I have only owned my BMW M235i for a month but I know enough to realise that this machine is amazing.
But first I’ll start with some of the more boring stuff.
The interior is either a highlight or boring depending on what you’re looking for. It’s classy and has excellent build quality. But for a sports car it lacks some drama. Some M Performance parts in carbon fiber can help but it gets expensive.
The steering wheel is fantastic. Soft, thick and has simple and useful buttons. All the buttons are where they should be and within reach. The dual zone climate control is a bit tricky to get used to. The system relies too much on the sensor. So if the cabin is 20 degrees and you set the climate control at say 23 degrees then it, even on AC on and cold, becomes a furnace. On the other hand, if the outside temp is 26 degrees and the cabin is slightly less, if you set it at 23 degrees then it’s ice cold. A bit fiddly. Maybe I haven’t found a sweet spot.
I ticked the Comfort Package as an option. Why? Because the M235i doesn’t come standard with electric seats. The standard seats don’t even get lumbar support. This was a bit of a let down. The electric seats are great though. Heated too.
Comfort package also adds touch sense unlock and lock which is useful, if not completely necessary.
Space in the back is not as bad as first suspected. Enough leg room for adults (just) and enough head room if they’re not too tall. But at the end of the day, a sports coupe is for the driver and maybe a passenger. If you’re buying this car and worried about the back seats – get a 3 series.
The standard Professional Navigation is great. The screen is clear and once you get used to it, the controls are easy. Annoyingly, Australia has yet to get BMW connected drive features that are available in some other markets.
Mobile phone connects seamlessly with the car. Both calls and audio streaming works just fine. The iDrive screen also also can show/play text messages and emails from my HTC phone.
The price. Hmmm. $79k retail for the M235i when the M135i with the ZF box is about $69k. BMW has taken a leaf our of Mercs books and added $10k on for a coupe. Ridiculous. BUT if you compare this car to an E92 M3 (and you can – sort of), 1M coupe, and the old 135i coupe, then it’s actually priced pretty well.
Haven’t got the car serviced yet so can’t comment there. I get free servicing for 5 years as part of a corporate package so my input here is biased. The tyres are about $1800 to replace all four. Ouch.
Okay onto the fun stuff. You can’t get a sports car without at least trying BMW’s N55 3.0L 6 cylinder turbo engine. It will put all 4 cylinder engines to shame. Yes, you can get a CLA45 AMG with a 4 cylinder turbo and more power. But the lack of turbo lag, the screaming high end, that gorgeous ENGINE soundtrack, and overall versatility and brutality make this engine a must.
I versed my friend’s E92 M3 with DCT and beat him every time from 0-100km/h. I put it down to superior low down torque from the turbo and slightly lighter kerb weight. It feels good beating a proper M car with my meager M performance vehicle that’s half the price :)
The ZF 8 speed gearbox is both smooth and yet dual clutch fast. 8 gears may be a bit too many for some but you only ever use gears 2-4 for most mountain roads. So the gears are usable and yet in 8th at 100km/h the revs sit at a low 1750rpm. Fantastic for long distance driving.
In Eco Pro mode driving 80km on the Bruce Highway I managed to gain an extra 15km. It’s too annoying for daily driving but saves you a lot of fuel on a long drive. I’m averaging 9-9.5L/100km. More than the 7.6L/km that is officially listed but I do drive without economy in mind.
Anyway, back to the fun stuff. Yes the first thing you notice about the car is the engine. Then you notice how smooth and responsive the gearbox is. But what you truly appreciate and enjoy is what you can do with this chassis.
I’m lucky enough to drive to and from work on a mountain road.
The first thing you have to be aware of is the tyres. These Michelin Pilot Super Sports are very grippy in both wet and dry. But only when they’re warm. When they’re cold the car is completely different. It really affects how the chassis responds.
When the tyres are cold and you push the car hard, the car will initially understeer and then snap into neutral. With some throttle it will squirm rather than drift into oversteer. It struggles for traction after a slow corner when the tyres are cold.
When the tyres are warm and the car is pushed hard, the chassis responds and the car sits neutrally in the corner until you either brake or give it throttle. The car is more controllable (but not completely) on the throttle when the tyres are warm and you really feel the car respond to lunacy (with a drift) or easy throttle with sheer pace.
Now the M235i is an M Performance Vehicle and so doesn’t come standard with a limited slip-differential. When driving like a race car driver this is not so much of an issue. The car likes to stay straight and encourages fast smooth driving. However, when driving like an idiot, the lack of a LSD diminishes the amount of control with the throttle. It means controlled satisfying lunacy is not something you get in a car without a proper diff. That said, the lack of a mechanical diff makes the car a little less predictable. Is this a good thing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depends what mood you’re in.
The steering does lack the feel I would like from a sports car. I’ve owned a Mazda 3 Maxx Sport and Ford Focus ST both of which have better steering feel than my M235i. This detracts from feeling ‘one’ with the car. But the rack is very quick and accurate so you can point the car exactly where you want.
The brakes cope fine with sporty driving and don’t fade. A bit more bite initially could make it more responsive but that will reduce its usability day to day. A good balance.
The suspension does well on both good and bad roads. The suspension soaks up bumps through the slow corners but oddly copes less well when going faster, say 100km/h or more. You feel this also when the car is on the highway. A bit bumpy but nothing major.
On the forums and in reviews, this car has been butchered for ‘not being a proper M car’ and having ‘too many M badges’. But at the end of the day, it does exactly what it was designed to do. Offer genuine day to day usability and comfort with 8-9/10ths of the exhilaration of an M car.
What a car. Test drive one but preferably for 3 or 4 hours. Find a good road. Make sure the tyres are warm-ish. Enjoy :)