The new face of fun

The new M235i is the first M Performance model to reach the U.S., but don’t let the M badge fool you. This is an “is” in the grand tradition of sporty yet usable BMWs, and it’s great fun to drive.

February 27, 2014
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Let’s get one thing out of the way right from the start: This is not an M2 but an M235i, and it comes not from BMW M but from M Performance, BMW’s new sub-brand created to bridge the gap between the standard road cars and their high-performance counterparts. If we’d been in charge of nomenclature, it would have been called a 235is, but the significance of that moniker is lost outside the U.S., and in any case the “is” label lacks the obvious cachet of a tricolor M on the trunk lid.

“M Performance” may seem like mere marketing, but it also serves an important role within BMW’s overall product portfolio. By bridging the gap between the standard production BMWs and the M cars, it allows the M cars to evolve into ever-more-exotic track-day specials, with extensive carbon fiber and abundant aluminum as well as hard-hitting horsepower.

By comparison to the forthcoming M3 and M4, the M235i seems downright ordinary, but that’s just fine. A sport-tuned BMW has always been a fun car to drive, and this one is no exception. It may lack the hardcore appeal of the next-gen M cars, but it’s significantly less expensive, too, and it will likely prove easier to live with on the daily commute. Again, we’d call that an “is,” not an M, but whatever it’s called, the M235i is a sweet little coupe.

Not so little anymore

That said, it’s not quite so little as its 1 Series predecessor. In its ascension from 1 Series to 2, BMW’s smallest coupe has grown up, maturing into a more refined vehicle and expanding to more adult dimensions inside and out.

Comparing the new M235i to the outgoing 135is, overall length is up by 3.7 inches (or so we believe; BMW’s measurements for this dimension varied), atop a wheelbase that’s 1.2 inches longer and tracks that are wider by 1.8 inches at the front and 1.5 at the rear. It’s a bit heavier, too, by 162 lbs., with a slightly higher (by 0.6 percent) front weight bias.

Among those figures, the longer wheelbase and wider track widths have the most obvious effect on the new 2 Series’ character. Whether as a 228i Coupe powered by the N20 four-cylinder or an M235i powered by the N55 six, the 2 Series will ride on a 105.9-inch wheelbase rather than the 1 Series’ 104.7-inch gap between axles. Those 1.2 inches make for a car that’s noticeably more stable at speed, albeit at the cost of some of the 1 Series’ agility. It’s not into 4 Series territory—it’s nearly five inches shorter than its upmarket cousin—but it’s no longer the hyper, hard-to-handle little hot rod it was as the 1 Series. The wider tracks help here, too, giving the car a much more stable footprint for lateral moves.

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