Driving Impressions

By June 1, 2014

We found the BMW M235i a joy to drive. We haven't yet been able to get behind the wheel of a 228i, but with 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, we are expecting plenty of power and thrust from the 3,300-pound base coupe for everyday driving and then some.

We drove identically equipped BMW M235i test cars in and around Las Vegas, including a stint on the oval track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the turns are banked by as much as 20 degrees. At speeds of more than 110 mph (slow for that kind of circuit), the M235i was perfectly stable and stuck its ground impeccably.

On the interior road course, we only got in a few laps, but it was clear in that short amount of time that BMW didn't cut corners on engineering. Notably, BMW keeps its performance-oriented, rear-wheel-drive platform used on the outgoing 1 Series. This comes at a time when other manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes-Benz are going to less expensive and less dynamic front-wheel-drive configurations, like those found on the new Audi A3 sedan and the Mercedes-Benz CLA sedan. Kudos to BMW for that alone.

Our car was fitted with an adaptable M sport suspension, specially tuned for the M235i (an adaptable sport suspension is optional on the 228i, but we're told it's tuned differently). In Sport+, the most aggressive mode, we remained planted and hunkered down throughout the circuit, even when we pinched it off early on the first lap around a couple of late-apex turns. In Sport+, traction control is off but dynamic stability control stays on, though at a lower threshold. As a result, the car didn't let us get too out of control, even when it wasn't happy with our line through the corners.

The BMW M235i isn't a light car; the curb weight with the automatic transmission is 3,505 pounds, heavier than the 428i, yet lighter than the 435i with the same gearbox. But the rigid chassis, agile suspension and near-50/50 weight distribution handles the M235i's mass with panache.

Variable ratio steering does its job, tightening up at higher speeds and around corners, with very few turns-to-lock, enabling us to keep our hands firmly and 9 and 3 at all times. Steering isn't overly heavy either, unlike some cars made by other manufacturers that attempt to create an artificial feeling of sportiness via a ridiculously high steering effort. Big brakes bit hard and fast, letting us push our braking zones just a little more with each lap.

Real-world driving proves nearly as satisfying. BMW says the M235i can sprint from 0-65 mph in 4.8 seconds, and we believe it. Merging onto the freeway with 320 horses on tap is a cinch, and we were surprised to look down at the speedometer in what seemed like no time at all to find we were doing 85 mph on the (straight) onramp. Hearty thrust comes from 330 lb.-ft. of torque, available as low as 1300 rpm. Passing is a breeze, and turbo lag is virtually nonexistent.

Even stop-and-go-traffic in the M235i is fun. Cruising the Las Vegas strip, our Melbourne Red Metallic test car took off easily at each green light, and the big brakes halted us firmly and confidently at every (inevitable) red light. The variable ratio steering was noticeable around town, too, allowing more maneuverability at slower speeds and in and out of parking spaces.

Plenty of interior insulation keeps road noise at a minimum, even in the firmer Sport and Sport+ modes. The cabin feels solid and well-damped at all speeds. Even the sticky Michelin PilotSport tires didn't complain too loudly. We noticed some wind noise from around the A-pillar, though this is normal for the class.

Like most BMWs, we find the standard automatic Stop-Start function on the 2 Series intrusive. It kicks in almost instantly when stopped, and fires the engine back up with a noticeable shutter. This technology helps to improve fuel economy, though official EPA estimates for the 2 Series models are not yet available.