Test Drives

BMW M235i Gran Coupe review: 2 can play at that



The faster version of the new BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is something of a big boy’s toy

LISBON, PORTUGAL — If you live in Singapore you have two versions of the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe to choose: the 218i that we’ve covered locally, and this, the M235i xDrive.

Hopefully, you can forgive a bit of social commentary here, but the S$161,888 (with Certificate of Entitlement) 218i Gran Coupe is what you’ll buy if you want people to think that you’ve made it (or are at least on the way to making it), while the M235i xDrive is for someone who’s properly made it, and can now drop S$249,888 on what is essentially a toy.

So the salient question is, what sort of toy is it?

Why call it a toy?

Because the 2 Series Gran Coupe is BMW’s smallest four-door car. It’s far more about style than practicality, and the M235i is certainly a head-turner. There’s blacked out body trim that contrasts particularly well with the white paint on our test car, and the now-familiar “M Performance” touches, like the front grille with the 3D elements. It apparently lets more air flow through, though, so it’s as functional as it is fancy.

Same thing with the small rear wing on the bootlid, which looks nice but apparently does make a difference at speed, according to Steffi Graf Laura Dern Anne Forschnerr, a BMW designer we spoke to.

 

Still, do not buy this car if you have a family. Sure, you could squeeze five adults into it, but even BMW says you shouldn’t. It’s aimed at “young couples” who have at most only one parasite to put through college, according to Florian Moser, a BMW spokesperson (although to be fair, he didn’t quite put it that way).

Nevertheless, in the Singapore context the M235i is perfectly serviceable for four people. If you’re a grown person and you have to sit in the back, you’ll be fine for a cross-town journey. This is what it looks like when 175cm of me is perched back there (ok fine, 173cm):

Bottom line, though, you could buy much, much more square footage for the price. Hence, “toy”.

So what do you get for your quarter-million?
Ah, you get big power with your small car, which is always a jolly combo. The M235i comes with BMW’s most powerful four-cylinder engine, a little 306 horsepower belter. The same 2.0-litre turbo does the nasty in other fun BMWs, such as the M135i and the X2 M35i, and it powers the Mini John Cooper Works Clubman and Countryman.

With a growling but muted exhaust, it’s not quite the crazy, thrilling, farting, thunder cracking experience that you might get from a Mercedes-AMG engine, but boy is it brawny. It unleashes 450 Newton-metres of peak torque at just 1,750rpm, so it’s always good and ready to biff the M235i to serious speeds at the twitch of your right foot.

Mind you, the M235i somehow manages to tip the scales at roughly 1.6 tonnes, and all that weight means the acceleration is never ballistic. Instead, it feels like a car that’s always quick, fast and in a hurry. And the 0 to 100km/h time of 4.9 seconds is more than respectable. It’s what you would have had to pay nearly half a million bucks for, not all that long ago.

Wait, what? Or rather, weight, what? Why’s it so heavy?
In a word, xDrive. That’s our theory, anyway. The M235i packs a bit of extra hardware for its four-wheel drive system, between an extra clutch, a propshaft, a rear differential, a hydraulic pump, driveshafts and so on.

The M235i actually runs in front-wheel drive mode most of the time (to save fuel), but once the car detects an impending slip the rear wheels are brought into play immediately.

So it works good?
Someone helpfully arranged rain for us (apparently it happens like twice a year) on the mountain roads north of Lisbon, and darned if the BMW doesn’t dance through the slippery stuff.

It’s not that it clings leech-like to the road — in the wet you can still get either end to break away in a small whoopsie if you’re overenthusiastic — but there’s a stupendous amount of traction available for blasting out of corners with, and the car’s size and low-slung stance means it feels much more naturally agile than the ridiculous sport utility vehicles that everyone wants to drive these days.

There actually isn’t much steering feel, so you tend to ease into corners until you’re a bit more familiar with what the M235i is capable of, after which you soon find yourself upping the pace and cracking along in a way that’s effortlessly fast yet still rewarding.

It all feels carefully calibrated to come together and keep you smiling, actually. The suspension is firm but collected so your spine doesn’t have to pay for the car’s body control, and the steering mixes keenness with precision. This is what we used to fancy the pants off a BMW for.

But isn’t this just an M135i with a boot?
Yes and no. Both cars are built on the same bones, but there are key differences. The 2 Series Gran Coupe has a lower centre of gravity than the 1 Series hatch, while the boot shifts its weight distribution rearwards.

The body’s been reinforced in key places, which lets the suspension system work more accurately. Handling chief Andreas Stumm told us the spring and damper rates are model specific, meaning the M235i has its own setup.

Whatever it is, the fastest of 2 Series Gran Coupes is a pleasure to drive.

Still, a quarter-mill is a lot of money…
It is. You do get one of the most fun BMWs to drive, but beyond that the M235i Gran Coupe is one that feels bang up-to-date in terms of features: you get the “Hey, BMW” spoken command system, the hands-free gesture controls, plus actual useful features like the reverse assist thingy that memorises your last 50m of travel so the car can back itself out of a tight spot for you.

Our test car came with lovely racing-style seats, too, though the rest of the cabin isn’t particularly upscale, compared to the 218i Gran Coupe. If you’re asking whether it feels posh inside, it doesn’t.

So, would you or wouldn’t you?
As small car fans (meaning fans of small cars, not small fans of cars) we’d give this a solid thumbs up for the driving pleasure; the M235i has energetic performance and the frolicky handling to match.

A bit more drama would have been nice (a crackling exhaust like in the Z4 M40i, for instance), but if twirling a steering wheel with vim and dedication is one of your favourite things to do, you’ll get along just fine with the M235i Gran Coupe.

But given how you can buy something bigger and more powerful for the money, this car has a narrow audience. Maybe you’ve paid the house off and the kids are grown, or maybe you’ve got another car to be the regular pack horse. Either way, this is one BMW you buy for the fun of it, which is exactly what toys are for.

BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe

Engine 1,998cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 306hp at 5000 to 6200rpm
Torque 450Nm at 1750 to 4500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 4.9 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Efficiency 7.6 L/100km
VES/CO2 C1/173g/km
Agent Performance Motors Limited
Price S$249,888 with COE
Available Now

 

about the author

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Leow Julen
CarBuyer's managing editor is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.