BMW M235i review – Telegraph.co.uk
The new 2-series is a lovely looking car with the M version getting a bit more
aero (front lower air intakes and a lip on the boot) than the standard
model. Karim Habib, BMW’s design director, claims there are cribs from the
2002 range, but I don’t see it. What is so much more assured and elegant in
this new car, which is 72mm longer, 26mm wider and 15mm lower than the
outgoing 1-series coupé, is the way the cabin blends into the body.
There’s a wider track, and 20 litres more room in the boot to give a
respectable 390 litres, with a 40/20/40 seat folding for long loads. Those
rear seats are cramped and access is tricky, but they are fine for children
and short journeys for adults. From the front, the cabin feels cosy, but
there’s enough room for six footers even with the £895 glass sunroof, which
reduces headroom. Sports seats at £395 are beautifully supportive and
comfortable and don’t push your shoulders forward. The wheel and seats
adjust in vertical and horizontal planes and it’s easy for most drivers to
sit comfortably in front of the simple, two-dial instrument binnacle.
The M235i models fielded by BMW at the Las
Vegas-based launch came complete with eight-speed sports automatic
transmission (£1,685 including steering-wheel paddles), with adaptive
M-Sport suspension (£750) and variable sport steering (£340); as usual BMW’s
options leave you confused and potentially in a debtors’ gaol. Standard
gearbox for this car is a manual six speed, adapted with a dry-sump
lubrication system and there’s also an optional limited-slip differential
(not fitted to any of the test cars).
While the basic chassis configuration is the same as that of the outgoing
1-series coupé, BMW’s engineers have been heedful of criticisms of the
somewhat lairy M135i hatchback and M Coupé. Both are great to drive, but
slightly wayward at the limit, the hatchback having a slightly erratic
transition from understeer to oversteer and the M Coupé tending to dance on
its springs as you turn into a corner. So the MacPherson strut front and
multilink rear suspension gets stiffer springs and firmer dampers with
different valves and changes to the software controlling the steering in a
bid to “give a better feeling on the road,” according to Wehner.
Lined up for a few hot laps of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway infield circuit,
the steering doesn’t feel so promising. The wheel is fat, squishy and hardly
the precision instrument for which M-Sport cars are famous. Accelerating
down the pit straight the helm feels numb, with little feedback.
No shortage of go, however. With 3.0 litres, 321bhp and an almost equal
amountsof torque in pounds feet, together with almost square dimensions,
this six-pot twin-cam has almost perfect balance and response. And the Borg
Warner twin-scroll turbocharger gives it a pickup that means you don’t need
to rev it like a naturally aspirated six, although if you do, there’s an
immediacy that belies its turbocharged nature. In short, wherever the rev
counter needle sits, the engine answers the call, fulsome, generous and with
a classy wail. The auto ’box flurries through ratios, seldom hesitating
between gears and with a speed of response and smoothness that makes you
wonder why we bother with automated manuals.
The chassis doesn’t disappoint, either. Turn into the first corner and the
nose goes exactly where you put it. The steering system, squishy steering
wheel and 18in Michelin Pilots Sports give a soft initial response, but
50/50 weight distribution and careful engineering give a delightful accuracy
and linear build up of steering weight as the side loads increase. This is a
highly adjustable car, with a neutral response if you accelerate through a
Select Sports settings for transmission, dampers and dynamic stability control
and you can induce a gentle transition into a tail-out powerslide, but
recovery is flattering and not at all frightening. Four-pot vented discs and
two-pot rears with electronic fade compensation prove powerful, confidence
inspiring and unfading on the circuit.
Out on the road, there’s enough rough surfaces on the Nevada desert’s highways
to indicate this isn’t going to be the smoothest riding or quietest car
around, but there’s some compliance there, so your chiropractor isn’t going
to abandon all hope.
BMW is also offering a race-prepared 2-series at £49,080 complete with Group-2
style arches, bigger wheels and brakes, and a roll cage. It’s hard not to
think a road-going version of this would make a good basis for a full house
M2, but would it be a better road car? I think not.
As it stands, the M235i is the most perfect expression of power and balance
BMW makes. It’s enormous fun and a practical daily driver, which makes you
question why BMW wants to throw this all away by making the next 1- and
2-series into front-wheel-drive models.
It isn’t often we say “buy while stocks last” about a £34,000 car, but here we
will making an exception.
Tested: 2,979cc turbocharged straight-six cylinder petrol engine,
eight-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Price/on sale: From £34,250 plus Sport 8-speed auto £1,685. Range
starts at £24,265 for 218d, which arrives in April. On sale March.
Power/torque: 321bhp @ 5,800rpm, 332lb ft @ 1,300rpm.
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Acceleration: 0-62mph 4.8sec (5sec manual).
Fuel economy: 27.4mpg/37.2mpg (EU Urban/Combined)
CO2 emissions: 176g/km
VED band: I (£355 for the first year, £220 thereafter)
Verdict: Terrific looking, wonderful to drive and a brilliant if
expensive alternative to the hot hatchback. Two plus twos never looked or
drove as well
Telegraph rating: Four out of five stars
CLA 45 AMG 4MATIC, from £42,265
Similar power output and performance with four-wheel drive, this souped-up
starter Mercedes has four doors, better rear-seat accommodation and more
boot space. Expensive and not as sharp to drive.
TTS coupé, from £36,045
Audi’s go-faster coupé is ready for renewal, but this outgoing model is pretty
sharp, with four-wheel drive, lots of trick bits and scorching performance.
RCZ R, from £31,995
Beautifully realised sports coupé with two-plus-two accommodation, a
rip-roaring engine (shared with BMW) and a fluid, well balanced chassis.
Lacks badge quality, but great fun.