Taking advantage of a long weekend, David Zalstein heads from Sorrento to Daylesford in the new BMW M235i...
Australians love long weekends. Who doesn't? Being able to enjoy one in the company of not only my lady, but also the new BMW M235i, made things all the sweeter.
The plan is to drive from Melbourne to Sorrento, catch the ferry over to Queenscliff then head straight up to Daylesford for an overnight stay before heading back to the big smoke. Around 350km in total – according to Google Maps.
Being the highly organised pair we are, the lady and I don't head off until after lunch with nary a care in the world – apart from what, when and where our next meal will be.
One of the first genuinely impressive things we notice about the BMW M235i is its boot.
Perhaps an odd thing for a ‘car guy’ to say, but at 390L, it’s actually 30L larger in capacity than its cheaper, arguably more practical and slightly slower five-door hatchback sibling, the M135i.
Deep, and surprisingly flexible – thanks to handy cargo netting and the ability to fold the rear seats almost completely flat with the pull of a smart boot-mounted release – the space easily accommodates our luggage.
On our way, and with the intention of ticking several ‘I’ve not done that before’ boxes, we set our sights on Victoria’s Arthurs Seat to cruise through a popular series of tight bends and, of course, take in a rather outstanding view of Port Phillip Bay.
Although brief in number and acute in radii, the twists and turns start to reveal a bit about the character of the performance 2 Series.
That being said, teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, the 240kW/450Nm turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine is an exceptionally linear and flexible unit.
Equally as happy cruising along at around 1000-1500rpm as being revved out to its rev limit just north of 7000rpm, the silky smooth engine will shift the 1470kg M235i to 100km/h in a claimed 4.8 seconds – far from slow.
But while the numbers may not lie, for mine, its performance doesn't feel overtly engaging, even while settled in the comfortable and supportive – and optionally ($3120) heated and electric – leather seats.
Louder in ‘Sport’ mode but still present in ‘Comfort’ – and particularly noticeable when covering highway kays – the dull drone can’t even be blamed solely on the spritely engine. The in-cabin sound is pumped through the car’s stereo via BMW’s active sound management system.
Not able to match the far more pleasant exhaust note and pops exiting the M235i’s two black rear pipes, the synthesised note simply sounds artificial and video game-like. The optional ($850) 12-speaker harman/kardon unit fitted to our test car, on the other hand, proves very impressive.
A big tick too is the exceptional ZF-built gearbox. Allowing seamless gear changes almost every time, lightening fast shifts are delivered whether leaving the car to its own devices in ‘D’ or called upon by the driver via the paddles.
After putting it through its paces during the first part of our drive, we prepare for the next leg and queue up to board the ferry - the excitement is building.
A first for both the lady and I, we roll on into the ship and park up snuggly in the lower level – aided by our M235i’s optional ($1300) parking sensors and reversing camera.
Taking in beautiful views, crisp air and calm waters, we arrive in Queenscliff 40 minutes later. Rolling on out, we set our sights north to Daylesford.
Settling into the 130km-odd drive, the BMW M235i’s place in the world is becoming more apparent.
With good visibility, plenty of punch, an easy to learn and operate iDrive infotainment system, sufficient storage areas and a comfortable cabin, the M235i seems less of a hard-edged performance car and more of a highly capable sportster.
However, a downside that needs to be noted is the limited rear headroom caused by the sleek coupe’s tapered roofline.
The electric power steering, in Comfort mode anyway, is exceptional. Amply responsive and beautifully weighted, messing around with the admittedly sharper yet heavier Sport mode, is simply unnecessary.
Going one step further, the steering is so good left in Comfort, for me it’d still be the pick when tackling entertaining hills or even a day at the track.
The same setting again reigns supreme when it comes to the adaptive suspension. Riding smoothly over imperfections with little in the way of cabin interference, Comfort mode excellently blends rut and bump compliance with impressive dynamic ability - but surprisingly high levels of road and tyre noise are present.
Noticeably stiffer and busier, Sport mode is best kept for short blasts over silky smooth tarmac where its slightly flatter and tauter levels of body control can be best appreciated.
Regardless of which you choose, though, the BMW M235i will thrill with its exceptional levels of lateral grip and penchant for direction changes – helped along by 18-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres that come fitted as standard.
Though strong enough to pull up the little Beemer when really called upon, the brake package could benefit from a more solid pedal and greater initial bite.
Pulling into town just in time for a feed at Daylesford's oldest pub, The Farmers Arms, and the M235i has again proven its impressive cruiser abilities. Not stiff or store, the lady and I arrive hungry but still feeling fairly fresh.
A night’s kip and some breakfast later and it’s time to wind things up. We load up the boot again and head back to Melbourne.
With 405km travelled over seven hours, it’s time for some reflection.
The BMW M235i is a properly nice car. It rides very well, the steering is a delight and the engine is a gem – it also averaged 9.4L/100km (up 1.8L/100km on its 7.6L/100km claim).
The lady also found it comfortable and easy to drive with grunt from both the engine and the stereo evoking equally large smiles.
A special shout out too to the M235i’s Bluetooth system. Not only able to pair and reconnect phones quickly, the system also helpfully allows you to register more than one telephone at a time, meaning we could listen to the lady’s audio streamed tunes while my phone remained connected ready to handle any calls.
Hugely capable, the BMW M235i aptly blends genuine sports car ability with all the comfort and technology you’d expect of a luxury German marque. However, while proving more than practical – at least for two people over one long weekend – its circa-$15k premium over the near identically-engined $64,930 BMW M135i does add a little extra sting.
Images by David Zalstein.