BMW's M cars hold a vaunted and deserved reputation as being incredible sports cars, and the company throws so much impressive tech into the current crop that they are more at home on the track than public roads. Although the 2015 BMW M235i carries the Motorsport designation, BMW doesn't put it in the M stable with cars such as theor , instead casting it in the lesser category of an M Performance car.
And equipment-wise, the M235i looks like it should carry BMW's previous 'is' designation as a sport model when compared to the real M cars. However, when BMW enthusiasts get behind the wheel, they will find blast-from-the-past handling, a nimble little car ready to throw its tail out in the turns yet giving the driver a sense of complete control.
To be up front, my personal car is a BMW, the third of that brand I've owned, and to me, the M235i is everything a BMW should be, a car with incredibly enjoyable handling characteristics that also serves easily as a daily driver. And that is something that can't be said about many cars in BMW's current lineup.
The M235i is a variation on BMW's 2-series coupe, a model that began life as the 1-series before BMW decided that all two-door coupe models get even-numbered designations (insert exemption here for Gran Coupe models). In the UK and Australia, you will find a variety of engines in the 2-series, with some variations also carrying the letter M, including the M235i. UK buyers are looking at a base price of £34,540 for this top trim sports model, while Australians will have to come up with AU$79,900.
In the US, BMW limits its 2-series coupe offerings to the 228i and the M235i, eliminating the previous 235i model. Base price for the M235i comes in at $44,050 with destination, which also happened to be the price of the example I drove. While it lacked BMW's suite of useful and occasionally fun cabin electronics, I was more than pleased to find it equipped with the a six-speed manual rather than the available eight-speed automatic.
Decades of refinement
That "35i" in the model designation means a three-liter inline six-cylinder engine, in this case using a twin-scroll turbocharger bringing its output to 326 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. BMW has spent decades refining this engine, adding complicated but efficient valve control and direct injection technologies. The result is brilliant, a smoothly churning mill that doles out its power easily and evenly.
Running the range from fuel economy to performance, I could choose between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes with a rocker switch on the console. BMW adds an idle-stop feature as well, easily defeatable with a button on the dashboard and disabled in Sport or Sport Plus modes. I didn't mind saving the gasoline at long red lights, and the engine fired right back up when I pressed the clutch pedal.
As another fuel-saving measure, the instrument cluster display suggested which gear I should be in, calling for a sixth-gear upshift at 40 mph. Those suggestions seemed particularly silly when I wound the engine up in second gear to power around a hairpin.
And that is what the M235i is really all about. BMW equips it with variable steering and an adaptive chassis, standard. The six-speed shifter rows through the gears with smooth precision. The engine feels like it could run all day at 6,000 rpm.
In Sport mode, the M235i felt nimble as I made quick lane changes on the freeway and evinced plenty of grip in tight turns of a mountain road. But Sport Plus is where this car really wants to live. Along with the stiffer damper setting and more responsive throttle of Sport mode, Sport Plus adds BMW's Dynamic Traction Control, or DTC. This traction control program allows for a little bit of slip and combines with what BMW calls Corner Braking Control, braking the inside wheels in a turn slightly, to improve handling.