It’s officially not an M car, but the M235i has the famous letter of BMW’s legendary performance arm glued to its be-spoilered bootlid, and it has performance numbers to serve any old M3 driver a potential slice of humble pie. What’s more, it’s in the same price range as the VW Golf R, Audi S3 hatches and undercuts the Mercedes A45 AMG, but offers its pace with traditional rear-wheel drive and a two-door coupe body.
What is the BMW M235i?
This car replaces the 135i coupe, which used the same formula of a turbocharged straight six in a two-door, rear-drive package that could crack 0-62 in 5.3sec. The all-new model is called the M235i simply because of BMW’s new naming system: odd numbers for four doors, even numbers for coupes and convertibles. The two-door gets similar body treatment to the M135i and recently unveiled M3/M4 BMWs, with sharp, muscular bumpers designed to emphasise width and presence. It’s not too over the top, though, with Audi RS-like silver mirror caps, a small bootlid spoiler and relatively subtle 18in alloys.
Under the bonnet is a 322bhp straight six with a twin-scroll turbocharger, and your choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic ZF transmission. The M235i comes with stiffer suspension than even the M135i, and runs massive brakes: four-piston calipers up front and two-piston versions at the rear, painted blue, of course.
So it’s not an M-car?
Officially, no. It’s an ‘M Performance’ model, a la the M550d. But it’s the flagship 2-series until the yet-to-be confirmed M2 arrives, the new underpinnings bringing more length and width. In the flesh, it doesn’t look quite as awkward as the old 1-series coupe, and, despite the increase in size, BMW claims the same 1455kg weight for the manual version of both the old and new cars, which means that the coupe weights only 15kg more than the current M135i hatch, which has 7bhp less power. The M235i’s performance? Try 0-62mph in a scant 4.8sec (and it’s not an M car!?).
What’s it like to drive?
Who cares what it’s called – this two-door, rear-drive BMW is a blast. That M Sport steering wheel (again, it’s not an M car) and the supportive yet not uncomfortable sports seats can be set up for a low, snug driving position. Push the starter button to fire up the 3.0-litre turbocharged six, and there’s a warm, deep idle as you place you hands on the leather-wrap M steering wheel.
It’s the eight-speed auto that we’re in today. It’s not a dual-clutcher (you’ll need the M3/M4 to get one) and the wheel-mounted paddleshifters aren’t as long as those in the old M3, for instance, so they’re not quite as nice to touch nor as practical when you’ve got some steering lock on. But that’s a moot point when you’re ringing the neck of this wonderful machine to its 7000rpm redline.
What’s it like to push hard, then?
Off the mark, the M235i’s scorching 0-62 time is delivered clinically and effectively thanks to launch control and that firmly damped chassis. The throttle response is near instant and the mid-range pull impressive, with 332lb ft on tap from a low 1300rpm right through to 4500rpm. The eight-speed kicks down promptly when in Sport mode, with its reactions a little lazier when you’re pootling around town in Comfort mode.
Amazingly, despite the harder suspension, the M235i absorbs bumps really well on the Las Vegas roads where the car’s being launched. It feels much more comfortable than the old 135i, leaving space for a harder M2 version as a successor to the brilliant 1M coupe. We’ll reserve full judgment for when we have the 2-series on UK roads.
What’s it like when you’re pushing it?
You don’t buy an M235i for comfort – you buy it to kick some serious ass. From that superb, supportive driver’s seat, peering down the sculpted bonnet, that’s exactly what you’ll do.
Approach a corner at rapid pace, and those brilliant brakes pull the coupe up swiftly, with supreme stability and little nose-dive. The sharp steering and willing front-end deliver precise, quick turn-in, leaving you to squeeze the throttle early in the corner, with loads of grip from the rear end and the sports seats holding it all together. That bassy idle transforms into a tough, strong metallic shriek as the revs rise, but it’s not as tough as the old 1M coupe’s bold bark.
Even with the ESP off in the lairiest Sports Plus mode, there’s so much grip from the chassis and 18in rubber that you can carve up tight corners with utter conviction, wondering just what it takes to get this coupe out of shape.
What does it take to get the M235i out of shape, then?
A burst of power too early will get that notchback tail into a slide will do it, but it’s not snappy, sudden or difficult to control. The auto’s quick to kick down in Sport mode, teaming with near instant response and not a moment of lag from the twin-scroll turbo, so you can steer this coupe on the throttle.
The steering could do with a bit more precision and the body control is tight, but there’s clearly an element of comfort and livability dialled in. In BMW terms, this doesn’t equate to floaty or sogginess, but a car that’s easy to manage despite its awesome athletic ability. It really has hit a sweet spot between livable and lively.
This car could be the performance bargain of the year. The thing that comes close to the new M235i is the BMW M135i hatch, which has the same engine but in a (slightly) softer chassis setting with five-doors and a £3615 lower starting price. This two-door version serves up a slightly harder-edged technical package wrapped in a more attractive two-door body, costing it ever so slightly in terms of practicality, yet it’s still massively livable.
The M235i is a car that’s comfy in town, devours winding roads and is at home on long sweeping bends. Yet its agility and grip on winding technical sections will make you think long and hard about that used M3 you were thinking about. We’ll give it four stars for now, having driven only the auto version and on US roads, but once it lands here in March, this could be a five-star legend. The possibility of an even better M2 version is mind-blowing, but this car may be the sweet spot as a daily-driver.