What is it?
The new BMW M235i, or put simply, the coupe version of the M135i hatchback that has shaken up the hot hatch market with its bargain performance credentials. In the same way that 4-series is the new name for the 3-series coupe, 2-series is the new name for the 1-series coupe. With 321bhp, 332lb ft of torque and a claimed 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds (if you’ve got the eight-speed auto gearbox), at £34,250 the new coupe offers a similarly impressive amount of performance for your money.
It’s 72mm longer (with 30mm of that in the wheelbase), and the front and rear tracks have been widened by 41 and 43mm respectively. What’s more, while the 1-series coupe shared its front end with the hatchback, the 2-series gets a face all of its own, complete with more prominent kidney grilles and lights that appear to have heavy eyebrows.
BMW has listened to the feedback on the M135i and will be offering a mechanical limited-slip diff (sourced from Drexler and tuned by BMW) as an option. We’ll have to wait until the car lands in the UK to try it, however, as this launch-spec car is fitted with the standard diff.
How does it drive?
As I was lucky enough to run an M135i as a long-termer and took it on a few trackdays, I’m hopefully in a fairly good position to appreciate any changes – for better or worse.
The first obvious difference is that there’s less roll. On track, the 235i is noticeably flatter both into and through the corner. With 15 per cent stiffer springs and firmer bumps stops, this is to be expected, but the 235i feels lower and smaller too. Turn in too aggressively and your only reward will be the front tyres letting go and the nose running wide of the apex. But take a more considered approach, learn where the grip levels lie, and you find a beautifully balanced car that is very rewarding to string a lap together in.
The newly recalibrated DSC will let you have much bigger slides, too, and when it does rein everything back it does so much more smoothly, so you feel much happier leaving it on. If you turn it all off then there is of course the potential for even more fun. With the standard rear axle set-up, the only help comes from something called Active Differential Brake, a sort of pseudo LSD that brakes a spinning driven wheel under acceleration. Although ABD doesn’t give you the satisfying control of a proper LSD, the M235i is still a huge amount of fun over the limit.
As standard the M235i gets a fantastic six-speed manual with a short shift, and BMW’s optional eight-speed automatic is a particularly good one. The paddles are attached to the steering wheel and have a lovely curve so that you can hook the tips of your fingers onto them. The shifts are not as ruthless as a dual-clutch automated manual's, but they are extremely good nonetheless and give you a real sense of connection when batting between gears. The short ratios also serve to make the most of the fantastic 3.0-litre straight-six with its single twin-scroll turbocharger. It might seem crazy having eight forward gears, but when you’re just listening to the revs and changing on instinct it feels incredibly easy to keep the engine permanently on the boil.
The steering isn’t wriggling with feedback sadly (how many cars’ helms are these days?) but it is accurate and well weighted in Sport mode so that it gives you confidence to push on. Small and medium-sized bumps are dispatched with aplomb, and although just occasionally a bigger lump or compression can make the rear dampers struggle slightly under rebound it is never enough to make you back off like it would have been in some previous small BMWs.
How does it compare?
Despite a price increase of almost ten per cent over the equivalent hatchback 135i, the M235i still looks like an incredible performance bargain, with little on the market to challenge its performance for the money. Audi’s TTS comes in at £36,045 and offers significantly less power and performance, while the slightly less mainstream Nissan 370Z has the raw power to put up a fight, but not the BMW’s practicality or overall appeal.
It’s obviously not a full M-car, but ‘mini M4’ allusions are inevitable and seem entirely valid given that both have a turbocharged straight-six under the bonnet. No doubt the M4 will feel like a step up in grip, grunt and drama when we drive it later this year, but we also know that it will be a chunk longer and wider, and there is something extremely appealing about this small, wieldy 2-series package. It makes me think that (especially with the optional LSD) it could be all the M performance you actually need.