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.