Confession: I am not a BMW fan. I mean, I like BMWs, and I enjoy driving BMWs. I’ve even visited the BMW Museum in Munich, where I recall having a pretty good cup of coffee. But I am not one of those people who can reel off 3 Series chassis codes like catechism, nor have I ever opened my hymnal to page 2002. To me, a BMW is a very capable and very expensive luxury car. Nothing more.
That’s why I’ve been itching to spend quality time with AUTOMOBILE’s Four Seasons 2014 BMW M235i. The car has been billed as the purist’s BMW, shimmering with magic BMW dust. If I’m going to fall head over heels for any BMW, it should be this one. My chance finally arrived last week, as I drove the BMW M235i to Philadelphia and then back to a track day in western Michigan.
It was not love at first sight. The 2 Series looks tall and stubby for a rear-wheel-drive coupe. Blame European pedestrian impact regulations, which dictate a higher hood. At least we’ve livened up the appearance of our M235i with aftermarket wheels and tires. For this you can thank the BMW dealer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which destroyed one of our stock 18-inch summer performance tires during a service appointment and is still sourcing a replacement. In the meantime, we’ve made lemons out of lemonade by installing 19-inch OZ rims and Yokohama Advans from Tire Rack.
With sportier tires that have shorter and stiffer sidewalls, the BMW M235i would be excused for being a miserable highway companion. Instead, it glided over Michigan potholes and tracked straight across Ohio. A longer wheelbase than the old 1 Series (105.9 inches) helps in this regard and the Yokohama Advans roll very quietly and comfortably for track-oriented tires. Through the mountains of western Pennsylvania, I came to appreciate the steering, which feels at first simply heavy yet precise just like any BMW, but is actually more communicative, with more road feel and a clearer relationship between the weight in your hands and the forces acting on the front tires. Likewise, the manual gearbox shifts more directly than the ones I’ve experienced in other BMWs, like our departed Four Seasons 3 Series. The difference between most modern BMWs and the M235i is like listening to music with cotton in your ears and then pulling it out. The notes were always there, but now you can actually hear them.
That’s not to say the 2014 M235i is loud or rough. The cabin is luxury-car quiet, and the driver seat didn’t bother my back during 10 hours of near nonstop driving. I did, however, long for a few creature comforts. There’s only one USB outlet, for instance, and it won’t play music from USB devices unless you shell out more cash for BMW’s proprietary cable. No Bluetooth audio, either. The seats support but also cling because they are upholstered in black leatherette. Sweat came through the back of my shirt by the time I arrived at my hotel in Philadelphia — not the way one wants to look when climbing out of a car that costs $44,050.
In another sense, the BMW 2 Series is a bargain. Like most twentysomethings who are not yet married, I’m not terribly fond of family weddings. Nevertheless I will admit that I enjoyed telling my parents, grandparents, and cousins that I’d arrived in a 2014 BMW M235i. None of them have heard of an M235i, but they all catch the “BMW” part, and they all nod admiringly. In the past, I’ve dismissed this BMW aura as marketing drivel, but I must say there’s more to it. Owning a BMW — even the cheapest BMW — broadcasts success. Several luxury competitors have tried to imitate this effect by switching to a similar alphanumeric naming scheme. But Acura, Cadillac, and Infiniti lack the enormous psychological equity of the BMW brand.
To prove that I’m not just another BMW-driving poseur, I drove late into Sunday night to get back to Detroit. Then I woke up early Monday to drive two more hours west for Track Night in America, a new program hosted by the SCCA and sponsored by Tire Rack. After so much traveling, I was probably not in my best form, and Grattan Raceway continues to be one of the most challenging tracks I’ve ever tackled.
Even so, the BMW M235i gently guided me through the day at Grattan. It didn’t understeer even when I dove too fast into a corner, and it didn’t become unsettled even when I flew over a hump and then transitioned almost immediately into a right-hander. In short, the M235i exemplifies all the good things I’ve heard about BMW chassis tuning. The turbocharged inline-six engine also lived up to its reputation, delivering its power in smooth, predictable increments to the rear wheels (aided by the optional limited-slip differential). It also helped to have such capable tires. The Yokohamas aren’t cheap — $1,234 for the rubber plus another $1,768 for the OZ wheels — but they gripped harder with every lap during the 20-minute driving sessions.
I did see BMW’s version of an idiot light during my last lap of the first session, a message reading, “Engine components hot.” How hot? No clue, since the BMW M235i lacks an actual temperature gauge. The message went away and never returned, but I would definitely prefer to monitor temperature constantly during hot laps.
After a full day at Grattan, this 2 Series felt no worse for wear. We had a local specialty shop perform a brake fluid flush (a good routine to follow after a track day), and the mechanic reported the pads and rotors are still in good condition. “What a cool-looking car,” he said. “You’re making me fall in love with it.”
I’ll admit I’m falling in love, too, and, moreover, am beginning to understand what all the Bimmer-philia is about. Who else builds a compact rear-wheel-drive coupe that can comfortably cover 1,500 miles, impress your relatives, and kick-ass on a racetrack all in a long weekend? The 2014 BMW M235i might just convert me into a BMW fan. I’ve even learned that “F22” is the chassis code for the BMW 2 Series, so I’m almost a BMW geek already.
- Body style 2-door coupe
- Accommodation 4-passenger
- Construction Steel unibody
- Base price (with dest.) $44,050
- As tested $47,290
- 3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6
- Displacement 3.0 liters (183 cu in)
- Power 320 hp @ 5,800 rpm
- Torque 330 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm
- Transmission 6-speed manual
- Drive Rear-wheel
- EPA Fuel Economy 19/28 mpg city/highway
- Steering Electrically assisted
- Lock-to-lock 2.2 turns
- Turning circle 35.8 ft
- Suspension, Front Strut-type, coil springs, anti-roll bar
- Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
- Brakes F/R Vented discs
- Wheels 18-inch aluminum
- Tires Michelin Pilot Super Sport
- Tire size 225/40ZR-18 88Y, 245/35R-18 92Y
- Headroom F/R 40.1/36.5 in
- Legroom F/R 41.5/33.0 in
- Shoulder room F/R 54.4/53.4 in
- Wheelbase 105.9 in
- Track F/R 69.7/60.4 in
- L x W x H 175.9 x 69.8 x 55.4 in
- Cargo capacity 13.8 cu ft
- Weight 3,505 lb
- Weight dist. F/R 51.9/48.1 %
- Fuel capacity 13.7 gal
- Est. fuel range 438 miles
- Fuel grade 91 octane (premium unleaded)
- Adaptive M suspension
- M Sport brakes
- M Sport steering wheel
- Variable sport steering
- 18-inch aluminum wheels with performance tires
- Automatic stop-start
- Black SensaTec seats
- 60/40-split folding rear seats
- 10-way power front seats w/ adjustable bolsters and lumbar
- Retractable headlight washers
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Xenon headlights
- Automatic climate control
- Hands-free Bluetooth and USB
- Hi-Fi sound system
- 6.5-inch iDrive display system
options for this vehicle:
- M Performance limited-slip differential- $2,895