2014 BMW M235i First Drive

2014 BMW M235i 9 photos
Photo: Original image by autoevolution
2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i
It’s not every day BMW comes up with something it can proudly call the spiritual successor of the legendary 2002tii. And yet... here it is, the M235i.

While the name might be a bit confusing, you really shouldn’t trouble yourself with it. All you have to know is that the 2 Series is here to replace the 1 Series Coupe and that the M235i is the M Performance Automobile in the 2 Series range.

What’s an M Performance Automobile, you might, rightfully ask. An MPA is one of those cars that isn’t a full-on M car but it’s not a regular one either but somewhere between. The best way to explain it, would be to compare them to Audi’s S models, the exact niche for which these BMWs were created.

So, getting back to the M235i, you probably figured out that this is supposed to be a beefed up 2 Series and you wouldn’t be far off. This car has plenty of power, is light on its feet, uses only the rear wheels to propel itself and looks better than almost any other current BMW out there.

Compared to the F20 1 Series it’s sharing its underpinnings with, this thing is absolutely gorgeous. No more goggly eyes up front and no more ugly butt, this creation is beautiful from the front to the back and, while the photos might not do it justice, in real life the M235i looks stunning.

The trademark corona rings are still present in the headlights along with an ‘eyelash’ à la E60 5 Series that is noticeable especially at night. The front fascia is also dominated by the M Sport body kit this car has, with two massive air intakes on the sides and carefully placed air breathers inside them.

Round the back, the taillights resemble the ones on the 1 Series Coupe but have evolved a bit towards the current L-shaped LED strips BMW is using today. The boot lid has a funny shape when it’s open and it’s dominated by a considerable sized M235i badge.

Talking about badges you should know that there are 14 M badges on the car, a bit too much for our taste but we do get the point BMW was trying to make - M is the most powerful letter in the world after all, right?

Get inside and, for the first time in the last 10 years, you feel like the interior doesn’t let down. It’s not because it brings something new to the game but rather because on this car, at this price tag, it makes sense.

While the exact same design would be deemed unworthy of cars like the 5 Series, 6 Series and 7 Series, that have a more than exorbitant price tag, on the 2 Series it’s absolutely perfect. It does everything you need it to, with perfect ergonomics, it’s not overly complicated and uses premium materials.

The seats are a bit firm but that’s only to be expected on a car that is pretending to be sporty and, while the back rests are perfect for normal people, if you’re a bit on the plus size, the side bolstering might cut a bit into your back.

The iDrive works flawlessly and the touch sensitive controller will ease your life in more than one way. For example, one interesting thing we noticed is that you can adjust various parameters using the touch surface up top, sliding your finger left or right, a feature that proves helpful after you get used to it. The system also responds quickly and the display is nice and big, with an impressive resolution and lively colors.

In the back, people up to 6 feet tall (184 cm) can fit comfortably, even with an equally tall person sitting in the front seat. Actually, the only bad thing we have to say about the rear seats is the way the bench is split up in the middle, restricting you to only 4 occupants.

However, spacious as it might be in the rear, you wouldn’t want to squeeze 3 people back there so you might be better off without having to make that choice.

Stowage spaces are aplenty on board, especially on the doors, where the door panels have been really well thought through and offer a lot of different pockets from small to big ones, to accommodate almost anything you could need.

The car we drove didn’t make use of the normal M Sport steering wheel. Instead, we had to deal with an M Performance version that is both extremely enjoyable and annoying at times.

The wheel itself is wrapped in Alcantara and is considerably thick, being perfect for those with bigger than average hands but a bit tricky for those with smaller extremities.

At its top you’ll notice an LED strip and a small display that helps you set up the numerous functions of the wheel. We won’t go into details but that little display is rather useless since you can read all the info it shows on you car’s iDrive screen. On the other hand, it’s more than necessary to configure the wheel, using two buttons well hidden in the thumb rests.

The best of its features are those LEDs that flicker once you reach a certain RPM that can be configured depending on your preferences. Therefore you can set it go off at the 7,000 RPM limit or you can set it to flash when you reach 2,000 RPM, depending on your mood. While this kind of tech would be more than welcome on a track, on a daily basis the only thing it does is make you want to drive faster. This could eventually get you in trouble...

Get a manual gearbox and hit the track. Those flashing lights on your steering wheel will make perfect sense, telling you exactly when to switch gear. Otherwise, around town, you’ll have to deal with its downsides, the biggest one being felt when parking. That’s because when you’re swerving, the plastic cover for the display will get in the way and it will turn out to be a bit uncomfortable, especially if you’re going for a full lock-up.

All of that doesn’t really matter though once you start the engine. The 3-liter inline 6-cylinder beefed up N55 engine makes a glorious sound even when it’s cold and you can rev it up to the redline while being stationary, something you rarely see these days. Try not to do that though.

Take the engine up to 7,000 RPM and you’ll hear a nice burble at the top end and a raspy answer from the exhaust when you change gear. That’s yet another impressive feature of this car as it was fitted with the brilliant 8-speed ZF gearbox that everyone’s been praising.

In this configuration, the duo makes a perfect match, that gearbox seemingly being capable of reading your mind and being right up there with you when driving. Get it in ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport or Sport+ mode and you won’t be disappointed.

Driving the car around town you can’t help but notice the resemblance to the M135i model. Get it in ECO PRO mode and it tones down, driving like it doesn’t have more than 100 HP at its disposal.

Nonetheless, put it in Sport+ and you’ll feel the might of the 326 HP and 450 Nm (332 lb-ft) of torque instantly pushing the rear axle to the sides.

That’s yet another great thing about this car: it’s rear-wheel-drive. It might not seem like much these days but a small, affordable, light coupe with RWD is a more than rare bird at the moment, BMW being amongst the few that still offers such an option right now.

Even so, thanks to the Michelin Pilot Sport tires the car is well composed, even when pushed close to the limit. It’s so grippy that it becomes annoying at times, making you work really hard to start drifting. Do the same in the wet and you’re in for a roller coaster of emotions sprinkled with adrenaline. Just make sure nobody’s around to see you or they’ll think you’re crazy.

The steering is precise and offers more feedback than a lot of the current BMWs too. You can actually see that a lot of work was put into making the EPS (Electric Power Steering) system really good. Compared to the one used on the X5 M50d (another M Performance Automobile), this is the one we’d choose, without skipping a heartbeat.

Talking about limits, you’ll have to try really hard to reach them. The first impression we got when we drove it was that this car could kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing. The adrenaline rush it provokes is intoxicating and you’ll want more and more every time you drive it. However, the brakes could use more initial bite and might give off the impression that they won’t be able to hold the car down. Don’t worry though, put them to good use and you’ll stop in no time.

Another troubling department is the suspension, where some improvements could be made. While cruising around town you get a bit of a harsh ride, even in comfort mode and, after more than 250 km (155 miles), your back might start to hurt a bit, especially if you’re driving on a road filled with pot holes. The hard seats might also have a part to play here though.

Even so, when pushing the car to the limit, on Sport+ mode, the whole thing feels somewhat unsure on its feet and wobbly, showing that a harder setup could’ve been used.

In heavy traffic, some issues show up also. One of them is the lack of an auto-hold button. You see, for more driving fun, BMW decided to keep a good-old fashioned hand brake on the 2er and while that is to be appreciated, it does come with the cost of having to keep the brake pedal pressed at all times in traffic, a feat that might get a little frustrating after a while. Of course, you can stick the car in park every time but that could also prove to be annoying.

Parking the M235i is easy though because you have plenty of visibility. The car is a bit wider than you’d expect from inside so it will take a bit of taking used to. However, after a while you’ll be doing parallel parking in no time. Actually, the rearview camera is not really necessary, the parking sensors doing a great job alone. Furthermore, you can manually activate them when you’re driving on a tight road to make sure you don’t hit anything.

The time we spent aboard the M235i was more than enjoyable. The car is fast, sounds good, has a great, ergonomic interior and looks appealing. The wow factor is also there. A lot of people, not knowing what this is, will quickly snap a photo of it and the arguments about it being an M2 will never end.

Overall, we couldn’t help but notice that this is not a true M car and that its purpose was to tease us until the M2 shows up. As an M Performance Automobile, it’s perfect, offering the exact blend of performance and comfort you could wish for. As a track car, it could be improved.

Considering the price tag, though, you couldn’t get a much better deal. At $43,100 in the US and €46,000 (including taxes) in Germany there is absolutely nothing around that would offer a better deal.

Sure, you have the Porsche Cayman S but the considerable premium you’d have to pay doesn’t justify the difference in specs and performance. While the Bimmer is marginally slower and not as focused as its rival, on an everyday basis it’s easier to live with and is $20,700 cheaper. Therefore, by ticking 2 out of 3 boxes in this comparison, the Bavarians takes the win.

Bottom line, the M235i is the modern equivalent of what BMW used to make back in the day. If you’re young and never got to drive one of those cars older enthusiasts talk about these days (the E46 or E36 3 Series Coupe), this is the modern car for you. Maybe it’s not as cerebral as its predecessors but it does have all the amenities you couldn’t live without today while also being really great fun to drive.
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