from the New York Times
Not Quite an M Car, but Stirring in Spirit
2014 BMW M235i Review
By LAWRENCE ULRICH JULY 25, 2014
Here’s a tire-kicking experiment: Pay a visit to your BMW dealer. Weave
through the sleek wares on display — but tiptoe around that strange
blobby thing called a 5 Series GT. Now, stop when you see a window
sticker that’s less than $40,000. I won’t hold my breath.
BMW isn’t alone. As compact and midsize luxury models have steadily
inflated in size and price, the carmakers have noticed the gaping hole
at the truly small, $30,000-to-$40,000 end of their showrooms.
On the crossover side, BMW has filled that hole with the petite X1, to
sell alongside Xs numbered 3, 4, 5, 6 and soon, 7.
With that tick-tack-toe board complete, the new 2 Series coupe
arrives. And with all respect to BMW, my imaginary billboard would
honestly cite the 2 Series mission statement: “Because you can’t afford
a 3 Series.”
Seriously, some fans do crave a smaller, lighter BMW, closer in spirit
— if not in reality — to the primitive 2002 model that first appeared
here in 1968. In 2014, that car is the 2 Series, a replacement for the 1
Series, a scrunched ball of fun that, for all its charm, seemed a bit of
an outlier in the BMW lineup.
Compared with the 1 models, the handsome 2 Series inherits more of
the family genes, with less stubby proportions and more interior luxury
and technology. And man, is it a blast to drive, especially the M235i
version with its fierce 320-horsepower turbocharged in-line 6. That’s
actually 20 more horses than the more expensive 435i, the next rung up
on BMW’s coupe ladder.
The wallet-pressing issue is that the 2015 M235i, which comes laden
with performance-boosting gear, costs $44,050 to start — just $2,900
less than the prettier, roomier 435i.
In other words, it’s a BMW, not a bargain. That role falls to the 228i,
amply and efficiently moved by 240 horses from the 2-liter turbo 4 found
in many larger BMWs. The 2015 228i starts at $33,050 — a significant
$8,375 less than the 428i coupe with the same engine — and $11,000 less
than the M235i. For either version, throw in $1,800 for xDrive AWD.
Aside from the budget-minded but merely 180-horsepower 320i sedan
at $33,520, that 228i is effectively the only BMW car model (not
counting the X1 mini-S.U.V.) with a prayer of staying below 40 grand
once options are tallied.
At 175.9 inches, the new coupe is nearly three inches longer than the 1
Series. A slightly lower roofline and some subtle body sculpturing help
emphasize the car’s length. Front headroom and rear legroom are up by
Trunk space, already surprisingly generous in the 1 Series, grows a bit
to 13.8 cubic feet.
Channels in the apron along the front of the car direct air at the wheel
arches — BMW calls the feature Air Curtains — to improve aerodynamics
and reduce fuel consumption. Efficiency gets another boost from a
standard engine stop-start system.
And in automatic models, BMW says, a coasting mode disengages the
powertrain at speeds from 30 to 100 m.p.h. when a driver lifts off the gas.
Fuel economy with the automatic transmission is 23 m.p.g. in town and 35
m.p.g. on the highway for the 228i, with the M235i nearly as frugal at
22/33 m.p.g. (though the 6-speed manual drops to 19/28).
In BMW’s ever-confusing naming strategy, the M235i, despite its
prominent M badges, isn’t a full-blown M car in the vein of the M3 or M5.
Yet as the first in a planned line of M Performance models, it does come
stuffed with M-division gear, including a specially tuned engine, larger
brakes and an adaptive, driver-adjustable suspension. Not surprisingly,
reports of an actual M2 starting production next year are already
Yawning air inlets up front suggest the M235i’s high-speed mission.
Bonus interior bits include front sport seats, an M leather
multifunction steering wheel, a red-dial instrument clusterand
unfortunately, BMW’s dowdy Aluminum Hexagon interior trim.
This being BMW, it’s possible to take the good stuff for granted: The
chassis, brakes, seats and stirring handling; sophisticated powertrains
that are virtually unmatched in their one-two punch of power and fuel
efficiency. But with that goodness a given, your attention wanders to
BMW’s sore spots: stingy standard features, greedily priced options and
increasingly complacent interior design.
Loaded up, even this 2 Series could blast past $50,000. Out-the-door
at $46,575, my M235i still lacked a slew of optional luxury features,
including a navigation system, high-end audio and a backup camera. The
infotainment controller with a 6.5-inch screen is at least standard,
with a crisper 8.8-inch unit available only with navigation.
The 2 Series cabin, while well-crafted, appears stamped from BMW’s
aging, unimaginative corporate mold. The latest Mercedes interiors, from
the C-Class to the S-Class Coupe, are more adventurous, deluxe and
appealing. Mass is also a mild disappointment: Ranging from 3,300 to
3,695 pounds, the 2 Series weighs just 75 to 170 fewer than a comparable
Yet for all that, the toy-size 2 Series delivers a boatload of driving
charm. For the M235i, BMW cites a conservative yet still-blistering 4.8-
second sprint from 0-60 m.p.h., abetted by the near-perfect 8-speed
automatic transmission. Even the 228i automatic manages the trick in 5.4
seconds. And bless BMW for keeping the manual-transmission faith
offering its 6-speed stick on either version (though not with xDrive).
Girded with M gear, a rear-drive layout and 52:48 weight
distribution, the M235i presses major performance advantages over
competitors that are based on front-drive chassis. Even so, the best
intersection of price-and-performance may be the 228i with a $2,200
Track Handling Package. It includes an M Adaptive Suspension, sticky 18-
inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires on alloy wheels, Variable Sport
Steering and M Sport brakes.
Go easy on the options, and you might even keep that 228i below the
magic $40,000 mark. Just use your smartphone to navigate and buy
leather pants for that luxury feeling against your skin.