The new face of fun

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Like the exhaust, the M235i’s standard M Adaptive suspension was engineered by M, and it was designed to out-sport last year’s Euro-only M135i that we loved when we drove it for Bimmer #111. The spring rates are 10-15% stiffer than on the M135i, the bump stops are shorter and stiffer and suspension travel is a bit longer. More interestingly, the Adaptive M suspension now includes a second valve within the damper bodies for more precise control of the hydraulic fluid. One valve remains fixed in diameter, the other is adjustable between Sport+ and Comfort to suit the driver’s preferences or road conditions. The goal was to reduce roll while increasing ride comfort, and we’d say it was achieved.

Regardless of how it compares to the M135i, the M235i feels noticeably better than the U.S-spec 135is where suspension is concerned. Riding on standard rather than run-flat tires (Michelin Pilot Super Sports that measure 225/40-18 front and 245/35-18 rear), it feels more comfortable and compliant on real-world pavement, yet it’s stiff enough to hang together when you wick it up a notch or two. There’s some body roll, for sure, but the stout low-speed damping rates and finely tuned bump stops keep movement so well controlled that transitions come quickly, with little waiting between direction changes.

That stiff damping also keeps the car under control during fore-and-aft and up-and-down transitions—we skipped the prescribed street route in favor of the twisty two-lane that leads to the Valley of Fire State Park just north of LVMS, and the M235i really proved its mettle through the whoop-de-dos and camber shifts of this challenging backroad. This sort of road was always the 1 Series’ forte, and it’s nice to see that BMW’s smallest coupe is still right at home in one of our favorite driving environments.

Driving the M235i on that backroad left us eager for more time in the car than did driving it on the track. With such fluid responses and graceful handling, this car feels like it was made for great California backroads like Highways 192 and 58, and we can’t wait to get it out there for a full day’s driving. We also can’t wait to try it out with the optional limited slip differential that wasn’t available at the press launch; effective though DSC/DTC and an electronic locking diff may be, there’s something about mechanical limited slip that makes a car that much more tactile and responsive under power.

A much-improved cockpit

Most great backroads are located in somewhat out-of-the-way locations, and getting there will prove considerably more comfortable in the M235i than it was in the cramped cockpit of a 1 Series. BMW says there’s 0.1 inches more headroom and 0.8 inches of additional legroom, and it felt like we had more shoulder room, as well. In terms of its size, the cockpit felt identical to that of an E36 3 Series, and so did the trunk, which is bigger than the 1 Series’ by a noticeable 20 liters.

More importantly, the M235i’s interior feels markedly better in quality than that of the 1 Series, with nicer materials and parts that seem more precisely put together than those in the outgoing car. Everything feels good to the touch, especially the perfectly sized leather-wrapped wheel that controls the electrically assisted steering—which is just fine by our initial estimation, though the naysayers will inevitably find fault with it. It could certainly be meatier and more feelsome, but it didn’t feel numb like the steering on, say, a recent 5 Series.

The M235i is graced with a set of M Sport brakes that use four-piston fixed calipers up front and two-piston fixed calipers at the rear to clamp 13.0- and 11.4-inch rotors; these represent an increase of 0.1 inch and a decrease of 1.3 inches over the rotors on the 135is, in deference to the M235i’s slight nose-heaviness. With a 52.2% front weight bias, this 3,535-lb. car places 1,845 lbs. over the front axle.

Glancing at the spec sheet for all four new 2 Series shows a distinct advantage in this area to the manual transmission 228i, which spreads its 3,260 lbs. equally over both axles. Light weight and perfect balance make for optimum handling, and the 228i just might outpace the M235i where real-world driving fun is concerned.

As much as we enjoyed the M235i, we can’t help but be intrigued by its little brother. Its 240 hp and 6.2-second 0-60 time put it more or less on par with the old E36 M3, and so does its $33,025 base price, $9,000 less than the MSRP on an M235i.

Configure a 228i as an M Sport model with a limited slip differential and you’ll have a brand-new BMW that won’t have the M235i’s 320 horsepower or M badge on the trunk but might be more fun to drive. Even if it isn’t, it will certainly be more honestly named.

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