Is the BMW M2 too hardcore for you? The new M240i and 230i are there for the buying...
The mid-life updated BMW 2 Series range has arrived in Australia, headlined by the hotted-up M240i and a revised mid-range 230i, both of which we drove at this week's launch.
Pitched as a slightly softer alternative to the red-hot M2 track star, the M240i replaces the M235i, and sports a number of updates to make it more desirable.
Headlining this is a reworked TwinPower single-turbo 3.0-litre six-cylinder (TwinPower denotes variable valve and camshaft controls, and high-precision injection) — with 10kW/50Nm more than before.
This means outputs of 250kW of power at 5500rpm and 500Nm of torque across a wide swathe of engine speeds (between 1520 and 4500rpm), which matches the M2's figure even when the latter is on overboost, sent to the rear wheels. The M2's different N55 engine (with 272kW/465Nm) design sports superior cooling and lubrication suited to the track, and more power.
Matched here is an eight-speed ZF automatic wth torque converter, fitted with wheel-mounted paddles and launch control, contrasting the M2's less urban-friendly but faster-shifting seven-speed DCT. The M240i also misses the M2's Active M Differential (a mechanical LSD is now a $5390 option), lightweight alloys, light compound brakes and some elements of the M-tuned chassis.
In other words, the M240i is a more liveable alternative to the M2, with still-blistering performance. You can theoretically do a 4.6 second 0-100km/h sprint in the coupe (4.7sec in the convertible), which is two-tenths faster than before, and only 0.3sec off the M2's pace.
Where the M240i range really wins is price. The coupe costs $74,900 plus on-road costs, which is $2600 cheaper than the M235i, and undercuts the M2 by about $24,000. The M240i convertible is a more unique offering, and costs $83,900. That $9000 buys you an electric canvas roof that opens/closes quickly at urban driving speeds, and nicer leather seats.
As we found in the M140i hatch, the 3.0-litre six remains a sensational engine, with ample torque from down low, right through the rev range out towards the 7000rpm redline, amplified by the almost instantaneous delivery once you plant your right foot.
The eight-speed auto may not be a double-clutch configuration like the M2, but it remains adept at choosing the right ratio, and shows no hesitancy in daily urban driving. In the car’s sportiest modes, you get more aggressive downshifts, plus the car holds lower gears longer, and amplifies the raspy exhaust note.
The real star is the six-speed manual which you can order as a no-cost option from the German factory. In the hatch, it's a crisp and accurate shifter with good clutch weighting, and boosts the engagement factor three-fold. Given the drivetrain parity, we'd be comfortable saying the two-door models offer the same.
Like the five-door M140i, the M240i gets standard variable sport electro-assisted steering (and a nice M Sport wheel) with speed-sensitive assistance that ups the resistance at higher speeds, Adaptive M suspension with variable dampers (softer in comfort mode, stiffer in sport) and adjustable stability control settings.
The ride is hard to complain about too much, because even when the standard adaptive dampers are set to offer the highest amount of resistance on the compression and rebound the car still rounds off sharper hits well. Body control/handling is typically good, complemented by eager turn-in and the ability to flick the tail out with some throttle modulation.
Of course, as we know from past experience, the optional factory LSD better directs torque to the appropriate loaded rear wheel, giving the car more of a slingshot feel. But if you option it up, you may as well just buy the M2.
The M240i convertible is relatively stiff, but there's some small scuttle shake over low amplitude but rapid-fire corrugations. This isn't uncommon or even unexpected, but does a slower (1630kg over 1485kg), heavier and pricier body really suit the spirit of the car? No.
Standard-fit are M Sport brakes with signature blue callipers behind 18-inch M wheels, which offer good stopping power, but which did begin to show some fade after about eight laps of Winton Raceway.
I drove a M240i coupe to Melbourne back from the track via the backroads, and found it an amenable and liveable proposition in comfort mode, with acceptable NVH suppression. The soft-top obviously lets more wind roar in. Say tuned for a more detailed M240i coupe review and video soon.
BMW has added equipment over the M235i, including keyless Comfort Access, park assist, a 12-speaker 360W Harman/Kardon sound system, and heating/electric adjustment for the leather bucket seats.
Other M140i features include adaptive headlights, though the driver assistant tech extends only to approach control warning, regular cruise control with braking, lane departure warning and light city autonomous braking. We’d like to see radar cruise and blind-spot monitoring available.
There’s also the new Professional Navigation system shown on a 8.8-inch landscape screen with iDrive 5 (a rejigged rotary dial), DAB+ and new software trickled down from the 7 Series. The app-style interface looks the goods and is even slicker than before, though the simple menus are familiar.
Other standard features include heated Dakota leather seats, DAB+, rain-sensing wipers, climate control and extended smartphone connectivity. We don't like BMW’s decision to charge about $500 to purchase wireless Apple CarPlay — though at least it can be retrofitted to any existing BMW with a SIM slot.
The cabin is otherwise familiar, with a low-slung driving position, great ergonomics and a dour design given some life by good quality finishes. There are two small back seats in both the coupe and convertible body style, which have ISOFIX points and actually fit two smaller people well enough.
The other major update the BMW 2 Series range is the launch of coupe and convertible versions of the 230i, replacing the 228i. This is the engine familiar from the 330i, and puts the 2 Series well ahead of the 125i hatch.
The 2.0-litre TwinPower four makes 185kW at 5200rpm (up 5kW) and 350Nm between 1450 and 4800rpm (slightly higher in the rev band than the old engine), enabling a slick 0-100km/h time of 5.6 seconds in the coupe and 5.9sec for the soft-top, down one-tenth. Fuel use is also improved by 0.4 litres per 100km to a 5.9L/100km minimum combined-cycle.
The 228i was the secret gem of the 2 Series range before, and the 230i only amplifies this. It's a cracking little unit, with a torque graph like Table Mountain, an urgent and raspy note, and a preternaturally sharp 8AT. The $13,000 pricier M240i may have a better note and be quicker, but the middle child has plenty of pep.
As before, there's a 220i derivative that sells for $51,300 (coupe) and $58,300 (convertible) and packs a detuned 135kW/270Nm engine, and gets a boosted features list that you can read about in more detail here. We didn't get the chance to drive this car, but will soon. Stay tuned.
That rear-wheel drive unique-selling-point obviously remains, as does the ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox with torque converter and manual mode. Like the M240i, you can order a six-speed manual for the same price. If you're a purist, you should and will.
The ride and handling is typically lively, with the familiar chassis balance and dart-like turn-in, though optimal driving comfort and dynamism is best achieved by spending $1400 to buy the adaptive M suspension.
The 18-inch alloys on run-flats iron off most sharp hits, but the body control benefits from the adjustable dampers, which soften the rebound/compression strokes for comfort, and add resistance if you find a favourable corner sequence.
Both BMW 230i coupe and convertible models also gain new features in return for a $2000 price rise to $61,000 and $3000 rise to $71,900, respectively.
These include electrically adjustable heated front seats (alcantara inserts in the coupe and water-resistant leather in the soft-top), anti-dazzle exterior mirrors with electric fold-in and auto park functions, Comfort Access, plus Navigation system Professional with the latest generation iD5 software (shared with the M240i) and the same driving assistant features as the range-topper.
All BMW 1 Series models get BMW’s ConnectedDrive suite, with real-time traffic updates, Intelligent Emergency Call, remote app functions and condition-based servicing that you can pre-pay for at delivery.
There's little doubt that this mid-life BMW 2 Series update is worthy, with the mid-range 230i and M240i making equally compelling cases for the performance buyer in coupe guise, though we maintain that the smaller engines suit the convertible's character better.
They're cars with precious few flaws, both offering brilliant balance, improved drivetrains and greater value for money.
The M240i coupe is especially compelling as a more liveable and much cheaper alternative to the hardcore M2 for those not destined for the track.