Enthusiasts will tell you that BMWs offerings are now watered down. Automotive journals will tell you that BMWs offerings are now watered down. Purists will tell you that BMWs offerings are now watered down. “They’ve gone the route of making money over making good cars!” Pick up any magazine worth reading and see if they have an article on the new 3-series. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
You’ve no doubt done exactly what I said and you’ve noticed that the article was lousy with phrases like “squishy” in regards to the suspension, “softer” in regards to the handling, and “not as dynamic” when talking about the car as a whole compared to the last generation. This is a common theme that we’ve been seeing the whole automotive world over. And it’s not just the 3-series they’re talking about. BMW now has a 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, and 7-series as well as a litany of crossovers and SUVs including the X1, X3, X4, X5, and X6. Just 10 short years ago, their offerings didn’t even come close to this volume for commuter cars.
A question arises though: can all these journals be correct? Has BMW turned a blind eye to the quality of the driving experience in their quest for German luxury dominance? I’m glad to report that the answer to both of these questions is a resounding, no. With of course a bit of context.
All these publications have issue with the normal BMW models that aren’t tuned by the in house maniacs at the M division. While the new 3-series, in normal trim options, might be a bit less edgy than it’s predecessor, the 2-series has built on an already great platform it was bequeathed when the 1-series went the way of the dodo (even though that’s coming back again soon-ish). So put the 2-series and the M division together and what do you get? Until the M2 is released, the M235i is the answer to that question.
This car is everything the entire 2- and 3-series lineup wishes it could be, less the M3 and the upcoming M2. The M235i has some serious cajones. If one were to think this car is a bit sluggish at 3535 pounds, even with a 320hp inline 6, one would not only be incorrect, but might get laughed out of their local BMW meet. Plant your right foot firmly to the floor and your head will surge back instantly, possibly putting you in a foggy state as your head whips against the headrest. Best to check with the NFL and their concussion protocol after a green light, pedal mashing session. And tell Tony Romo that both he and Dez Bryant have ruined my fantasy football season for me while you’re there. The power is instant and savage whether at a stand still or going 75 on the highway. With a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, the M235i is in rare Porsche 911 territory. Not the completely mind blowing 911 Turbo S (2.6 seconds), but even entering the same speed stature as any 911 in the lineup is an impressive feat for any car not named Corvette or GTR. You won’t be losing many drag battles with this car in a stock class at the strip or when the wannabe racer in the Evo X is eying you up near a more public tree of lights. BMW has also fixed the wonky hesitation in the accelerator pedal that plagued automatic models of recent years past. Kudos to the troubleshooting department for this much needed change.
Power finds its way to the road via an 8-speed, shiftable automatic transmission with paddle shifters and staggered 225/40 front and 245/35 rear Pirelli Cinturato P7, 18-inch, run flat tires. The tires are good and will perform admirably in normal everyday conditions. However, they are incredibly expensive to replace and don’t offer great grip, feeling numb and a bit out of place on this car. Opt to get all-seasons or winter tires, and buy a set of BMW or aftermarket wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sports for optimal summer fun. You can thank me later for this hot tip.
The transmission is another story entirely. In sport mode, really the only mode you should be in unless you’re doing many highway miles, the shifts come to you as though the pedals are one with your own conscious. Flick a finger and before you can blink you’re in the gear you’ve summoned. And it’s not just immediacy that will induce adrenaline as the car surges forward. No, you also get baby bottom smooth changes; a far cry from flappy paddles that everyone hated just 5 short years ago. In this car, you’ll have the seriously difficult decision to make of whether or not you’d like to be late to work (back roads every day) or on time (highway). I’d opt for the former and get up 30 minutes earlier each morning. The sleep you lose will be made up in smiles with the seat time you gain.
While this added seat time will undoubtedly be a glorious overture of commuting fun, you may find the seat itself a bit too stiff. Seat bolstering is tight, though adjustable. Seat comfort could be a bit better, but you won’t get tired on a longer trip. Driving position is good, but a bit lower wouldn’t hurt. All in all, a good package, but nothing to write home about.
The whole cabin feels small, but no worse than a BRZ or FRS and even slightly larger than that fine auto. It’s also a nicer place to be than a BRZ with typical BMW refinement in every nook and cranny. Not a bad way to get around. Your standard iDrive that has improved greatly over the years is here as well and won’t let you down for infotainment purposes.
Of course as with all cars, the M235i is not without pitfalls. The aforementioned tires are standard and to get the most performance out of this hot-coupe, you’ll need to pony up the extra cash for another set of wheels and tires. Back seat room is nearly nonexistent and should be reserved for children under 10, groceries, or those you hate with the fiery passion of 1000 suns.
Trunk space is not much better, but you will be able to fit a suitcase and a few duffle bags for a weekend getaway to your vacation home in Vermont; if you’re so inclined. I’m also available to bear the back seat if you’ll let me tag along. I swear, I’m a decent cook. Electrical nannies also hamper the fun a bit and induce slight understeer, but this can be remedied a bit by turning a few off, breaking you free of your tire-saving and rear-end-planting chains. Everyone already knows the iDrive is much improved so I won’t bore you with any of those details. Though I will say the screen resolution seems improved along with processor speed. The sound system is formidable and will keep you rocking no matter what station you so choose to thump out the beats.
I wouldn’t dock you any points if you were to think all this came with the price of a much hardened ride. After all, most sportier models do give you more performance at the sacrificial alter of comfort. The M3 is an excellent example of this with its upgraded suspension components, larger wheels, and shorter sidewalled tires. Yet, in comfort mode, the M235i rides no more harshly that a normal 2- or 3-series. Over bumps and uneven roads, you’ll still feel planted while not being overly floaty in the process. A nice bonus and your cheeks and tailbone will thank you. This ride isn’t as plush as the stately 5-series or the Carnival Cruise line sized 7-series, but if you factor that in with everything else you get performance wise in this car, you will be one happy German auto enthusiast.
Here’s the thing I’ve gleaned from driving this car: BMW needs it. Purists say this is diluting the gene pool. I say it’s expanding what’s possible over a wider range of vehicles in a constantly growing German battlefield of relevancy. Cars like this allow BMW to make more money for research and development and other performance models. Porsche does this the best by making the Cayenne so they can continue to make cars like the 918 Spyder. As long as there is a S model between the base and RS Audi A3 and A4, this car should exist. Audi seems to get all the headlines for quality and overall best car, and Mercedes seems to have the market cornered on more luxury for your money, but it’s clear that BMW is the leader here. Everyone has been chasing them for the past 30 years and the story is no different in the M235i.
You may be asking why I’ve been talking about the 3-series, or other BMW models at all. “The 3s aren’t really comparable,” you might think. Oh ye of little faith. Here is the dilemma with this car. If talking about price point and staying within the BMW hierarchy, you will have to choose between this, the 340i, and even a 435i, based on your wants and needs from a coupe or sedan. Do you take a bit more comfort and ever so slightly better MPG (the M235i gets an EPA rated 21/32 city/highway, while the 340i yeilds 22/33) or go for the performance and fun in a smaller package? If it was up to my wallet or bank account, I’d be driving the M235i each and every time. Not only do I have no small children to put in the back at the time of this writing, but all of my friends and family have cars of their own to drive to any rendezvous with me. “May I have a ride Greg?” No. You may not. I’ll be the guy that’s had more fun on the way, leaning against the faster car as you pull up, asking you what took so long.