How much does 0.9sec mean to you? Quite a lot, perhaps, if it’s serious performance cars we’re talking about.
But is it worth an extra £25,000? Perhaps not, especially if the time difference is set by two cars offering much the same recipe.
This year we compared a £34,260 BMW M235i with the £59,145 BMW M4 (and a £58,950 Alpina B4 besides) and determined that the least expensive machine was best, not merely because of the price difference but also because it is easier and more enjoyable to toy with the M235i at its grip limit.
That’s what an M car should be about, and what the M4 doesn’t quite manage to deliver.
But enough of comparisons, because the M235i is about a lot more than enjoying 90 per cent of an M4 for 58 per cent of the price; this is an old-school entertainer of a BMW. And these are rare machines among the mass of SUVs, diesel saloons, hatchbacks and even MPVs that an ever-enlarging BMW now offers.
Its M135i hatch is another sporting gem, but the M235i shines brighter, mainly because it’s your traditional, coupé-like two-door saloon. This car has its genetic roots in classics like the original E30 M3 and even the 2002 tii of the 1970s.
Because the M235i is smaller than the M4, it instantly feels more usable; on narrow roads, shorter, narrower cars are quicker, simply because they leave you more wiggle room. Its relative lack of bulk encourages you to drive it harder.
And so does a turbocharged straight six whose throttle is so sharp that you’ll barely know this engine is pressure-charged at all, its substantial stream of urge emerging mere moments above idle. At which point you’ll enjoy the mechanical music of the super-smooth straight six, and with an arresting crack of high-rev rort.
More than that, your discovery that this BMW is distinctly quick will erupt almost as quickly as the machine itself, which smashes 62mph in 5.0sec dead in manual form. That’s only 0.9sec behind the M4, of course. You have more than enough power, most of the time. Which applies whether you choose a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic, both excellent.
But the allure of this car is about a lot more than horsepower. It’s about balance. The balance of power and grip, of performance and economy, of space and size, of ride and handling, of agility and stability, of roar and refinement. It’s a high scorer on every count, making it satisfying to live with and easier to justify to yourself.
That leaves your mind – and body – free to enjoy the tactile and aural delights of a chassis, powertrain and steering gear that deliver deliciously delicate, high-precision drifts at the limit, darting agility while you get there and a ride quality rivalling cars far less exciting. The M235i is among the most satisfyingly complete, real-world sports cars out there.