The 228i and M235i mark the first cars to don the “2” badge since the 2002, both carrying the basic traditions of small fun that appeals to a wide audience. Speaking specifically on the M235i, the car is significantly more potent than its predecessor, with a greater emphasis on performance and luxury. On further inspection, the M235i appears less of a descendant of the 2002, and more like a modern evolution of another great from BMW’s past: the E30 M3.
Since its humble beginnings in 1916, BMW has always carried with it a clear and organic direction of driving in its purest form. The earliest models were adorned with high-quality materials: leather and wooden trim, clean finishes, but at their core, each model was about the driving experience above all else. It’s the reason the company adopted the slogan, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”
Even with a century of driving heritage under its belt, BMW owes its current successes to no car more than the 1966 1600-2 and the resulting 2002. The 2002, while not particularly fast or even nimble, struck a cord with drivers and passengers alike as a purist automobile; no fancy gadgetry and limited trim, but it was a small, fuel-efficient performer with spirit. It’s unique design was just a hint at the light-hearted fun within, and at cost that made it attainable: $2,676 US in 1968 ($19,950 today) for all 85 horsepower. At the end of production, BMW was able to pay back its investors after almost 20 years in the red, opening the doors to the long and impressive vehicle lineup we know today.
The 228i and M235i mark the first cars to don the “2” badge since the 2002, both carrying the basic traditions of small fun that appeals to a wide audience. Speaking specifically on the M235i, the car is significantly more powerful, with a greater emphasis on performance and luxury. On further inspection, the M235i appears less of a descendant of the 2002, and more like a modern evolution of another great from BMW’s past: the E30 M3.
Immediately, there is an odd familiarity with the M235i that, even given my experience in previous M3s (2015 notwithstanding), hasn’t been replicated since the E30. That car had a certain intimacy – a raw connection between man and road that was further exemplified by the cozy and sturdy, but basic seating and rudimentary gauges and controls. You knew the car was built for driving, and the beautifully simple gauge cluster and M badge 5-speed shifter let you know immediately.
Compared to the E30, the M235i is remarkably similar in terms of cabin space and near-perfect driver position. The center console stack is recognizably directed toward the driver, the 6-speed manual shifter nearly identical (8-speed automatic shown), and the location of the old driver/passenger window controls have simply been replaced with the driving mode selector (Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+), traction control switch, and parking assist. Even the centre cluster gauges have a familiar simplicity about them, despite the multitude of systems they display.
Filling the previously empty space on the top of the console is a wonderful 8.8-inch screen that shows vehicle system information, audio and multimedia, controlled via BMW’s simply-executed BMW iDrive controller/toggle. The three-spoke leather steering wheel puts paddle shifters, multimedia/volume controls, voice activation, and cruise settings right where they need to be, and the feel is as good as it gets, aided by variable sport steering which adjusts for quick city turning or stability at high-speeds.
Where the steering falls short however is on road feedback, where conditions and rough patches are too heavily dampened by the power steering system. It provides direct, smooth steering inputs to the front wheels, but you’ll have to depend on the feeling through your seat to tell you what kind of road conditions you’re encountering.
With that said, handling on the M235i is near magical. BMW engineers have come about as close as possible to perfecting the ride quality. The E30 M3 used a single-joint spring strut axle up front and central arm axle with longitudinal control arms in the rear. On the M235i, on top of the Adaptive M-specific elastokinematics – fancy for multi-directional suspension travel and optimized bushing materials – BMW has added electronically-tuned dampers, multiplied the complexity of the suspension system throughout and tuned it specifically for the car. Up front, the M235i uses a double-joint spring strut axle, while the rear is heavily modified, using a lightweight steel five-link axle for incredible stability and control in any driving environment.
This works in unison with the Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control Systems which handles the ABS, Cornering Brake Control and M Performance limited slip differential. Turn them on to make the M235i incredibly predictable, or off to relive experience of raw, rear-wheel drive.
That’s great news considering the power that lies within. While current trends could suggest the new M235i is powered by a turbocharged inline-four, BMW has been known to push the power envelope on its smallish models. The tiny M135i, which measured just 4,340 mm in length, utilized the N55 straight-six engine, and the M235i is no different.
The six-cylinder gives the M235i is an immense amount of power, aided by BMWs twin-scroll turbo technology for peak output of 326 horses at 5,800 to 6,000 rpm and 331.86 lb-ft from an incredible 1,800 rpm all the way up to 4,500. Throttle response in Sport and Sport+ rivals cars of a much higher price point, and in Eco Pro mode it slows in an effort to save fuel, although it is still quicker than most.
I drove the standard 6-speed manual, and a quick switch to Sport+ mode tightens everything up while the exhaust purrs at a wonderful note that sounds just as you’d expect. On hill stops and vehicle startups, the manual transmission's start/stop assist makes roll backs a thing of the past.
Fuel economy in Sport+ was even impressive, offering 11.8 L/100 km in combined Toronto city and highway traffic, but I observed numbers in the nines during Eco Pro runs. BMW’s estimates rate similarly at 8.1 L/100 km combined, which drops to 7.6 if you opt for the quick-shifting 8-speed paddle shift automatic ($1,600).
Few automakers have a perspective on long term technologies and are willing to capitalize on that future today. BMW’s upcoming zero-emission i8 supercar and tiny sprite i3 are evidence of that. But what’s equally as impressive is how the automaker has been able to evolve its product while keeping a firm grasp on its roots. There’s continual motivation to expand on every detail, and while the M235i is not an “M car,” it captures the essence of the vehicles that have worn the badge in years passed, making leaps in the process.
The driving experience is honed, the stability is second to none, and with ample rear legroom, luxury appointments and an impressive infotainment interface, it’s an incredibly capable, functional performer that costs significantly less than the $61,700 (after inflation) E30 M3 it outperforms. And that is a huge victory in itself.
+ Driver position & interior comfort
+ Stability/traction control & handling response
+ Hill start/stop assist (manual transmission only)
- Steering wheel road feedback
2014 BMW F22 M235i 1991 BMW E30 M3
Base Price $45,000 $35,900 ($61,700 in 2014)
Price as Tested $53,745 N/A
Engine N55 3.0L 4-valve turbocharged I-6 S14 2.3L 4-valve I-4
Horsepower / Torque 326 hp, 332 lb-ft 192 hp, 170 lb-ft
Compression Ratio 10.2:1 10.5:1
Transmission 6-speed manual, 8-speed auto (+$1,000) 5-speed manual
Configuration FR FR
0-100 km/h 5.0 sec. (4.8 automatic) 6.7 sec.
Top Speed 250 km/h 235 km/h
Length 4,454 mm (175.9 in.) 4,345 mm (171.1 in.)
Width 1,774 mm (69.8 in.) 1,680 mm (66.1 in.)
Wheelbase 2,690 mm (105.9 in.) 2,562 mm (100.9 in.)
Height 1,408 mm (55.4 in.) 1,370 mm (53.9 in.)
Curb Weight 1,965 kg (4,332 lbs.) 1,600 kg (3,527 lbs.)
Tires 225/40 R18 (f), 245/35 R18 (r) 205/55 VR15
Options on Test Vehicle
Premium Package ($4,500)
Comfort Access, Rear View Camera, Glass Sunroof, Auto Dimming Exterior Mirrors, Park Distance Control (front & rear), BMW On-Board Navigation
Executive Package ($2,500)
Universal Remote Control, Adaptive Headlights, High-Beam Assistant, Lane Departure and Collision Warning, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Harman Kardon Sound System
ConnectedDrive Services Prof with ARTII Package ($850)
BMW Online, Advanced Real Time Traffic Information, Concierge Services, Remote Services, Internet, BMW Apps, Convenience Telephony with Extended Smartphone Connectivity
Metallic Paint ($895)