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The M235i uses the same 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine as the base 228i Gran Coupe, but its output is turned up to 301 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque -- a pretty significant boost over the base car's 228 hp and 258 lb-ft. All US-spec versions of the 2 Series Gran Coupe use BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive, but there's a catch: This AWD system is based on front-wheel-drive architecture, which is a little weird considering BMW long touted the good graces of rear-wheel-drive cars. Keep in mind, the rest of the 2 Series range -- the coupe and cabriolet -- ride on a different, RWD platform. Like I said, it's weird.
Nevertheless, the M235i Gran Coupe puts up respectable performance numbers. Hitting 60 mph takes just 4.6 seconds and even when I have the car in Comfort mode the transmission gives little aural blats of satisfaction when it shifts. There's a Torsen limited-slip differential up front for better power distribution and the all-wheel-drive system can send 50% of the available torque to the rear if needed. The M235i rides on 19-inch wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza tires and the brakes are plenty firm with excellent pedal feel, meaning I can brake later than I think before heading into a corner.
Taken as a whole, however, the M235i is only fun-ish to drive. The M Sport steering has a pretty quick ratio so only tiny inputs are needed when carving through corners, but ultimately there isn't much in the way of actual feedback. Sport mode tightens up the dampers, and this tall-ish sedan is able to slalom through corners with grace.
But I just don't love it. There's a level of sharpness with the rear-wheel-drive 2 Series that's missing from this Gran Coupe package. The rear end isn't as willing to rotate and the balance isn't as good. Sure, the turbo engine provides lots of power, but it doesn't really compel me to push harder. If you want the best-driving 2 Series this side of an M2, check out the M240i -- assuming you don't mind losing two doors in the process.
The M235i Gran Coupe comes with a number of standard driving aids, namely forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure mitigation and rear cross-traffic alert. However, adaptive cruise control is still a costly add-on, at $1,200.
A $2,650 Premium Package adds such niceties as a 9.2-inch color head-up display, as well as a 10.2-inch center screen and configurable gauge cluster of the same size. Infotainment duties are taken care of by BMW's iDrive software, which is not my favorite thanks to its myriad menus and submenus, but there are eight programmable buttons for my favorite features, so it's not too bad. Apple CarPlay is wireless and though it takes a few steps to get it set up, it's great that it just comes up on the screen when you start the car. Android Auto is coming to iDrive 7-equipped BMWs, too. There's one USB Type-A and a 12-volt outlet up front, but there are three USB-C ports, as well -- one in the center armrest and two in back. Wireless charging and a Wi-Fi hotspot are a $500 option.
The aforementioned Premium Package also adds a heated steering wheel and front seats, something that I can't live without even during a California summer. Call me crazy but I love driving with the air conditioning on full blast and the hot cross buns on full toast. My test car's interior is done up in this ridiculous Magma Red Dakota Leather, which is so flashy I can't believe it's a no-cost option. Don't believe your computer's monitor if you see it in pictures, either -- it's much brighter in person.
The sloping roofline makes the M235i's rear seats a little tough to get in and out of. But once inside I find that, with the front seat set to my 5-foot, 9-inch driving position, I have plenty of legroom. I'm even alright in the headroom department, though my quarantine-high hair touches the headliner a bit. Cargo space is more than decent for a compact sedan, at 15.1 cubic feet.
The 2020 M235i Gran Coupe starts at $46,495 including $995 for destination and my lightly optioned test car comes in at $51,295. Until the updated Audi S3 arrives, the Mercedes-AMG CLA35 is the freshest competitor and while it costs a little more money, it's got a nicer interior with Mercedes' fantastic MBUX tech and its turbo engine has more torque. The Mercedes just genuinely feels like a more premium car.
Honestly, the best 2 Series Gran Coupe is likely the 228i, which is a great entry point into the BMW lineup and not too bad to drive. The extra cost of the M235i doesn't really seem worth it when it isn't all that exciting and folks looking for a truly sporty compact BMW might consider ditching two doors to get a more rewarding experience in one of the two-door 2 Series models.