Source: BMW via Bloomberg
Car Reviews

BMW M235i Review: The Ideal Sport Coupe If You Get the Manual

It’s checking all the BMW boxes. Just make sure it's checking the right ones

Here’s an idea: Have a summer fling.

Have it with the BMW M235i Coupe. It will be very refreshing. Lord knows you deserve it.

I like the $43,000 sports coupe for its plucky drive personality, its enviable gas mileage, and its succinct good looks.

But I do wish it had come with a manual transmission. I wish it had a naturally aspirated engine (turbo-induced 32mpg fuel economy on the highway aside). I wish it had a bigger back seat and felt a little more in tune with me as I clasped the steering wheel and pushed it around corners.

These are not deal breakers. But like most summer flings, it’s best to know about these things before you jump right in. 

Let’s discuss.

The Good Stuff

The M235i is perfectly proportioned from its small rear to the alert, slightly curved tip of its nose.

The M235i is perfectly proportioned from its small rear to the alert, slightly curved tip of its nose.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg Business

BMW introduced the 2-Series last year as a way to upgrade everyone from the 1-Series and compete more directly with the $41,000 Audi A5 and the $44,000 Mercedes-Benz C350 coupes. (It’ll blow right past both the $27,000 Acura ILX and the $27,000 Subaru WRX. I know you rally boys will hate me for saying that, but it’s true.)

Available in either a coupe or a convertible style, the M235i is priced very affordably—under $50,000 even with the $5,000 in upgrades of Harman-Kardon sound, park assist cameras, and heated seats. This in itself is worth acclaim.  

Its eight-speed turbocharged inline six engine packs plenty of horsepower (320hp to be exact). You’ll get to 60mph in four and a half seconds, and you’ll crest 130mph at top speed. The torque under low gears feels snarly—a little heavy, but solid, and with a healthy chip on its shoulder. Staying in comfort mode rather than sport mode helps mitigate the feeling. 

Sport Coupe Feel

Driving the M235i feels like what driving a compact coupe should feel like.

Take it around town and it’ll dutifully conform to the close quarters of urban streets. No one will shoot you bad looks due to excessive engine noise (like in the Jaguar F-Type) or flamboyance (anything from Ferrari). The lumbar-supported power seats are comfortable for owners to endure traffic, run errands (the trunk is surprisingly large), cart pets, or commute for hours all day every day.

The M235i includes Xenon headlights, hands-free Bluetooth and USB, dynamic brake and stability control all as standard features.

The M235i includes Xenon headlights, hands-free Bluetooth and USB, dynamic brakes, and stability control all as standard features.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg Business

This car was named among the IIHS Top Safety Picks for 2015; it also earned top placement in J.D. Power and Associate’s most recent Initial Quality Study, which evaluates quality, reliability and ergonomics on every new car in America. Both of which are to say that everything inside and out the M2 feels solid and secure.

Even better, when you gather speed on, say, the West Side Highway, its tight little body stays taut, with no time lost between gearshifts. It has that basic but unquantifiable instinct (that magic mix of torque, weight distribution, suspension tuning, and gear ratios) that impels it to gather itself and then release with the exuberance of a Greyhound escaped from the starting gates.

BMW Looks

The interior of the car is carved straight out of the dashboard, with instrument panels clustered close together and a well-made finish to the materials and trims.

The interior of the car is carved straight out of the dashboard, with instrument panels clustered close together and a well-made finish to the materials and trims.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg Business

The M235i looks like what a bimmer should look like.

Its body is compact, more so than just a sedan with two doors missing. This is a true sport coupe. It has BMW’s signature kidney grills, low and wide front end, subtle arched doors, and abrupt butt. It’s neither too curved around the sides nor too square at the roofline. It looks straightforward and serious head on, but it’s also sharper, more alert, than the mute flat bodies of some Audis. The proportions are perfect. 

You might as well pay for the $4,100 19-inch performance wheels and Pirelli tires, $600 front splitter, and $80 blackout grill to complete such a high-caliber athletic look. 

I liked the compressed interior dash, too, with its sport cluster of BMW blue-and-white dials and dark alcantara trim. Although the $2,150 “Technology Package” that includes vague things like “remote services,” “BMW apps,” and “advanced traffic info” seems like a waste of money—an iPhone 6 could do those same tasks.

The back seats of the M235i are practical but small.

The back seats of the M235i are practical but small.

Photographer: Hannah Elliott/Bloomberg Business

The car comes with a generous list of standard options; topping my list is the two-way power glass moonroof with one-touch operation and sliding interior sunshade. But go ahead and get the $500 heated seats and $500 parking cameras inside. You can also spend thousands and thousands of dollars on carbon fiber accouterments, too, both inside and out, but please, exercise some tasteful discretion.

More, Please

So this is a good car.

But ... but but but ... it left me wanting a little more. A little more action in the front seat and a little more space in the back.

I can’t help but think of how much fun I could have had were my test car equipped with optional 6-speed manual transmission. It’s not a feeling I usually have when I drive these expensive, high-powered cars. Usually you just want them with paddle shifters and enough give in the chassis to conserve emotional energy as you navigate cobblestones, pot holes, and berserk cab drivers.

The M235i has a 3.0-liter inline-6 engine and 8-speed sport automatic transmission.
The M235i has a 3.0-liter inline-6 engine and 8-speed sport automatic transmission.
Source: BMW via Bloomberg

Yes, an actual manual on the M235i would be slower than the automatic option. But, man, the very thought of the missed possibilities with such an aggressive little stunner makes me groan. If you buy the M235i, get the manual.

Likewise, the version I had came with rear-wheel drive, which is a lucky thing indeed. I can’t imagine what you might hope to gain by paying the extra $2,000 for xDrive. I wouldn’t. You'd lose a tiny sense of contact with the road, versatility around corners, and the ability to really burn out a straight stretch of ground. Buy crossovers and sedans if you want all-wheel-drive and automatic transmissions—don’t buy a sports car. 

Go All the Way

If you take away one thing from this review, this above all: do not choose the M228 iDrive over the M235i. If you know you want an M2, do it the proper way. The full way. The price difference between the two coupe variants is substantially more negligible ($10,000) than the difference between their performance.

To wit: The M228i has four cylinders to the M235i’s 6, with 100hp fewer as well. It’s a full second slower to 60mph. So you basically pay 10Gs less for a lesser car. To which I say, "Why waste your time going halfway?" You might as well go all in.

Like that summer fling. It's much more fun fully committed to the moment. The M235i doesn't have to be complicated: Jump in with a carefree attitude, a penchant for fun, and your baggage left on the curb.

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