The most oft-heard beef with the old BMW 1-Series is that it wasn’t different enough from a 3-Series—a little bit lighter and a little bit cheaper, but not enough to matter. To which I reply: Do you know how much Porsche would charge to build you a car that’s a couple hundred pounds lighter? The typical path to that kind of weight reduction is to rip out the stereo, air conditioning and back seats, bolt on a set of carbon fiber windshield wipers and add $20,000 to the price. BMW just builds a slightly smaller car and then charges less for it. The gall of them.
The 2014 BMW M235i is about eight inches shorter than a 435i, and consequently the 4-series is the better-looking car—its flanks have enough room to resolve themselves in a gracefully tapered tail, while the M235i is forced to adopt a more pugnacious stance. The 2-Series looks like a 4-series that spent five to 10 seconds in the crusher.
The 2-Series is still uniformly larger than the 1-Series, but not distressingly so. At 174.5 inches, the M235i is exactly the length of an E36 (1995-1999) M3, a car that I maintain is the most perfect size ever. And the E36 never had 322 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque under the hood.
In fact, the 2014 M235i now boasts the most powerful gasoline motor in a M Performance vehicle—as distinct from a full-on M car, since of course those are all powered by small Hadron Colliders. M Performance is more like Cadillac’s V-Sport or Lexus’ F-Sport, a penultimate step before you reach the real silly machines. Giant fender flares thus remain the exclusive property of the 1M, for now.
The 2014 M235i does include a nice list of performance hardware, however. The standard car features M Sport brakes (bigger rotors, snazzy blue calipers) and M Sport suspension (stiffer, 0.4-inches lower) and a unique exhaust system. The options list includes Adaptive M suspension with electronically controlled dampers. And, if you want to build your own quasi-M2, you can upgrade the brakes and suspension from M Sport to M Performance, yet another fine-grained variant of the M-car hierarchy.
M Performance brakes net you even larger, cross-drilled rotors in a choice of three different colors. M Performance suspension is slammed another 0.4 inches and jazzed up with red coil springs. And even in its most basic form, the 2014 M235i boasts, “specific elastokinematics for the front suspension,” so be sure to mention that at cocktail parties.
Staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sports are standard issue, sized 225/40 R18 front and 245/35 R18 rear. M Performance forged 19-inch wheels are optional. A mechanical limited-slip rear end is another option. It’s beginning to occur to me that you could get yourself in quite a bit of financial trouble with the M235i options list. A six-speed manual transmission is one option, at least, that won’t add a dime to the M235i’s $44,025 base price.
I drove a car equipped with the default transmission, the excellent ZF eight-speed automatic. Predictably and somewhat sadly, the BMW M235i is quickest with the automatic, clocking 0-60 in 4.8 seconds versus the manual’s 5.0-second dash. The automatic also includes launch control. BMW says its acceleration numbers were gleaned using launch control, but simply stepping on the gas seems to work awfully well when you’ve got max torque at 1,300 rpm.
I got behind the wheel of a 435i soon after my stint in the M235i, and I can’t claim there’s a huge difference in how they drive. The 2-series is noticeably more intimate inside, but when you mash the accelerator or bend it into a corner it feels a lot like the 4-series. Which is to say, it’s got the best six-cylinder motor not made by Porsche, mated to a chassis that’s perfectly balanced and predictable. The aloofness that crept into the 5-series is not present here.
It’s been a while since I drove a 1-Series, but my impression is that the 2-series’ larger footprint—1.3 inches added to width and wheelbase—makes it easier to drive fast. It’s sort of a counterintuitive idea, but we’ve seen a few cases lately where stretching a car actually makes it quicker around a track by enhancing high-speed stability. (The 991-series 911 is the most obvious case in point.)
I’d be curious to see how an 2014 M235i fares against a 1M at, say, Virginia International Raceway, but I think I’d put my money on the 2. At BMW’s Spartanburg test track there’s an uphill left-hand corner that unloads the suspension and makes for an easy place to put a car sideways, and the M235i was nearly goof-proof, encouraging languid slides as the outside tires gradually regained purchase. A 1-Series, I suspect, would require quicker hands at the wheel.
But the 1-Series is old news. The relevant question is whether the 2014 BMW M235i makes a case for itself in as an alternative to the Car Formerly Known as the 335i Coupe. To which I submit that the BMW M235i may not look as pretty as a 435i, but it does knock off 0-60 two-tenths quicker and weighs probably a couple hundred pounds less (final figures aren’t yet in).
So don’t think of the 2014 BMW M235i as a Bimmer coupe for someone who couldn’t stretch to a 435i. Think of it as the 435i CSL Lightweight with air conditioning and a $20,000 rebate.