The BMW M2 may have stolen all the headlines, but perhaps the best of BMW's sports coupe lies a little further down the range. James takes a spin in the 250kW BMW M240i.
Can you have too much of a good thing?
Take the BMW M2, one of the most universally praised, driver-oriented, speed machines to land in the past few years. It’s perfect for those fun, spring track days, a blast through the hills, reeling in weekend bikers, or even just to hard-park outside the local cafe.
The thing is, for all the symbiotic dynamism the M2 brings on that perfect Sunday drive, it can also be pretty hard to live with on a day-to-day basis.
It is firm, and loud, and has an M-Steptronic transmission. As fun as it can be, the M2 is, a pretty extreme vision of the BMW 2 Series coupe.
So what do you do if you want most of that performance, but only some of the time?
The 2017 BMW M240i is your answer.
For $74,900 (before options and on-road costs), which is a 25 per cent saving (or $24,600) over the $99,500 M2, you get a 3.0-litre, turbocharged inline six-cylinder coupe with rear-wheel drive and an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
It’s no corn-syrup filled diet M2 lite either.
That B58 engine throws out 250kW, just eight per cent less than the 272kW in the M2, and a chunky 500Nm of torque, which is actually eight per cent MORE than the M2 (465Nm).
Peak power comes on earlier in the M240i, at 5500rpm, and while the torque band is narrower (1520-4500rpm to 1400-5560rpm in the M2), it’s still in a very usable and punchy part of the rev range.
There is an extra 40kg of bulk in the M2, but it doesn’t inhibit its six per cent higher power to weight ratio (179kw/tonne to 168kW/tonne), nor it’s three-tenths quicker 0-100km/h time of 4.3 seconds over the 4.6 in the M240i.
So yes, in the outright power-to-the-road stakes, the M2 rightly, takes the cake. But the M240i isn’t far behind, and in an even greater point over the price saving, it’s substantially more pleasant to be in while you get there.
Now, I hope you are enjoying the facts and figures so far, as here come some more.
Here too, it has improved on the grand spreadsheet of life. The ‘starts with an M but isn’t an M Car 2er’ is now three per cent cheaper (M235i listed at $77,215) as well as offering more power (up 10kW) and torque (up 50Nm) than its predecessor.
For an even bigger boost, the level of standard equipment has increased, too. Once part of a $3120 ‘Comfort Package’, heated, powered seats, keyless entry and exterior courtesy lighting is now included.
As is a forward collision mitigation system which was a $1000 option on the M235i, and adaptive high beam headlights which were $1560 extra.
That means you save a further $6530 on box ticking, making the M240i almost 12 per cent better value than the older car.
Throw in the improved iDrive 5 infotainment software, which now includes DAB digital radio, which is basically the only way you can spot the updated 2 Series, and the new M2-lite makes a pretty compelling proposition, especially on paper.
It’s still comfortable and usable inside, with a 390-litre boot which can expand with the 60:40 rear seat, should you need to haul bulkier items from time to time.
The two back seats are cozy, it is sitting on a 2690mm wheelbase after all, but no one goes into a two-seat coupe expecting a vast expanse of room back there. It is fine for adults under 6-foot (i.e. not me) but is perfect for children and the lovely coral red on our test car really looks great.
Access too, is fine, but not a standout. The front seats fold forward and can then be moved forward and aft by the buttons on the shoulder, but even at full reach the gap is tight. Well, tight for me at least.
Up front, and the driving position is very typical BMW, giving good comfort and vision, but despite the supportive seats, you are reminded the 2 Series, even at this level, is at the lower end of the BMW range.
There’s no stitched dashboard, some of the switchgear has a lighter feeling to it, there’s no sync function between the driver and passenger climate control. It’s not bad, just something that serves as a little reminder that this isn’t a $100,000 lightweight motorsport special, it’s a $50,000 prestige sports coupe with a ballistic engine.
And, crucially, a regular ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Often noted as the Achilles heel for BMW M Cars, the seven-speed M-Steptronic DCT is wonderfully fast and crisp when you are powering ahead, but a slow and cumbersome when pottering about town.
Driving the M240i, with the eight-speed ZF automatic, is in contrast, a revelation.
You might think that by calling a slower, more ‘everyday’ gearbox a revelation means I’ve hit my head, but as noted at the start of the review, having to live with a car all the time, rather than just on a perfect driving day, means compromises need to be made.
The thing with the M240i though, is that the compromises aren’t all that bad.
You can still shift quickly, especially with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, but more importantly, it is a much easier car to drive slowly.
The regular transmission makes the more mundane tasks of parallel parking and commuting a lot more manageable, as the shift timing is good and power delivery smooth in all driving conditions.
Which includes, mind you, throwing everything into Sport-Plus mode and nailing the throttle.
Forget the pleasant commuting and easy parking nature of the '240, let it use all that power and you’ll see the other end of the driving spectrum very, very quickly.
The turbo six is wonderfully smooth and the car feels quick enough out on the open road. It will wiggle away off the line and there’s good midrange response for overtaking.
The long torque band (1520-4500rpm) means the car just pulls and pulls in a straight line, and while the exhaust note isn't particularly rorty, it has that smooth inline-six timbre we've all grown to love over the years.
It isn’t an M2 though. There’s an open rear differential which can see the car’s traction control system step in and limit power delivery when pulling out of tighter bends, and despite being fitted with adaptive suspension dampening, it isn’t quite as tight or accurate when tipping the nose in.
This mind you, is when you are pushing it. Wind back to eight-tenths, and you can enjoy the more compliant ride, less abrasive noise and more all round liveability of the M240i, all while having a good slab of fun. It may not be a bulging weapon like the M2, but is still very much a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
It winds down nicely too. Head back to the real world after a fevered run through the hills and you can enjoy the nimble sports coupe in town.
Fuel consumption is largely driven by your right foot, and over some reasonably entertaining driving we saw about 12L/100km consumption, which is up on the urban-only claim of 9.4L/100km, let alone the combined claim of 7.1L/100km… but the car would regularly settle into single figures during sustained 80-100km/h cruising so the M240i can be miserly if so asked.
The new iDrive software is cleaner and easier to use, especially in the way it offers previews of what each menu setting does. That said, some of the basic items like audio balance and graphic equaliser controls are right out of DOS. Adding a bit of a modern interface here, like say, in every other car, wouldn’t go astray.
Apple CarPlay is an option, and honestly, given the robust nature of iDrive, you don’t need it. The native BMW navigation is better, and the voice command system works just as well for making phone calls and entering destination data.
A rear-view camera and sensors at both ends are standard, but there is no option of a surround view camera. Something common to lower-end BMW models, and something we wish BMW would address. But hey, it's a small gripe.
The 2017 BMW M240i is a very solid all rounder for a sports coupe, and a great argument for why you don’t need to go all the way to 11 and opt for the M2, if you want your compact BMW with a bit of go.
Yes it is the big-engine version of the entry level car, and at times noticeable for it, but the driving experience is greater than the sum of its parts, and the value equation over both the M2 and outgoing M235i cannot be overlooked.
Plus, if you like everything you see in the M240i, but want just a little more day to day practicality, you can get it all in the M140i, which is a whopping $10,000 cheaper still!
Sense and sensibility. I’ll have a blue one.
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