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BMW M235i brings back the thrills we’ve been missing

If the 3 and 4 are not enough BMW for you, try the 2 with a dash of M

Published: April 28, 2014 09:00 AM

Devoted fans of “The Ultimate Driving Machine” have not all been thrilled with the direction BMW has taken in recent years, dialing back the driving-machine quotient in favor of comfort and luxury. Those who have felt slighted, though, can now take heart. We’ve just bought a new 2 Series coupe in the uplevel M235i trim, and we’re happy to say that the thrill is back. This car, successor to the laudable 135i, is just the right size for a little sportster, and it feels taut, quick, and eager, the way a BMW should.

The bad news? This is not a cheap thrill. While the base 2 Series, the 228i, starts at $32,100, the M235i starts at $43,100. A few option packages pushed our car to $50,400.

What you get when you step up to the M235i is a killer powertrain consisting of a 320-hp turbocharged straight-six-cylinder engine mated to either an eight-speed automatic, or, as in our car, a six-speed manual. Although this is not an all-out M-car (from BMW’s in-house performance boutique), the M235i brings a sport-oriented suspension, brakes, and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Our car also has screaming-red leather upholstery well suited to this sport coupe's extroverted personality. What BMW is doing here is trading on the cachet of its high-performance M line and providing a kinda-sorta-high-performance car without going to extremes.

This approach is working in spades, as the M235i is a joy to drive.

Once under way, you’ll immediately notice that the engine pours out an endless flow of smooth torque and high-end punch. It pulls strongly, responding instantly to every prod on the throttle and emits a satisfying exhaust note. And as in the 435i, there’s something addictive about the quietly muscular engine, which tempts you to forever tip deeper into the throttle. The manual shifter is easy to manipulate and, combined with its smooth progressive clutch, very simple to manage. Only when setting up for a quick corner and trying to grab second gear did we notice a slight rubbery feel.

At any speed, this car telegraphs immediacy, with instant turn-in response and barely any body lean. The electric power steering is quick and well weighted, and if it still feels a tad artificial, BMW is clearly getting better at making this bit of virtual reality more lifelike. The suspension is tied down yet still absorbent enough. Rough surfaces provoke short, quick body motions, leaving the ride a bit jittery, but that, in some way, conveys the sense of control and precision.

The beautifully finished cabin features the “M” badge here and there, while the red leather seats proclaim “young and irreverent driving enthusiast!” in a tone notably louder than the whispered elegance of, say, the gentlemanly 435i coupe. The sculpted seats provide immense support, and while the space up front is fine, the rear seats are very tight—no surprise since this car is a size smaller than the 3 Series. The M235i brings all the latest BMW infotainment system features, and quirks, managed by the iDrive controller and viewed on a clear but small 6.5-inch color screen.

Many BMW fans have been waiting for a spiritual successor to the classic 2002 of the early Seventies. The M235i comes close. If the 4 Series coupe has grown into “An Officer and a Gentleman,” the M235i evokes “The Fast and the Furious.”

Gabe Shenhar

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