However they’re still one stop short of a true M car (expect an M2 to arrive in the future anyway).

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As such, the M235i is available with the M adaptive sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes with blue calipers, and sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer performance tires.

The Driving Experience

If it were a dog, the M235i would be an eager little terrier. It’s light on its feet and always wanting to entertain no matter what the occasion.

BMW M235i side HDR 1-1

Despite the electric power steering’s slight lack of feel, the well-calibrated levels of steering assist will delight. There is more road feel than its big brother 4-series with just the right amount of steering quickness at only 2.2 turns lock-to-lock.

The car responds to your inputs with almost instant turn-in response and even in hard cornering the body stays relatively level.

Thanks to an almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution, the M235i is deliciously balanced when canyon carving. One can truly have loads of fun transitioning from apex to apex on the twisty bits.

BMW M235i rear three-quarter HDR 1-3

The M adaptive suspension on my test car allowed for superb ride quality despite the firm suspension tuning. It was only on significantly broken pavement that the ride gets a bit jittery with quick up/down motions.

Powering the M235i is the familiar N55 3.0L turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine. This is one engine with plenty of torque and knows how to use it. In M235i duty, it has been uprated to 320 hp and 330 ft-lbs of torque.

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The car always feels eager to go, especially in Sport mode, with virtually zero turbo lag and gobs of torque almost anywhere in the rev range.

Accompanied by a throaty exhaust and BMW’s engine sound enhancement system, the car sounds sonorous especially in the cabin. The volume gets even louder when you select Sport or Sport Plus mode.  Fake or not, just as in a gentlemen’s club, things can still be highly entertaining.

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Transmission choices include a quick shifting ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddles, or as in my test vehicle, a slick six-speed manual transmission.

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Much like the BMW 435i M Sport, a progressive clutch with a surprisingly easy-to-find “bite” point means that rowing the gears manually was truly a delight. The throws are delightfully short and the gears just snick into place.

The Looks

Gone is the 1-series’ droopy boat-like character line connecting the wheel wells along the doors. The revised profile is both larger and more attractive, successfully borrowing styling cues from the 4-series.

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Shod with its staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sports, the M235i certainly looks the part . Compared with its 1-series predecessor, the 2-series is nearly three inches longer with more than an inch longer wheelbase.

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The greenhouse is still a bit more upright and awkward than it could be, but the result is more passenger cabin space in a relatively small car. The aggressive nose with separated kidney grills looks more handsome to my eyes than connected kidney grill + headlamp combination on the 3 and 4-series.

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The end result is a coupe that is unmistakably a BMW and even if it’s not perfectly gorgeous, will undoubtedly sell in droves to the audience that BMW is trying to woo into ownership.

Interior

As with other BMWs, the 2-series still offers all of the expected amenities associated with the luxury brand.

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You can also order your M235i with advanced active safety features such as lane-departure warning and a collision mitigation system. BMW’s automated parking assistant can even be specified as an option.

Like all modern BMWs, the M235i’s cabin is beautifully teutonic. In other words, well put together, free of squeaks and rattles, functional, but slightly boring.

The rear legroom is a bit skimpy, as expected in a small coupe, however in a pinch, I managed to get two 6’2” guys simultaneously sitting in the front passenger seat and the rear passenger-side seat. While the rear passenger wouldn’t have wanted to sit back there for more than an hour, it was more than adequate in a pinch.

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With the rear seats folded down, there is actually a decent amount of cargo carrying capacity. Need to take your new big screen TV home from the store? No problem, as long as it fits through the opening in the bulkhead.

The latest iteration of BMW’s iDrive information system is also present as expected.  It works well in layering a complex number of functions into a relatively logical interface.

There is a nice looking typeface, modern graphics, and really fast refresh rates when zooming in and out of the GPS navigation map. It’s certainly something that many other competitors can learn from.

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Nonetheless, due to the numerous personalization options and screens, it will take some getting used to for those who are less tech savvy.

It is too bad that buyers will have to opt for the expensive ConnectedDrive option package to get something as simple as Bluetooth streaming audio connectivity from their smartphones. In a day and age where even economy cars have this feature as standard equipment, it seems a bit of a money grab.

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Granted this package includes features such as BMW ConnectedDrive internet connectivity and advanced traffic routing. But if you don’t want these features you are out of luck if you still want to have Bluetooth streaming audio connectivity. Without the option, you are stuck to having to use the USB or auxiliary cable to connect your smartphone to the iDrive system.

xDrive all-weather traction for 2015

BMW recently announced that for the 2015 model year, the M235i will be available with the company’s popular xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive system.

While I expected xDrive to make its appearance on the 2-series, this is a rather significant update as it means that the M235i xDrive can truly be all-year-round vehicle for Canadian customers. In parts of Canadia (sic) with snowfall 4 to 6 months of the year, it is sure to greatly expand the customer base and desirability of the 2-series.

xDrive models of the 2-series, including the M235i xDrive, will solely be available with the excellent ZF 8-speed automatic transmission and not the 6 speed manual gearbox. xDrive is expected to add just over $2,100 to a similarly equipped RWD automatic M235i’s price

Wrap-up

Weighing anywhere from 75 to 170 lbs lighter than a comparable 4-series coupe, the toy-sized M235i truly delivers a shedload of driving charm.

At the start of this review, I referred to the M235i as a spiritual successor to the E36 or E46 M3. After spending a few days living with the car and even going so far as to meet up with BMW Car Club of BC members for their opinions, I came to the conclusion that BMW has a resounding dual-purpose hit on their hands.

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In a city such as Vancouver where an extra parking space downtown can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the M235i is the only car you’ll need to drive comfortably to work everyday, but yet can take to the local autocross or track day event on the weekend.

And that, as they say, is having your cake and eating it too.

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BMW M235i price sheet

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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