BMW is bringing back the small sedan after the 3 Series just kept growing and growing. The M235i is, obviously, the quick one.
The 2 Series Gran Coupé – irritatingly referred to in the advertising as the Grawn Coop – is essentially a 1-Series sedan. If you were sitting in either of those things within minutes of each other, you would be extraordinarily hard-pressed to tell the two apart. It’s even difficult from the outside until you come around to the side and see the swoopy, signature four-door coupe signature roofline.
The 2 Series Gran Coupe has arrived in Australia, a late kick-start to BMW’s new model assault for 2020. We drove both of them on the local launch in Sydney but I know you’re most keen to read about the fast one, the BMW M235i.
How much is an M235i and what do I get?
218i – $47,990
M235i – $69,990 + ORC
You start with cloth trim, dual-zone climate control, auto parking, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, Live Cockpit digital dashboard, keyless entry and start, head up display, wireless charging pad and LED headlights.
The obvious bits are the M Sport steering, brakes and spoiler, 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start with BMW Digital Key, M Sport front seats with electric adjustment, leather trim, adaptive LED headlights and a 16-speaker harmon kardon stereo.
The second of the two 10.25-inch displays runs BMW Operating System 7.0. The touchscreen is a lovely piece of hardware and super-fast to the touch. It’s loaded with useful functionality as well as wireless Apple CarPlay to go with the wireless charging. In the second half of 2020, as part of an over-the-air update, you’ll score wireless Android Auto. BMW reckons it’s taken a while to get the development and integration right and claims wireless AA is a world-first.
You can opt for the M Performance Package for $2200. BMW says it’s lighter, with 18-inch forged light alloy wheels, blacked-out kidney grille, mirror caps and tailpipes. It knocks a tenth of the sprint to 100km/h, too.
You start with the usual six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls and all the usual stuff like three top-tether anchors and two ISOFIX points.
Driving Assistant includes lane departure warning, lane change warning, approach control Warning with city-braking intervention (not officially AEB), rear cross-traffic alert, rear collision prevention and traffic sign recognition.
Warranty and Servicing
BMW is sticking with the three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty despite Mercedes finally shifting to five years.
Servicing is “condition-based” but I’m pretty sure you’ll be in there at least once per year. I was. You can pre-purchase three years of servicing for $1550, which isn’t bad at all. It’s not bad value because it includes spark plugs and brake fluid, which some regimes do not.
The BMW Service Inclusive Plus Package is POA and adds things like brake pads and discs and wiper blades to the coverage.
Look and Feel
Obviously there is a very strong 1 Series vibe on the 2. The roofline looks a bit awkward in the photos but in person, it actually works. It may not have the cool charm of the A3 sedan but nor is it as dull. BMW left ‘dull’ in the rear vision mirror some time ago.
The usual monstrous grille has a meshy 3D effect built in and looks quite good. It’s less imposing than the 218’s usual slatted piece, so that’s good. You can see the usual M Performance bits like the silver highlights on the more aggressive front bumper and the mirror caps. The car I’ve tested here ran on some nice-looking 19-inch alloys.
Here’s a fun stat BMW was keen for you to know – it’s 56mm longer than an E46 3 Series. That’s how big the new 3 Series is and how big the 1 Series has gotten.
I very much like this interior. Bristling with tech and in the M235i, it has very cool-looking (and comfortable) seats. There are some nice practical touches like the new phone holder/wireless charger thing under the dash. It’s rubberised so your phone doesn’t slide around or get scratched but not so hidden you will leave your phone behind (and the car chimes if you do leave it, although I’d prefer the Audi voice telling me). It also fits larger phones, unlike the X2’s wireless charging pad.
The usual M Performance style brushed metal trims look terrific and it really is a great place to spend time. And of course, that lovely M wheel is chunky and nice to hold.
Rear seat space is good if not spectacular and the transmission tunnel gets in the way. Headroom is the same but without the tunnel, obviously. I’d be happy in the back and I’m 180cm tall. Boot space weighs in at 430 litres (50 more than the 1er, 50 less than the 3 Series) and there’s a 40/20/40 split-fold rear seat as standard.
You also get cupholders front and rear (four altogether) and four bottle holders.
This car also has leather interior, but I prefer the suede-ey cloth.
The M235i really steps up from the 218i. It has an extra cylinder and a stonking 225kW and 450Nm of torque from its 2.0-litre displacement. The B54 is a cracker of an engine and is in the Mini JCW (Clubman JCW video here) with the same all-wheel drive system and eight-speed automatic.
It has a reasonably fat torque curve, with max twist available between 1750 and 4500rpm.
It’ll whip to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds
No, it’s not up there with the A45 but more than takes it to the rather more expensive Mercedes-AMG A35.
The official combined cycle figure for Australia is 7.6L/100km. As we were sharing cars on a launch and there was lots of idling during filming and things, the figure I got was inaccurate.
The official quoted figure appears to match the WLTP figure for Europe, so you should be able to get quite close to it. Having said that, the M135i (review coming) I drove for the week around the M235i returned 11.8L/100km.
Pop the bonnet and you’ll see there’s a fair amount of intent to make this properly sporty. A big old crowbar joins the two sides of the car together to help increase torsional rigidity. It isn’t pretty, but it tells you what’s what. There is additional bracing on the front axle subframe and tunnel.
The front wheels – as with the X2 M35i – score a Torsen limited-slip differential. So it’s clear that while it’s all-wheel drive, it’s front-biased – only half the power can go to the rear wheels. So it makes sense to put the diff up the front.
Also common with other cars on this platform, if you want 19-inch wheels you can’t have the adaptive damping. There was a car with the 18-inch wheels (comically small – the calipers look like they’re off a 911 GT2) and adaptive damping but I didn’t get a drive of that, will do that as soon as possible.
On the 19s, you get Bridgestone Potenza S005s, measuring 235/35 all round and the multi-link rear end is standard. The suspension is 10mm lower and features high pre-load anti-roll bar mountings.
BMW also says it’s fitted a new traction control system that is ten times faster at making decisions. Instead of a separate unit passing information back and forth to the ECU, it’s all part of the same box so data isn’t shuttling around the car.
Like the M135i, the first thing that struck me about the M235i is how smooth and quiet it is. Even rolling on 19s, the car is really quiet. The engine is strong, of course, pulling hard after an initial hesitation as the turbo spins up.
Switch up to Sport mode and you start to get a bit of noise from the exhaust, though. Some lovely pops and crackles are nice and they won’t be waking the neighbours. Sport mode also improves the throttle response but, as I’ve already mentioned, the suspension is the same.
What the M235i isn’t is a replacement for the old six-cylinder 1s or 2s (the Gran Coupe isn’t a direct replacement for a specific car). It’s got a very different feel, obviously with a transverse engine and all-wheel drive.
It’s fun, though. It doesn’t really have the ultimate pace of the old B58-powered rear-drive platform, but it’s fast and reasonably fluid. It will understeer earlier, but the systems are there to help gather everything up and you can enjoy yourself.
The brakes are really excellent, which is just as well given the 1500kg-plus weight. They have plenty of feel and are nicely assisted so you don’t get any nasty grabbing. The transmission is lightning fast and doesn’t feel like a torque converter auto when you’re in Sport or shifting yourself.
As a day-to-day car, though, this thing is a perfect. Comfortable, snappy on the throttle and with an exceptionally good ride, it’s a cracker.
BMW isn’t mucking about here. The M235i is a bit cheaper than a CLA250 but is really going after the CLA35, which is a whopping $85,500. The BMW matches the CLA’s power figure of 225kW but wallops it with another 50Nm.
The S3 Sedan is getting really old (its days are literally numbered), but is cheaper at $65,800. It hasn’t got anything like the tech and is probably slightly off the pace for space and overall driving dynamics but quick in a straight line. It’s properly pretty, too – so restrained. It still looks fresh.
The M235i is excellent as long as you understand it’s a whole new thing. Yes, there was a 1 Series sedan in China and Mexico, and there is a fair bit of crossover with the 2 Series Gran Coupe, but that wasn’t anything like its hatchback sibling.
And this isn’t anything like the old 2 Series. If you drop the baggage, you’ll most likely love it. If you want or need rear-wheel drive and/or six-cylinder lungs, this isn’t for you. The world has changed, though, and the M235i Gran Coupe is a result of most customers in this segment not giving a toss about rear-wheel drive.
The great thing is, BMW still gives a toss about how these cars feel, and they feel like BMWs. That’s the important thing and it makes the M235i surprising and brilliant.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.