Part of BMW's M Performance 'warm' range, but does the facelifted M240i have enough about it to become a performance icon?

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Having passed every test we’ve laid in its path - even against the 5.0 V8 Mustang, BMW’s M240i coupé – has one more hurdle to jump, one more opportunity to show if – and if so, why – it’s one of the most exciting sports coupé on the block, even though its had its crown snatched by the arrival of its bigger brother - the M2.

Rebranding the 1 Series coupés and convertibles as 2 Series is part of BMW’s new naming strategy, but it also gives a nod to Munich’s original compact coupé: the 02 coupé series.

The 1966 1600-2 was BMW's original compact coupé

The two-door BMW 1600-2 arrived in 1966, with the 2002 following in 1968. Then in 1973 BMW launched the car most would consider to be the closest spiritual antecedent of the M240i: the 170bhp 2002 Turbo, Europe’s first turbocharged mainstream passenger car.

On first inspection in the US, when BMW labelled it the M235i, Richard Bremner described it as “the most enjoyable, well balanced model in BMW’s range”. After a subsequent European drive, road tester Nic Cackett labelled it “a sports car of the highest order”. However, since then this order has been adjusted by the arrival of the 365bhp M2, and in 2016 BMW rebadged the M235i as the M240i as it has done with every other car in its range holding the 35i moniker. While the hardware under the bonnet has barely changed, the M240i gets its power output boosted to 335bhp, giving it an 13bhp increase. July 2017 also saw BMW give the M240i a much needed facelift, while everything under the bonnet was left untouched the exterior and interior were given a revitalisation.

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The original M235i also bettered its competition from Mercedes-AMG and Audi in a UK group test, shaded only by the significantly more expensive but less practical Porsche Cayman. Could we be on for a perfect five-star score? The omens are promising, even if its ballastic brother misses out by half a star.

Moreover, are we looking at a new performance legend? Having turned the last M3 coupé into a £60,000 buy and placed the M4 and the M2 equally out of reach for a great many of us, has BMW invented a new affordable sporting hero in the M240i?

Time to see if a legend has been born.

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BMW M240i front end

There is something undoubtedly alluring about a powerful rear-drive coupé such as the M240i. This is a part of the market where affordability makes compromise common – where hatchback-based front-drive pseudo-coupés jostle with true three-box designs.

With the 2 Series, however, BMW has seized the opportunity to offer both a purer vision of a downsized two-door and a proper BMW to boot, with a longways engine, driven rear wheels and the unmistakable separation of roof and bootline that makes a coupé a coupé. It’s a commitment that has produced a distinctive, desirable car. Using this fine blueprint BMW also whipped the roof off and replaced it with fabric in the shape of the convertible - and to their credit have also included the M240i into that range too.

BMW's M Sport brakes are standard, with four-piston calipers up front

Because it’s a 2 Series, of course, a bit of growth relative to the 1 Series coupé was inevitable. So the M240i is 110mm longer than an M140i three-door, as well as 72mm longer than the old 135i coupé.

The car’s styling is distinguished from that of the 1 Series hatchback, with which it shares some panels, by different headlights and bumpers. You can spot an M240i over a lesser 2 Series, meanwhile, by its large front air dams, the absence of front foglights, the grey door mirrors and the smoked exhaust pipes. For the 2017 facelift, BMW gave the M240i a new set of LED lights at the front and rear as standard, alongside tweaks to the air intake and famous BMW kidney grille. Inside the ergonomics have been altered to be more driver-focused, plus touches of chrome, new air vents and the latest iteration of BMW's iDrive infotainment system - including a touchscreen display.

The M240i rides 10mm lower than a standard 2 Series and gets passive M Sport suspension, enlarged M Sport brakes and special Michelin tyres. Adaptive M Sport suspension, with variable dampers, is optional, and came fitted to our test car.

Delve into BMW’s M Performance dealer-fit accessories catalogue and you’ll find that an even more purposeful passively damped set-up is offered, as well as even more powerful brakes, lightweight forged 19-inch alloys and an M Performance mechanical limited-slip differential. Our test car had none of the above.

Power comes from BMW's twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six, in a more developed state of tune than we found it in the M135i, but when BMW renamed the range, they also turned up the wick, so the M240i now produces 335bhp and 369lb ft - with the peak twist figure intriguingly matching that produced by the M2.

BMW’s N55 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six has been through enough updates and revisions to cause a codename-related headache. In many lesser applications the engine is simply dubbed the N55 (to distinguish it from the earlier twin-turbocharged N54), and develops 302bhp and 295lb ft of torque.

In 2012 it found its way into the M135i with an improved 316bhp and 332lb ft and was rechristened the N55HP. The original M235i received a new ECU and cooling system, the unit produced 322bhp in the M235i. By 2016, BMW wanted to up the ante, the arrival of the M2 was heralded and the tweaks to the M240i went rather unnoticed, with the headline figures left to make a statement on their own.

On top of all that, the 3.0-litre straight six used in the new M3 and M4 is an even more substantially respecified N55. Codenamed S55, it has power and torque outputs that are both well into the 400s.

In all cases, the N55 uses one twin-scroll turbocharger, whereas the old N54 had two. Equally confusingly, Alpina’s current B3 saloon uses the N55 block, but the firm junks BMW’s single twin-scroll turbocharger and fits two separate blowers of its own design.


BMW M240i interior

Some fairly sizeable gains are claimed for the 2 Series on occupant space: an extra 6mm of front-row headroom and 21mm on second-row legroom. Our tape measure confirmed the former – along with an additional 30mm of second-row headroom – but we only measured a 10mm gain on back-row legroom.

Still, the tape measure at least confirmed that the 2 Series is a slightly more practical car than the old three-box 1 Series. Up front, the M240i feels spacious enough even for larger drivers – our only criticisms being slightly offset pedals and a driver’s seat that makes you sit a little higher than we’d ideally like.

Frontal visibility is fine but it's hard to accurately gauge the end of the bootlid

Access to the back is restricted, but there’s an acceptable amount of space once you’re in – enough for medium-sized adults, albeit only two of them.

BMW’s understated performance makeover is big on material plushness but relatively small on sense of occasion. Black leather sports seats are standard and very comfortable and supportive, while the handsome three-spoke M Sport steering wheel is thinner than M Sport rims have been of late and none the worse for it.

Red instrument graphics and an ‘M240i’ logo in the binnacle, meanwhile, are the most exciting visual elements on show.

As standard, the M240i comes with BMW's iDrive infotainment system, including a 6.5in screen, BMW's ConnectedDrive apps, sat nav, USB and Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio. There is a host of other convenience items such as automatic wipers and lights, rear parking sensors, sports seats, dual-zone climate control and a Dakota leather upholstery.

Outside, the M240i gets 18in alloy wheels and numerous M Performance developed features including an aerodynamic bodykit, braking system, sports steering rack and suspension set-up, which features on both the convertible and the coupé, while the latter also gets a rear spoiler too.


3.0-litre BMW M240i engine

Fate had it in for the M240i on the day we figured it. The MIRA proving ground was saturated with rain and BMW sent us a test car with a manual gearbox (so no launch control), no limited-slip diff and a worn set of tyres.

In light of those things, cracking 60mph in 6.3sec and 100mph in 14.7sec was no mean feat. A Vauxhall Astra VXR takes longer on both counts – in the dry.

A redesigned cooling system and ECU allow BMW to crank 335bhp out of the M240i's turbocharged engine

We can well believe the car would probably be quicker than BMW’s 4.8sec 0-62mph claim in perfect circumstances, because once our test car found traction, it took off at genuine sports car pace.

From 80-130mph it matched the figures set by a Porsche Cayman 2.7 to the tenth, despite stronger wind and a near 200kg weight penalty. And on in-gear flexibility – pulling from 30-70mph in fourth – the BMW obliterated the Porsche’s time by almost 4.0sec. In the real world, in other words, on anything other than the toughest mountain road, a Cayman would be fairly easy meat.

The fact that BMW's turbo six is capable of such smooth tractability without ever feeling inhibited by its forced induction is key to the engine’s appeal. This remarkable powerplant gives the M240i a feeling of unburstable, ever-ready performance. It feels mechanically rich and expensive, too, in a class where anything other than four-pot engines are thin on the ground.

Truth be told, the engine – broad-shouldered, sweet-sounding and yet willing to rev – is probably the best advert for this car. Its manual gearbox has a typically springy, mechanical action. It isn’t the slickest of instruments, but it is pleasing to use.

Not pleasing enough, though, that we’d be inclined to choose it over BMW’s eight-speed automatic, which makes the car faster, more fuel efficient, cheaper to tax and more likely to retain its value better.


BMW M240i front quarter

BMW has met what we’d consider its primary objectives, in that it has effortlessly blown away the M240i’s closest rivals, even though in an obscure way the M2 is its biggest threat.

From Audi TTS to Peugeot RCZ R, via Volkswagen Scirocco R and even Nissan 370Z, there isn’t a compact coupé that provides the same blend of handling agility and driver engagement as this. The car is also a huge improvement on the rather blunt, unsatisfying old 135i coupé, it should be noted.

The BMW's muscular handling is marred by an excess of body movement

But, as likeable as it is, the M240i isn’t beyond criticism and nor is it quite one of the all-time sporting greats. There are niggles and disappointments in its dynamic mix.

The car’s basic handling is crisp, grippy, muscular and direct. The steering wheel has sensible but plentiful weight but – since BMW's variable-ratio steering system is standard – it picks up pace a little too quickly off-centre to allow the most intuitive kind of control. Nevertheless, on good surfaces the M240i corners flat and hard, with good authority from the front wheels and a good balance of stability and adjustability from the driven rears.

The adaptive M Sport suspension of our test car served it fairly well. But it may be that BMW’s passive standard setting is a better all-occasions bet than any of those available through the adaptive set-up. Because, by polarising those Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes, BMW has failed to produce a perfect-handling sports car here – as far as we could tell.

There is too much body movement over really uneven surfaces in this car, whichever setting you choose. The dampers permit just enough vertical movement when softly set to prevent the car from hunkering down like it should, while in their firmer programs the body is often no more level with the ground as it fidgets and hunts for an equilibrium.

All of which leaves the M240i a little short on the outright poise it’d need to rank as a truly outstanding driver’s car. It’s not short on lively interactivity or boisterous rear-drive charm – just a final degree of finesse.

Aside from affecting outright performance, bad weather prevented us from revealing the BMW's full potential on MIRA’s handling track. Experience elsewhere suggests it might have been spectacular, but not as spectacular, we’d wager, as it would have been had our test car come with the optional mechanical LSD and trick suspension.

In the wet — and on worn tyres — the car had much more performance than it could put down and handled as if up on tip-toes. The same initial balance and bite we found on the road was present to begin with, but the progressiveness and controllability of the car quickly ebbed away at the limit of grip with the stability control disabled.

Above a certain point, the BMW ran seriously short of grip and started to understeer markedly. Better that, however, than run out of stability at the rear end first.

It’s a shame, but we can conclude that M240i owners would be well advised to keep their tyres fresh if all-season usage is what they intend.


BMW M240i

BMW is building a reputation for performance value with its M Performance brand. Given how easy it is to spend £30k on a hot hatch these days, the M240i looks like great value at just over £35k.

Comparison with the outgoing 1M Coupé does the M240i no harm, either. Three years later, you get similar power and performance for a good £6000 less.

The mechanical LSD needs to be standard and the Variable Sport Steering an option

Our sources expect residual values to be good but not brilliant – which is good enough. Expect it to fall behind the likes of the Audi TT, for example, in the residual value stakes.

Economy, meanwhile, is as good as it needs to be, given how much that fabulous engine gives you. On a touring run, our tests suggests economy in the mid-30s is realistic, which is a competitive performance.

One fly in the ointment: your BMW dealer will most likely charge a premium for fitting those M Performance accessories. The LSD alone could set you back more than £2500 all in. As a factory-fit option, we’d expect it to cost much less.

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BMW M240i rear quarter

Uncompromised style, premium desirability, performance in reserve, multi-faceted rear-drive handling, improved practicality and even decent value. How much more could we expect? Nothing at all.

BMW has no obligation to make this car more usable than a transverse-engined, front-drive Peugeot RCZ, for example, but it has. The M240i’s mix of attributes is one that nothing else in the segment can touch. It’s an outstanding car.

It mixes pace, style, usability, desirability and handling panache as only a BMW can

Nowhere will you find a more pleasing powertrain to interact with, or a faster car, for similar money.

And in only a couple of sports coupés – like the Toyota GT86 and Porsche Cayman – will you find a more rewarding driving experience. And there’s no shame for this BMW in losing out those.

We regret only two things: that good old-fashioned suspension tuning seems to have fallen out of fashion at BMW and that one or two of the items on the M240i’s options list aren’t standard.

Otherwise, this is a car to celebrate and enjoy unreservedly. The fact that BMW now has the M2 and M240i propping up its sport range means anyone looking to buy a fast small coupé will be spoilt for choice.

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

BMW M240i Coupe (2016-2021) First drives