BMW M235i Pitted Against a BMW E46 M3 CSL on the Track

BMW E46 M3 CSL vs BMW M235i 1 photo
Photo: Screenshot from Youtube
The BMW M235i has been compared to a lot of cars ever since the first journalist got its hands on one. Apart from its manufacturer alone comparing it to the legendary 2002tii, the reviewers also said it reminds them of the E36 M3 and E46 M3 and all those comparisons are flattering for a car that isn’t even a proper M creation.
No, don’t let the moniker fool you. The M235i is not a true M car but rather an M Performance Automobile. What does that mean? Well, it means that it’s a step up from a regular 2 Series, having better brakes, better suspension and a better engine but it’s not a full on mental car, one developed exclusively by the M division. It’s like the S models from Audi compared to their RS versions.

The latest comparison might be the closest one yet. The guys from Auto Express pitted the new 2er against an iconic model from the Bavarian garage over the years, the E46 M3 CSL.

That car wrote history back in the day and made even the phlegmatic and serious Jeremy Clarkson fall in love. It was a serious step up from the ‘regular’ M3 due to a lot of weight saving measures like turning the roof and the boot lid into carbon fiber, removing the stereo and actually just keeping all the essentials the car needs and getting rid of everything else.

Altogether, the CSL was 110 kg (240 lbs) lighter than the regular M3, tipping the scale at 1,385 kg (3,053 lbs). Couple that with the brilliant power of the S54 engine (that was rated at 360 HP on this model, 17 more than on the ‘regular’ version) and the revised suspension and you get a hardcore Bimmer that was only built in 1,400 units, making it a collector’s item.

Comparing this enhanced version to a car that isn’t even an M model doesn’t really seem fair, right? Looking over the numbers, the M235i falls short both in power, weight and exclusivity but has a slight advantage in torque.

Taking them to the track, once again, doesn’t seem fair, as the CSL was developed especially for such purposes while the M235i was created to be used on daily commutes without breaking your back. All this is visible throughout the test and the MPA feels sluggish and less connected than the legendary M3 but even so, it manages to post the exact same time around the AE track thanks to its better transmission.

Looking at the two, it would be pretty hard to make a choice, especially if you’re an avid driver that wants to feel everything. That’s because as a daily driver the M3 would ruin your back and get pretty uncomfortable real quick while the M235i would be perfect, delivering both comfort and performance when you need it.

On the other hand, if you don’t go to the track at all and just live in a crowded city, and all the ‘race car driving’ you do is an occasional race between the lights, the M235i is definitely the car for you, with its dual character. The 2er might also be extremely good for track racers too, given you change its suspension to stiffen it up a bit, solving the weight issue the driver complains about in the video.

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