The world doesn’t understand cars like this. Oh, there’s a relatively small coterie of hardcore enthusiasts who understand the 2015 BMW M235i, but most will look at the compact coupe—a two-seater for all practical purposes—and see a small car with a big price tag and say “Why?”
We’ll tell you why. Our driving notes start with a simple declarative sentence: “This is the hottest backroads burner we’ve been in for a long time.”
We’ve driven faster coupes, the Louisville Slugger-like Chevrolet Camaro ZL-1 comes to mind. The velvet hammer Rolls-Royce Wraith, anyone? Yet when it comes to the narrow winding backroads of the Pennsylvania hills, there aren’t many other cars that can deliver the instant gratification for the incidences of turns and what passes for straights between them.
The BMW M235i debuted as a 2014 model, a coupe version of the sub-compact BMW 1-series sedan, following the current nomenclature of designating sedans and wagons with odd-numbered first digits—1-Series, 3-Series, 5-Series, 7-Series—and coupes, convertibles with even numbers, including the 2-Series, 4-Series and 6-Series (and BMW, could we please see a return of the 8-Series), based on the equivalent sedan to its left on the number line, mathematically speaking.
The 1-Series two-door sedan and five-door hatch haven’t been sold here, considered by BMW as too small for American tastes. The coupe and convertible versions of the 1-Series were brought stateside, however. Compact coupes and convertibles have little obligation for meaningful backseat, an obligation it delightedly declines to fulfill.
So the BMW 2-Series, then, is an indulgence for two. It’s sold here as the BMW 228i and the BMW M235i, with convertible and coupe versions of each. As with other BMW models, the number identifies the engine. The 240-horsepower N20 TwinPower Turbo two-liter four-cylinder powers the BMW 228i coupe and convertible, its first time in a sub-compact BMW model. The BMW M235i, also with a roof and without, gets 320 horsepower of motivation from a three-liter TwinPower (single turbo with two inlets) inline six-cylinder engine.
That said, it’s not a BMW M, as in the M3 and M4 we recently hammered around Road America. And if you have to have that, there are rumors an M2 on the way. In the meantime—or for all practical backroads purposes—the BMW M235i should twist the giggleometer far over to the right.
As replacement for the BMW 1-Series Coupe, the 2-Series Coupe is actually 2.8 inches longer, wider by 1.3 inches, and its wheelbase was lengthened by 1.3 inches, though thanks to increased use of aluminum and high strength steel, it’s not heavier. Like its predecessor, the 2-Series Coupe isn’t a fastback but a “three-box design,” with a notchback roofline and a distinct trunklid. The lines taper towards the front, with a compact twin-kidney grille above—on the M235i—a large lower opening flanked by large functional scoops that not only aid in cooling but also feeding BMW’s “air curtain” which directs a shield of air around the front wheels for improved aerodynamics. Otherwise it’s the typical BMW short overhang, long hood and cab-rearward profile.
The view from the 2-Series driver’s seat won’t surprise the seasoned BMW driver. The 2-Series Coupe shrinks standard BMW interior attributes to fit inside its sub-compact confines. The 2015 BMW M235i Coupe has sport seats, with extendable thigh support for the driver, and sufficiently bolstered for lateral support, though short of extreme bolstering that only a gymnastics vaulting letterman can get in.
The standard BMW cues are there, however, including the large white-on-black speedometer and tachometer. The tach has “ready” at the zero rpm point, where the needle points when the engine is off during auto-start/stop. Turn the car off completely and the needle falls to “off.”
The freestanding multi-information display is at the top of the center dash. BMW’s iDrive is standard, of course, no doubt owners learn to use it eventually, but without navigation or satellite radio on our almost $50k automobile, we didn’t have much inspiration to struggle with it. BMW’s ConnectedDrive allows the integration of cellphones and music players. Dinosaurs that we are, we just popped in a CD and let it go at that.
The 2015 BMW M235i is available with a no-cost optional six-speed manual transmission; an eight-speed paddle-shifted “Sport” automatic is standard, and it’s how our test model was equipped. BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control, among other things, changes the shift mapping of the automatic, including how it behaves left in full automatic, and how quickly it shifts in manual mode.
Driving Dynamics Control’s settings include ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. The latter two firm up the suspension via variable shock absorbers, what BMW calls “Adaptive M Suspension, and Sport+ also dials back on the intrusiveness of the stability control. It’s our pick for backroads raids, or if you’re so inclined, dabbling at autocross. Or track day.
ECO PRO, on the other hand, turns off the engine even at speed when power isn’t needed to maintain speed (as on slight downhills), as well as the auto-start/stop mode. It’s our pick for urban driving or as a complement to cruise control driving.
The M Sport part of M235i lowers the car 10 mm (.4 inches, comparted to the 228i) and firms up the suspension. The more tender of tush complained about a stiff ride, which had as much to do with our fondness for Sport+. It didn’t feel that way from behind the steering wheel, though of course we chose the setting, and we experienced the extra confiden… Oh, heck, Sport+, 320 horsepower and thread-the-needle competence makes the 2014 BMW M235i the agility of Nureyev, compared to, well, you wearing clown shoes.
Add to this a torque spread of 330 lb-ft between 1,300 and 4,500 rpm for an engine that doesn’t need its tachometer needle bouncing off the rev limiter for the kind of response that’s needed on a winding back road. Not that the BMW in-line six isn’t musical anywhere along its rev range but the midrange torque means a blast of acceleration is just a throttle push away—important on a road with blind curves, blind crests and blind driveways. The 2015 BMW M325i clings to curves like a wet T-shirt.