BMW M240i xDrive 2023 review
A weight of 1690kg, an auto ’box and four-wheel drive are very different ingredients to BMW’s usual small coupe fare, but the engineers have cooked up something rather special
One thousand, six hundred and ninety kilos. No, that’s not a misprint, BMW’s new ‘junior’ sports coupe weighs 120kg more than the previous generation M4. And yes, we’re well aware of the improvements in occupant safety and that economies of scale mean exotic weight-saving materials aren’t always an option. And yes, we’d rather cars such as this existed than not. But seriously? A two-door BMW coupe tipping the scales at nearly 1.7 tons with a tank of fuel on board and no occupants? This needs to be good.
When I gather myself, one initial thought is that the M240i xDrive will be a car defined by numbers. There’s not just that weight figure but also the not-so-small matter of 369bhp between 5500 and 6500rpm, and a numerically identical 369lb ft over a characteristically wide rev band (1900-5000rpm) from the latest generation of BMW’s B58 in-line six-cylinder turbocharged engine. You want more stats? The M240i has eight gears, hits 62mph from rest in just 4.3 seconds and costs from £49,225. Actually, hold on to that last number – we’ll come back to that in a bit.
If it’s the kilos that command your initial attention, then very soon afterwards it’s the thorny subject of design. The art of wielding the felt tips seems to preoccupy most discussions lately when the subject matter is BMW, and I suspect it won’t be any different with the 2-series coupe. For me, the proportions are fantastic, the detailing considerably less so, but such personal views matter not: what I can say of worth is that it’s a car that attracts both attention and strong opinions, divided perhaps equally between the lovers and the haters, in a way few other cars have in my recent experience. If nothing else, this surely fulfils part of a coupe’s remit: to cause a reaction, to make a statement, to profess a style.
But why so heavy? Well, those three-box, long-bonnet proportions cloak a car that’s 105mm longer and 64mm wider than the old 2-series coupe. BMW talks of using an aluminium bonnet and various other alloy parts, but as we’ve already said, the net effect hasn’t been to create a lighter car. Bear in mind, too, that the blown-wheelarch stance is due in part to the forthcoming M2 using the same body-in-white this time around, rather than bespoke panelling.
Then there’s the fact that the only gearbox choice is the ubiquitous eight-speed torque-converter automatic, and that it comes as standard with four-wheel drive, the latter being BMW’s excellent electronically controlled centre-diff set-up with a limited-slip differential on the rear axle. Neither is conducive to cutting the flab.
All of this can be gleaned by studying the press pack and perusing a photo or two. But the reality presents a very different narrative, and it begins when you swing wide the weighty door and fall down into the driver’s seat. The interior will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a modern BMW, which is to say sturdy, busy and obviously Teutonic. I curse the wretched digital instruments, so modishly over-complicated and hopelessly unergonomic, and not being a proper M-car, the depth of personal configuration isn’t there to really sort it out. Please BMW: it doesn’t matter if the graphics look fancy; if you can’t read the engine’s revs instantly this is not progress over your traditional set-up.
What can’t be denied, however, is the excellent, low-slung driving position, the superb sports seats, or the obvious refinement when you get underway. The straight-six fires with a cultured hum but little more, yet it has already won the battle if not the war in those initial seconds. Why? Because in an age of EVs, downsized PHEVs and worthy-but-dull four-pot turbos, a big, juicy, six-cylinder motor such as this creates such a warming feeling of power, opulence and, dare I say it, decadence. If a coupe is supposed to make you feel good, then the obvious power and mechanical smoothness of the M240i already puts it well down the road to success. It is blue-blooded to the core.
That initial impression of refinement isn’t fleeting, because once on the move it’s obvious that while the M240i may well be BMW’s smallest coupe, it undoubtedly has big GT car aspirations. Place it in Comfort mode, or Individual but with the adaptive damping (a £500 option) set to Comfort, and the ride is suitably smoothing, rounding off the worst of potential intrusions but never feeling too loose-limbed in its approach. Wind noise is supremely well suppressed, and there are times when the engine is all but silent, receding so far into the background that you’d be hard pressed to tell what’s powering the car. Which might not sound like the stuff of great driver’s cars, but if you’ve a long journey ahead it certainly puts you at ease.
The new coupe’s size is quite tricky to pin down: walk around it and the perception isn’t of a large car, and it’s the same with placing it on the road when you’re behind the wheel, but while there’s a tangible coupe-like snugness to the interior, neither is it cramped, with plenty of head and elbow room, surprisingly generous rear pews and an entirely useable boot.
What you really want to know, though, is what 369bhp feels like, and how the car responds in the twisty bits. The overriding first impression is one of torque, because the M240i has this deeply satisfying, velvety punch, from seemingly any revs, that just sucks the car up the road, past other traffic if required, and pings you from corner to corner. It’s one reason why I tend to use the central gearshifter or paddles for manual control, so that I can feel the engine working hard at lower revs, otherwise with eight gears there’s a lot of frantic automatic gearchanging going on that quickly gets irritating.
Switch into Sport (you have a choice of Sport, Sport+ and Sport Individual modes) and the engine’s note becomes more apparent while everything tenses up. Yet I soon settle on using either Comfort with the auto ’box or Sport Individual with manual gears: the former for when I’m uninterested, the latter for driving, with the aggressive engine setting but comfort damping. The standard suspension setting is actually very well judged for British roads and all their flaws, and moving on a stage introduces some borderline rebound rates that can set heads nodding away. The trade-off is more body control and a little less roll, so if you’re really trying – or trying hard on an undulating road, for example – then Sport is worthwhile for the extra control and precision it brings, but anything less than eight-tenths effort and I’d stick with the softer damping. Sport+ damping is, ummm… very firm.
It’s certainly quick. A full stream of revs and the speed piles on in great waves of propulsion, interrupted by gentle jolts with so many ratios to get through. There isn’t the top-end fury you’d get in a real M-car, but it’s already way faster than you’ll ever need on the public road, and part of the strength of its performance is teaming this elastic grunt with four-wheel drive. In such a coupe from 15 years back, the rear axle would have been working very hard, even in the dry, but the M240i just hunkers down and goes, never wasting a single horsepower, and this is one of the key ways in which it masks its weight. Combine total traction with supreme torque over a wide band and a profusion of ratios and, much like the current M3, the M240i never feels anything like 1690kg – if you had to guess you’d probably say at least 150kg lighter.
Where the drivetrain really differs from, say, an M3/4 xDrive is that it’s much more biased towards traction. In a four-wheel-drive M-car it’s possible to hang the tail out and not even be fully aware that drive is going to the front axle, yet feel the accelerative force from all four wheels all the same. It’s a beautifully integrated set-up. In the M240i, the car wants to be straight again quickly, even in its sportiest mode, so while you see oversteer in this review’s opening image, these moments are fleeting and you must be very much prepared for the car to snap straight again because it does so in uncompromising fashion and, when it does, you want the front wheels pointing in the right direction.
Having said that, this sort of behaviour only happens in extremis: where the M240i is happiest is ratcheted back slightly from that point, an elegant burst of revs whisking it along, settling the rear under power and adopting a classic tail-wide stance through a corner, just a degree or two beyond neutral but no more. The steering feels quick in its ratio and, while it’s not the last word in connected feel and feedback, it’s accurate enough and reasonably weighted. And most of the time you only need small inputs anyway. You can get into a delicious sense of flow with the car in this way, and not only is it rewarding, it’s also a seriously rapid way of getting from A to B, and in all weathers too.
So that’s the puzzle of the M240i xDrive. It should be flawed with that considerable weight, and significantly hampered from an enthusiast perspective with that transmission, but once again contemporary BMW has proved that it can take ingredients that look compromised on paper and meld them into something that’s far more capable and appealing than you’d ever have expected. That’s some clever stuff; some fine-grade polishing of the highest order.
No, the M240i doesn’t feel like a junior M-car. Instead, it’s a pocket GT with bulging muscles; a versatile, highly capable coupe with a strong sense of style (whether you like its style or not), one that combines huge performance and cross-country pace with big-car refinement. What encapsulated its strengths for me was a five-hour motorway slog to Anglesey Circuit at night, followed by the return leg taking the scenic route on classic roads through north Wales, and its varied talents allowed it to excel at all of it.
Prices and rivals
You may by now have built up a mental picture of this car. What at first glance seems like a disappointing recipe for a smallish driver’s coupe on account of its weight actually blends together remarkably well: the more you drive it, the more addictive and satisfying it becomes - it’s a superb all-rounder, which at £49,225 before options is only slightly more than a Mk8 Golf R, Mercedes-AMG CLA35 and an awful lot less than an Audi RS3.
BMW M240i xDrive specs
|In-line six-cylinder, 3-litre