Driven: BMW M235i – Top Gear

Posted: Monday, January 20, 2014

Could this be a 2002Tii for our times, or maybe a reborn
E36 328i coupe?

you know, it just might be. Remember the notion of BMWs as ultimate driving
machines? As simple, straightforward but delightfully refined cars with a wide
streak of fun? Put aside the X-model SUVs and the super-efficient little
diesels, never mind the i cars. Even the ever-bigger and over-complicated M
cars don’t count here. I’m talking about what BMW was once all about – compact,
rear-drive, beautifully engineered, straight-six if possible.

The signs are good then. But didn’t you say that about the M135i hatch too?

Well, this one is a coupe for a start –  and BMW isn’t really a hatch company at heart. The new 2-series Coupe range, of which this M235i is the pinnacle,  replaces the former 1-series Coupe. And this is the semi-M version. It’s the sort of coupe we feared BMW had forgotten how to make.

But didn’t you eventually find the odd crack in the M135i’s aura of perfection?

Yup, when we gave it pasting on really corkscrewing roads, it started to heave about and the steering got a bit hazy. But the M235i cuts through that fog. Even compared with the M135i, the springs and dampers are tautened, which cuts roll, keeps the body under better control and sharpens the steering to boot. This new Coupe is properly bolted to the road. There’s masses of grip, and a lovely balance –  all four tyres club together to carry you through the arc. Then when it’s all loaded up you can trim that balance with the throttle.

Ah the throttle. Did I hear straight-six?

Oh yes. A straight-six muscled-up with BMW’s quick-witted turbo. There’s 326bhp here, and while it’ll rev beyond 7000 with a song of joy, it’ll also punch forward from well below 3000, sounding eminently fruity as it goes. There’s little trace of the lengthy off-boost gutlessness of the rival four-cylinder Mercedes A45AMG. You can have an eight-speed auto that shifts ratios near-flawlessly, and provides launch control for 0-62 in 4.8seconds. But in the spirit of the simple pleasures this car’s all about, why not stick to the, er, stick: a six-speed manual.

The seats look a bit ordinary. Do they hold onto you in all this tearing about?

Just about enough. Thing is, this car is also about comfort. The ride isn’t harsh, especially if you tick the reasonably priced adaptive damper option and switch to comfort mode. It’s pretty quiet at a cruise too. So the relatively soft seats are part of that side of its character.

Must be expensive.

Amazingly, not really. It’s £34,250 for the manual, with leather included. Adaptive dampers would be a nice option, and maybe park sensors and the basic nav, but those options aren’t too pricy either. That’s a bargain for this performance and ability.

Blimey, is there anything this car can’t do, short of bringing world peace?

OK, here’s the laundry list: the brakes could do with more initial bite. The steering doesn’t give much feel, so you’re relying on the (generous) seat-of-pants end of things to understand what’s going on down at the road. And, while it’s a lot better-looking than the old 1-series Coupe it still isn’t the prettiest car on the road. People who want to wear their car as much as drive it will still have to go for a 4-series. And yes, its diplomatic skills are at the very least unproven.

Doesn’t sound like that’ll stop you wanting one though.

Nope. Absolutely not.


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