Test Drive: 2015 BMW M235i

Two underlying character traits make themselves apparent when driving the BMW M235i at all times.

“It’s not a ‘real’ M car!” gripe the bellyaching masses.

First? This is one of those sports cars that always lets drivers know they’re driving a sports car. A perpetual hint of tautness and stiffness plus the hum from the sport exhaust remind you you’re driving something a bit hot and bothered.

Second? There’s a remarkable smoothness to the whole thing. The brakes, steering, engine, and gearshifts, even the handling and ride, all feel dialed-in and calibrated to work beneath a blanket of creaminess. Cornering hard and fast with the chassis squirming beneath you, stopping with full ABS engagement, hitting the rev-limiter as you click for a paddle-activated upshift, or just cruising the highway, there’s a beautiful polish that shines through at all of the controls.

For the driver, this means constant experience of both the refinement promised by the BMW badge, and the response, thrills, and grins promised by the M badge.

The poor little M badge. Beleaguered, embroiled, scrutinized and scorned. There’s nearly religious significance to BMW’s little ‘M’, and folks get really, really serious about it, and the exclusive performance cars that BMW attaches it to.

According to countless reviewers, Youtube commentators and internet fanboys, BMW has made a horrible mistake. They’re wasting our time. They’ve screwed up, calling this souped-up 2 Series model the M235i.

“It’s not a ‘real’ M car!” gripe the bellyaching masses. “Too many safety features! Too much turbocharging! Too many safety sensors!”

Seriously? It’s just a frickin' sticker. If you don’t like it, it’ll come off with a little blast of heat-gun and some flossing with a piece of fishing line.

So let’s move on.

Here’s the sticky on the tester: two doors, four seats, six cylinders, one turbocharger, eight paddle-shifted gears, all-wheel drive and performance that’s 1,000 percent guaranteed to put a grin on your kisser. Six in a row makes it go, with a three-litre straight-six and dual-scroll turbocharger good for 322 horsepower and even more torque. Notably, the dual-scroll turbo intends to deliver twin-turbo impact and response from a single unit, and the powerful punch in a small and lean package translates into some thrilling acceleration. As my Finlander pals say, it goes like a bear shot in the ass.

And despite the leanness, M235i isn’t even severely lacking for space on board. Rear seats, once settled into, are adequate in size for a pair of average adults, and front seats slide easily out of the way for access. The trunk is larger than you’d expect, and I took a friend and my dog on a weekend camping trip with a full load of gear, no issues.

Further, an array of fuel-saving technology is attached to the engine, including auto-stop, an on-demand alternator and oil pump, and direct injection. Available xDrive AWD extends the M235i’s performance into year-round territory. Those concerned with drifting and burnouts may choose to opt for a rear-drive model, though shoppers concerned with year-round access to the M235i’s performance with maximum confidence will welcome the available AWD. The decent fuel economy is universally loveable.

So, all said, there’s some sensibility here.

And, some performance.

Stomp the rightmost pedal, and a silky snarl accompanies a forward rush that hits hard at low revs and stays on strong till redline. Low revs or high, this engine goes like the wind, sounds lovely, and pulls hard with escalating thrust as opposed to that flat, dull and boring power curve characteristic of many modern turbo engines. Power and healthy sound effects are everywhere, with every jab of the throttle met with a leap ahead. Used at full boost for more than a moment or two, the turbo will spool the M235i smack into demerit point territory faster than you can say “sorry officer”, and boost lag will prove all but imperceptible to most drivers, though you’ll feel just a little whiff of it if you’re paying attention.

So, here’s an engine that’s happy during gentle driving, and even happier when being spun fast. Presumably to make the driver feel like a total rock star, it feels best when used hard.

Ditto the brakes.

Stomp the left pedal, and the big blue brake calipers clamp into action, with deceleration that’s strong, urgent and nearly exaggerated in terms of response to pedal input at times. However applied, the brakes feel eager and potent, and modulation at the pedal comes most precisely towards the bottom of said pedal’s travel during heavy use. Maximum stopping power is fierce, and a good smash on the left pedal would likely see you go through the seatbelt if they were any thinner.

There’s no third pedal, as the tester got an automatic eight-speed transmission. Though your writer and his familiars will opt for the manual transmission every time, the folks with the automatic units would have the faster car. The eight-speed shifts with ‘holy sh*t’ speed and precision to rival the fastest dual-clutch boxes on the road, changing up and down perfectly, instantly, and with razor sharp rev-matching and fantastic sound effects.

BMW just nails it with fast-shifting automatics, and this one’s no exception. Clumsy human muscle fibres and brain cells just can’t shift gears as fast as the computer-controlled, solenoid-actuated gear changes on offer from the M235i’s eight-speed unit. Here’s a transmission that could nearly make me sad I had to opt for the manual.

Steering is of the high-tech, electrically assisted variety. It lightens up when parking for one finger maneuverability, and in sportier driving modes enabled by the console-mounted toggle-dilly, gets thick and heavy for a sensation of biting and locking into the tarmac. The ratio and effort at the wheel feel bang on – and though this high-tech electric steering system lacks the enormous level of feedback and feel of the surface beneath that steering-snobs love, most drivers will get a kick out of the go-kart feel, and the smoothness and refinement dialed in. The heavied-up feel provides a nice sensation of the M235’s weight and grip at the fingertips.

Inside? A simple but luxurious take on the BMW cabin gussied up with some stitching and metal accents, nice trim materials, a beautiful steering wheel, and a slick infotainment system that can even provide weather forecasts in the central screen. It’s compact and simple, but fitted with the same high-tech flaunts as bigger Bimmers, with things like a partially digital instrument cluster, and the main screen displaying a techy diagram outlining the currently engaged drive mode.

Even with frequent use of the Sport mode, the tester proved easy on fuel. Boot-down driving on my watch cranked consumption as high as 13.3 L/100 km (measured by hand, not via the dream-meter in the dash that suggested I was in the 10s), though hundreds of kilometres of highway cruising on hilly roads saw highway mileage at 8 L/100 km or better. The test average figure of 9.8 L/100 km proved highly digestible, as 320-hp AWD performance cars go.

Other notes? I hate that I like how the engine sounds. Some portion of the sounds entering the driver’s ears at full rip are fake noise played over the speakers to help enhance the experience. I had thoroughly enjoyed these noises as redline approached, repeatedly and vigorously. Later, after learning it was partially fake, I felt violated and filthy.

Headlight performance is typical of the brand, with steerable xenon projectors reaching far and wide with crisp white light, and lots of it.

Complaints? Keeping context, size and intentions in mind, few were of note. The ride can degrade into harshness on broken pavement, and the rear seats are adequate for an average-sized adult, nothing much more. Your correspondent appreciates a good sleeper car, though I wondered why the mirrors are painted silver, or why they couldn’t have fitted more special-looking wheels, as the ones on the tester looked like they came from a Honda Civic Si. Some will wish for their little red rocket Bimmer to look a bit more extraordinary.

Ultimately the M235i is taut, frisky, makes a good noise, goes like bananas, feels creamy smooth at all controls, and will put a grin on your face. That’s whether or not you like the M badge, or figure yourself a bit of a connoisseur and are offended by its presence on the Melbourne Red-painted tail.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi S3
Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe
articles_PricingType 2015 BMW M235i xDrive Coupe
Base Price $48,750
Optional Equipment Executive Package ($2,500), Premium Package ($4,500), Connected Drive ($500), M Performance Exhaust ($1,500), Speed Limit Info ($350)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $60,295
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.6
6 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
8 Interior
8 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy