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Manual version of hottest 2-series shows that no matter which transmission you choose, this is one of the best performance coupés on sale

Our Verdict

BMW M235i

Does this compact coupé have the makings of a performance icon?

  • First Drive

    BMW M235i first drive review

    Manual version of hottest 2-series shows that no matter which transmission you choose, this is one of the best performance coupés on sale
25 February 2014

What is it?: 

A UK-spec M235i, the coupé version of the M135i and a car we’ve already hotly tipped for greatness after a recent drive in the US. It goes on sale over here next month, where it will sit at the top of the new 2-series line-up. 

In Nevada we drove the more expensive version with the eight-speed DCT automatic gearbox; now, in Spain this time, it’s the turn of the six-speed manual, which starts at £34,250. The latter is marginally slower (by 0.2 seconds to 62mph), 2.3mpg less economical and 13g/km dirtier on measured CO2. 

Crucially, though, it is £1650 cheaper. The standard kit on offer is appropriately generous, too: 18-inch alloys, dual-zone air-con, leather upholstery, a DAB tuner and automatic headlights are all included. BMW’s adaptive suspension isn’t (being a £515 option) nor is a mechanical limited-slip differential – which doesn’t have a price yet owing to its status as a dealer rather than factory-fit addition. 

What's it like?: 

Magnificent, really. Flipping the steering wheel has done nothing to dent our initial opinion: the sweet spot between the frenzied 1-series M Coupé and rather more neutral M135i has been brilliantly realised, yielding a compact rear-drive sports car of the highest order.

Like practically everything from the top drawer, the M235i’s foremost feature is symphony, with seemingly not one facet of the car’s identity overcooked or underdone. The performance from the straight-six is strong and a joy to work at beyond 6000rpm while the chassis caresses the power beautifully, remaining fast and fluid within the wide limit of traction and downright gleeful beyond it. And all the time the body, steering and flowing ride quality conspire (via the Drive Performance Control and adaptive dampers) to satisfy whatever mood you’re in. 

It’s addictive stuff, and it speaks to the M235i’s abilities that the choice of gearbox doesn’t drastically impact the almost-continual mood enhancement. BMW’s eight-speed auto inevitably makes the package quicker by virtue of its blink-quick upshifts when you’re really trying, just as it makes it smoother and much less effort when you’re not. 

But the physical satisfaction of the six-speeder is hard to deny. While the interaction between your left-hand side and the occasionally notchy gearshift pock-marks the glossiness of the car’s progress, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is one rear-drive BMW which doesn’t automatically best reward smooth driving. Instead, its compactness, adhesive agility and on-demand hooliganism mean that there is plenty of neck scruff to get a hold of – and if your inclination is to go up the road in confrontational, hot hatch-style abandon, then the manual ‘box is certainly the best cohort for such progress. 

Final judgment on the ride quality must wait for a drive on UK soil, but there’s nothing to suggest that the car will fall at the final hurdle. The dynamic is firm but beautifully controlled on Spanish roads, which tend to challenge the primary ride rather than the secondary. However, in brief patchy spots, the M235i never relents so much as a smidgen of composure. 

Should I buy one?: 

Absolutely. The M235i has future classic stamped all over it. Between the added expense of a Porsche Cayman and the obvious savings of a Toyota GT86, this is unquestionably the coupé to own. And, given that it persuasively resembles an obvious midway point between the high handling talent of one and the sideways revelry of the other, it is arguably the one to buy. 

BMW M235i

Price £34,250; 0-62mph 5.0 seconds; Top speed 155mph; Economy 34.9mpg; CO2 189g/km; Kerb weight na; Engine 6 cyls in line, 2979cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 322bhp at 5800-6000rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1300-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Join the debate

Comments
24

25 February 2014
What a truly hideous looking thing. And as for it having "future classic stamped all over it", I couldn't disagree more. The 1-Series M Coupe is a future classic, but this is about as depressing as cars get.

25 February 2014
"In Nevada we drove the more expensive version with the eight-speed DCT gearbox" No, in Nevada you drove an eight speed auto. There's no DCT available in that car.

25 February 2014
If only I had £35k burning a hole in my pocket.

25 February 2014
It looks too restrained, even simple for the price tag. I suppose this leaves a lot of room for the M2 (or 2M whatever...) but this will probably cost closer to 50K. Even if I had the cash I would wait for the Civic Type R. Not RWD and not as fast but will give it a good run for its money in a much more practical package.

ofir

25 February 2014
or is this totally irrelevant to driving enjoyment these days?? I have read just about every where else that this vehicle totally lacks steering feel. Yet here in the 'kids excitement' over driving this car, nothing is mentioned about this.

26 February 2014
gaco1 wrote:
or is this totally irrelevant to driving enjoyment these days?? I have read just about every where else that this vehicle totally lacks steering feel. Yet here in the 'kids excitement' over driving this car, nothing is mentioned about this.
totally lacks steering feel seems a tad of exaggeration. It may not be up to standard of your Porsche badge but what car does at this price bracket?

27 February 2014
Smilerforce wrote:
gaco1 wrote:
or is this totally irrelevant to driving enjoyment these days?? I have read just about every where else that this vehicle totally lacks steering feel. Yet here in the 'kids excitement' over driving this car, nothing is mentioned about this.
totally lacks steering feel seems a tad of exaggeration. It may not be up to standard of your Porsche badge but what car does at this price bracket?
I never read anywhere that it lacked steering feel compared to a Porsche. In any event Porsche itself has been criticized for lack of feel thanks to its EPAS system. What is curious is that Nic has stated all controls are weighted perfectly. Well if the steering lacks feel, that surely means the chassis is lacking in feedback too and thus the whole experience, (except perhaps the snarl from the straight 6) is numb. I am not impressed. Contrary to what Nic says, it falls between two stools, the Cayman and the GT86.

27 February 2014
gaco1 wrote:
Smilerforce wrote:
gaco1 wrote:
or is this totally irrelevant to driving enjoyment these days?? I have read just about every where else that this vehicle totally lacks steering feel. Yet here in the 'kids excitement' over driving this car, nothing is mentioned about this.
totally lacks steering feel seems a tad of exaggeration. It may not be up to standard of your Porsche badge but what car does at this price bracket?
I never read anywhere that it lacked steering feel compared to a Porsche. In any event Porsche itself has been criticized for lack of feel thanks to its EPAS system. What is curious is that Nic has stated all controls are weighted perfectly. Well if the steering lacks feel, that surely means the chassis is lacking in feedback too and thus the whole experience, (except perhaps the snarl from the straight 6) is numb. I am not impressed. Contrary to what Nic says, it falls between two stools, the Cayman and the GT86.
Neither did I?, but to says it totally lacks steering feel is a tad of exaggeration. What are you expecting from steering feel?... that you come out with blisters and damaged teeth after every journey? I'm not denying that you have read elsewhere that steering "Totally" lacks feel, but where exactly?

25 February 2014
sounds an enjoyable car, and good value too (before options). I would however take issue with the tone of surprise that a manual could be as good as an auto, or that the saving of £1,650 would be cruial. Indeed it could cost that much more and it still wouldnt be relevant to a £35k machine.

26 February 2014
As one who would want a 5 door hatch, I really, really hope this pushes down the used values of the M135i... Any chance we could see a test of this or an M135i with the Quaife LSD supplied by Birds?

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