Car reviews - BMW - 2 Series - M235i
Classy styling, city-friendly size, great perceived quality, heartwarming exhaust symphony, fuel economy
Room for improvement
Front-drive handling overtones, clanky door closure, expensive
BMW shrinks the Gran Coupe mould and makes it fit perfectly into a city car
4 Sep 2020
By NEIL DOWLING
Externally, there’s lots to love about the compact dimensions and crouching stance of the M235i xDrive that continues the European love of sedans masquerading as coupes.
The concept worked so well with the Mercedes-Benz CLS from 2004 that rivals adopted the style with such fervour that it has almost taken on its own category, evolving as rampantly as a Cavoodle litter in a High Street pet shop.
BMW makes its version under the upmarket Gran Coupe label, spreading the love to versions in the 2 Series, 4 Series and 8 Series.
But the 2 Series Gran Coupe – of which there are four iterations priced from $49,990 (plus costs) through to the M235i xDrive here at $72,990 plus on-road costs – isn’t all it seems.
It is not, primarily, a “proper” 2 Series with rear-wheel drive and it sits on a very different platform to the 2 Series coupe and convertible.
What this is, is a Mini that’s got into BMW’s wardrobe and pinched a fancy outfit.
Further, the M235i is probably better known for its 2014-2016 iteration with its stonking 3.0-litre turbo-petrol six and 240kW/450Nm of grunt. The car here has the same name; different postal address.
Now before there’s gnashing of teeth by the populace and preparations for a symbolic guillotining of the faux BMW, it has to be said that the format works exceptionally well and is not worthy of derision.
The M235i xDrive’s only crime, however, is not the wearing of a BMW badge, but the application of the coveted M name. For however good this is, it’s not an M.
The M235i xDrive takes on Mercedes-Benz at its own coupe-come-sedan game and at the same time, faces up against the Audi A3 and even its own relative, the Mini Clubman John Cooper Works.
There are others in the category, but often compromise but having two doors or the more conservative three-box sedan profile.
So what gets people into BMW showrooms is the promise that the M235i xDrive has all of the performance to match that seductive, sports-car shape.
Fortunately, both temptations solidify. The M235i xDrive is seductive and has more than adequate performance.
If that doesn’t appeal, the top-spec of the new 2 Series Gran Coupe line-up has a wealth of goodies included as standard.
The $72,990 price tag buys a more powerful engine and an on-demand all-wheel drive, more engaging four-pot M Sport brakes, M Performance suspension (if too harsh, the standard springs are a no-cost option), and 19-inch M alloy wheels.
There’s also leather cabin trim and upholstery, head-up display, wireless phone charging, M Sport seats with electric adjustment, M Sport steering wheel, Harmon Kardon audio system, Apple CarPlay, 10.25-inch central monitor and second similarly-sized screen for the instrument panel.
A reverse-assist function is a simple switch that will automatically drive the car backwards about 40-50m – great for those who parked the car in a tight spot and can’t figure out how to get out.
The cabin is cosy, more so because of the low entry points and low seat height. The dash sits close to reinforce the sportscar nature and yet it’s not cramped, so there’s plenty of room for two pedals and large feet in the driver’s footwell.
Anyone familiar with BMW products in the past five years will feel at home with the dashboard and switchgear.
That’s a good thing – it ain’t broke so don’t fix it – and yet there’s a sense that the cabin isn’t quite on the same level as the body shape.
Improved switch simplicity for the main cabin functions – audio, communications and HVAC – make life easier and remove a lot of the centre console fussiness of previous generation models.
It will seat four adults – five really is a squeeze for headroom – and there’s ISOFIX and top tethers for child seats.
The boot swallows up 430 litres of cargo which is actually a big number for this size car, although the boot opening is narrow – those planning on carrying a pram may need to practice or size it up first.
The M badge brings with it more supportive seats and a smaller-diameter steering wheel although a selection of owners may prefer less bolstered seats in favour of easier entry and egress.
Speaking of entry and egress, while the car’s badge has a name for quality, that reputation is dented to a degree by the clanging door closure.
Whether it’s caused by a lightweight door structure or the frameless glass, we don’t know, but it’s not a good sound on a $75,000 car.
Regardless of seat height and door clatter, in targeting buyers who enjoy the drive more than the calisthenics of getting into and out of the car, the driver dynamics are excellent.
The drivetrain is all BMW with a hint of Mini. Given that BMW owns Mini and supplies all the go-gear anyway, it’s hardly a case of plagiarism, rather a case of picking bits from a common parts bin.
The engine is BMW’s B48 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder that was first used in the Mini Cooper S and subsequent JCW versions as of 2014 before being trickled across to cars wearing BMW badges.
Under the bonnet of the M235i, it pumps 225kW at 5000-6250rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1750-4500rpm, solid numbers that get sent to the road via an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
Power primarily goes to the front wheels though there’s an on-demand drive to the rear wheels (hence the xDrive nomenclate) activated cleverly by sensors that pick up on more intel than just a wet road.
While all this is happening, the exhaust puts on a symphony of pops and crackles, barks and shouts that really give a sense of theatre to the car and goes a long way to validating why you bought it.
M Performance suspension is standard and ties the 1540kg car down beautifully.
Some can argue there’s a bit of firmness under the seat and there are some low-speed bumps that can crash through the body, but generally it’s well suited to the theme of the car.
The steering is more suburban, a tad firm yet almost devoid of any feel so it’s the old “dead bird in hand” feeling that many electric-assist systems get tagged with.
Regardless, the nicely-direct ratio is well suited to the broad range of driving conditions expected from this car.
All the oily bits end up at M Sport’s 19-inch alloys shod with 235/35R19 tyres. There is no spare wheel in the boot, merely a tyre repair kit. Buyers do have the option of 18-inch rubber and for the added degree of comfort, it may be worth selecting.
Through winding and undulating corners in the winter-green countryside, the M235i xDrive showed exactly why it is a BMW and exactly it is not as good as a 3 Series.
Sure, it handles great and can be very engaging and involving, but it never really felt like it was under your skin like a 3 Series can.
As a car that has to live in a stylish environment in the city or suburbs, it will be a delightful garage filler. It is nice to drive and the exhaust noise will make your heart beat ever so much faster on the way around town.
It’s generally comfortable, very well equipped, safe as houses and economical with a claimed 7.6 litres of fuel used per 100km – we saw 8.3L per 100km on test.
But for almost the same style there’s the 218i (same looks, smaller engine) with a price that will save you a whopping $23,000.
Then there’s the fine-handling, intuitive and classic BMW 330i that’s only $2000 more expensive.
Warranty and service
BMW has a comparatively timid three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Rivals such as Mercedes-Benz offer five-year cover.
There is no capped-price serving program but BMW does has a Service Inclusive package of three, four, five or six years. This allows owners to pre-pay servicing and receive tidy discounts.
As an example, a “Basic” package (basically oil and filters) is $1550 for five years or 80,000km. If you move to the “Plus” package it adds brakes and clutch and other components for $4154 for the same period.
A lovely little car with all the style and involvement that’s missing from the Merc CLA, but it’s not perfect. The M235i xDrive is expensive, firm riding and is overshadowed by the more accomplished and similarly priced 3 Series.
It’s fun and enthusiastic to drive but style leaders may find more value – like $23,000 worth – in the eco-friendly three-cylinder 218i.
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