Test Drive: 2018 BMW M240i

Six gears, not eight. Three pedals, not two. It was a pleasant surprise: the tested 2018 BMW M240i was equipped with an increasingly-rare-in-the-market six-speed manual transmission. You know, the kind with a clutch pedal, and a shift lever – where muscles, not microchips, do the shifting.

This isn’t one of those feather-weight clutches that feels like you’re stepping on a poutine.

Sort of.

Pull the shifter down a gear or two, and the M240i’s white-needled tachometer twitches upwards, precisely and in milliseconds, as the shifter slides into place. This pre-pegs the revs where they need to be, so there’s no need to blip the throttle yourself. It all happens with giggle-worthy precision: almost as hard or fast as you can gear down, the auto-blip system beats you to the correct amount of revs. You get scarcely more than a mild squirm through the driveline, even during the sort of fast downshifts that can cause shockwaves if you muck them up.

Execute multiple perfect downshifts in quick succession, and it sounds like you had heel-and-toe lessons from Schumacher himself. You can’t turn the system off – good thing it works so well.

With six gears, highway revs at a half-decent clip land around 2,200 rpm – somewhere in the meatiest part of the torque-mountain served up by the M240i’s 3.0-litre straight-six turbo engine. Cruising, you’ve got maximum torque of nearly 370 lb-ft, available with just a little squeeze on your right toe. Downshifting to pass, merge, or hill-climb is totally optional, and typically unnecessary. This makes the M240i a real hoot in all sorts of situations, especially highway cruising.

So – a version of BMW’s two-door 2 Series with a 340 horsepower punch, rear-wheel drive, and a proper manual transmission. At $47,000 for starters, it’s a hell of a deal, too. Notably, the M240i is only a few bucks more than the less-powerful, Quattro-equipped Audi S3.

Shopping in this segment? Congrats – you’ve got options. And this is one you’ll want to explore.

The M240i’s cabin is one reason why. The new instrument cluster sets the stage: backlit gauges with partially digital displays for a blend of traditional and techy. This extends elsewhere: formal-looking colours and stitching create traditional flair, and voluptuous textured aluminum slabs on the doors and dash add a sophisticated touch. The traditional BMW climate control and stereo console are flanked vertically by a bright and vivid display up top, and the iDrive command console beneath. Here’s a cabin that’s formal, luxurious, techy, and quietly upscale, all at once.

Up front, two adults will find the cabin neither snug nor roomy. It’s just right for two of average size. Nearby storage facilities for smaller items is plentiful, and includes two proper cupholders, a covered centre console, and segmented door storage bins.

Rear seats can physically fit an adult, though at 5’10”, your writer was already out of headroom. The trunk is wide but not so deep, and should accommodate a full grocery load or weekend’s worth of his-and-her luggage with relative ease. Should a road trip include nighttime driving, exemplary performance from the potent headlights adds confidence and comfort, even for hours after dark.

Still, the M240i’s best asset is, probably, its engine. Drive gently, and the torque-monster straight-six cares little what gear and rev combination are presently deployed as it gushes the car along with smoothness and thrust to spare. Get the revs up – you’ve got 7,000 of them to play with – and the optional sports exhaust system comes into play with a mellow, semi-exotic howl flooding into the M240i’s wake. Hammer down, and after just a blink of boost lag, that exhaust sound intensifies, escalating into a lusty wail as the tachometer surges upwards. You’re shoved heartily into your seat, power piles up right to 7,000 rpm, and the consumption of pavement is curse-worthy.

It’s a gorgeous powerplant with an exotic combination of lots of revs, and lots of torque.

When it’s time to shift up, the shifter makes quick but highly deliberate work of calling the next cog into action. The engine’s smoothness, and fine-tuning of the clutch, shifter, and throttle off of one another, deliver a rewarding gearshift feel. Throws are short but well-weighted, and the shifter is curiously springy, which takes away from its overall feel, a little.

Still, the sensation will satisfy most enthusiasts. There’s solid effort required at the clutch, and it’s heavy, but not too heavy, and feels positive, consistent, and easy to modulate. This isn’t one of those feather-weight clutches that feels like you’re stepping on a poutine – and those coming into an M240i from any other serious manual-equipped performance car will find the feeling familiar.

Brake pedal feel is typical of a big-performance setup. The big blue brakes feel numb and vague when applied lightly, though precision builds up massively the harder they’re worked. Aggressive emergency stops see the pedal firm up quickly underfoot, with a curiously small pedal stroke required to shut the car down from speed. Here, the ABS action is smooth, and stopping power makes you wonder if you’ll need to pick your teeth out of the steering wheel afterwards. As it should be, M240i’s brakes are just as potent as its engine.

Dial up Sport mode, and the steering feel is quick and heavy – both playful, confident, and bolted to the road. Your writer wished for a little more feel of the interaction between tires and pavement, and for the steering to be just a touch quicker and more precise when initially dialling in an input. Still, by and large, it approximates the steering feel typically found at your favourite three-bucks-a-lap go-kart track.

Handling limits are expectedly high, and the tester’s big torque did little to break rear-wheel traction, even during hard acceleration in first gear. Power out of a corner – keeping performance driving basics in mind – and the M240i pushes itself through with near-nil levels of drama, squirming or traction nanny activation.

The stand-out sensation in hard driving is M240i’s keen ability to inspire confidence, never surprising or overwhelming the driver. Really get it cooking, and the throttle becomes a rewarding way to help turn the car on its axis with slight changes to pedal pressure. Even in a mild slide, the traction control stays in standby mode, provided drivers keep their inputs subtle and don’t make any abrupt changes.

This all ties in to the M240i’s unique character.

Even in the tamest drive mode, this machine is still always sort of “on”, just a bit. There’s still a massive glob of torque at your disposal, at all times. The exhaust sound is always there: it’s faint, but present. The steering, shifter, clutch, and ride are all that little bit heavier and stiffer. This doesn’t diminish comfort as much as it serves to remind you, just a little, but at all times, that you’re driving something serious.

Furthering that effect is the simple fact that much of this car feels at its absolute prime when you drive the pants off of it. It’s totally daily driveable for errands, groceries, or a trip to the mall, but drive the M240i like you stole it, and it positively shines.

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Gripes? Rear-seat headroom and not-for-everyone shifter feel aside, fuel mileage may be a concern. With six gears, instead of eight, the tester put away more fuel than expected during highway cruising, for a test average landing above 11 L/100 km with plenty of highway driving. Note that this figure should improve once break-in is complete.

Further, I just wish it looked a little more menacing, serious, and aggressive. Of course, there’s still the BMW M2 for that – it’s a step above the M240i, though for an extra $17,000, it’s only a little faster, and a little more powerful. From $47,000 with rear-drive and a proper manual gearbox, the M240i might just be a no-brainer.

2018 BMW M240i
Engine Displacement: 3.0L
Engine Cylinders: I6
Peak Horsepower: 340 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Peak Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 1,520–4,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 12.3/8.3/10.5 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 390 L
2018 BMW M240i
Base Price $47,000
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,245
Price as Tested $60,440
Optional Equipment $11,095 – Premium Package Enhanced $4,950; Driver Assistance Package $1,500; Smartphone Connectivity Package $750; M Exhaust Upgrade $1,500; Harman Kardon Stereo $1,000; Light Alloy Wheels $500; Metallic Paint $895
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.9
7 Styling
9 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
7 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
8 Features
9 Value