The fat-rimmed steering wheel of the M235i ($43,100) feels substantial in the hands, and even before the ignition button is pressed, there’s an expectation of something potent residing under the hood. This is the blessing and the curse of aggressive 18-inch five-point double-spoke wheels, the Melbourne Red Metallic paint and that undeniable “M” on the trunklid.
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But we’re after something more than the 320 horses from its sweet 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six engine. It’s the steering, balance and the balletic moves of BMW sports sedans from fourteen years ago that we crave. As good as BMWs typically are, some of their agile performance has been supplanted by luxury and weight in recent years. And Bimmerphiles — the drivers who have multiple tire sets for street and track and who regularly thrash their cars at the weekend autocross — have come close to mutiny.
The 135i and the 1 M, released in 2008 and 2011, respectively, certainly did their share to make amends, gaining comparisons to the original and spectacular E30 M3 from a quarter century ago (aside from the weight, of course). But the new M235i that replaces the 135i does more than just try to make peace with the former BMW faithful. It’s a whole new step in the right direction.
The car weighs in at a corpulent 3,500 pounds, but its spectacular N55 engine just about makes up for that heft.
The M235i (along with the less-potent 228i) immediately proves its intent by addressing a major complaint: the dreaded and much maligned sow’s belly curve at the base of the doors, which is heaved into the land of distant memories. It’s the one strange design flaw of the 1; it was like giving a supermodel a mullet. The 2 looks more substantial across the board — because it is. The car is almost three inches longer than the 1, the wheelbase has been elongated by over an inch, the body is wider, and there’s more headroom for driver and front passenger. It’s remarkably similar in size to the 2001 E46 3 Series, a car that’s still revered for its design and driving dynamics.
The car weighs in at a corpulent 3,500 pounds, but its spectacular N55 engine just about makes up for that heft. This is the only inline-six 2 Series available, and it already comes with a BMW Motorsport package, which includes M Adaptive Sport Suspension, Variable Sport Steering, beefier M Sport Brakes and the supremely sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, the same kind found on the spectacular M3 and M4. The two small turbos spool up quickly with nary a hint of lag, and the M235i hurtles forward with more authority than an angry nun with a yardstick. With the eight speed automatic and quick-responding paddle shifters, the M235i gets to 60 in well under five seconds, and you feel it in your face and hindquarters. Oh, and in your ear canal, thanks to sound piped in through the audio system, making the car both impressively quick and pleasurably throaty.
Driving it is a pleasure. The light steering still feels very accurate, and the car is well balanced and provides a decent amount of feedback through the wheel, instilling a greater degree of confidence than even the stellar 4-Series we drove earlier this year. The excellent Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires provide worthy grip. Though it may not be a true “M” car (the full fledged M2 is on its way, a car that’s wholly created by the Motorsport division at BMW and will boast bigger power numbers and more sport-tuned performance), the Motorsport bits on the M235i deliver thrills to satisfy most of the die-hard Bimmerphiles out there.
Thanks to new nomenclature, new performance, and the good ole BMW Motorsport Performance Package, the M235i is the best kind of peacemaker. It presses the flesh, makes no excuses for the past and points to what can be for the BMW hopeful. For now, that’s about as good as it gets.