When spring first spreads its warm glow over southeast Michigan early in the year, there are few things I’d rather do than spend the morning driving a sports car on winding country roads. Good thing I’ve got our Four Seasons 2014 BMW M235i parked outside, and my day’s wide open.
I set out on the freeway to loop around Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the quiet, winding roads on the city’s north side. This calm start forces me to give the engine time to warm up properly before I push it. BMW has decided cars no longer need temperature gauges. That’s fine in a Corolla or a Taurus but seems like a glaring omission in a sports coupe.
Regardless, by the time I reach the start of Huron River Drive, I’m confident the fluids are warm enough for me to wring out the engine toward its redline — in first gear, at least. The riverside road isn’t ideal because of its low speed limit and high number of cyclists, but the gentle path it traces along the river features curves of various radii and cambers that I enjoy tackling at any speed. The 2014 BMW M235i manifests some of the best steering feel in BMW’s current lineup, with weight and resistance that build naturally as I dial in lock. Little ripples play through the three-spoke wheel, private messages from the front tires about the pavement below. It’s the sort of involvement that keeps me smiling even when driving a 320-hp car relatively slowly.
I cut through the pretty town of Dexter and head northwest to the start of one of the region’s more exciting asphalt roller coasters. With few intersections, little traffic, and myriad direction changes, Hankerd Road is a great place to play with the 2014 BMW M235i.
With peak torque arriving at 1,300 rpm and closely spaced ratios in the six-speed manual, you can actually work the transmission at sane speeds; there’s no need to keep the engine running at 6,000 rpm. I run through the gears on a long straight before double-clutching down to third before a 90-degree left-hander, hard on the brakes because I know this corner is as sharp as the 20-mph advisory sign warns.
The M235i handles quite tidily in its default Comfort mode, but on these undulating roads there’s not enough rebound damping for my tastes — the car tends to float over crests — so I nudge the driving-mode switch to Sport. The dampers firm up, cutting down on any suspension pitching and rolling. Sport mode also sharpens the throttle response, makes the engine growl just that little bit louder, and adds a bit more weight to the steering.
The 2014 BMW M235i’s 320 hp is just right for these roads; I’m not wishing I was driving the 425-hp BMW M3/M4. Enjoying a sports car on rural roads isn’t about setting the absolute fastest lap time, finding the last fraction of a g of grip, or threshold braking. Leave that to track cars on smoothly paved circuits. My goal today is to set up a smooth, easy rhythm in a car that makes me part of the action.
The 2014 BMW M235i is not the world’s fastest, grippiest sports coupe, but it’s thrilling because it still makes me work to drive quickly. With each turn of the steering wheel, application of the brakes, or gear change, the car transmits feedback that tells me exactly what’s going on. I’m not the air-traffic controller directing from afar, I’m the pilot guiding his Cessna from the cockpit.
As I press on, concerns about the M235i’s equipment list fade into the background. No navigation, heated seats, or satellite radio? I have no specific destination in mind, it’s 60 degrees, and I’d rather hear the engine and tires than “Take Me to Church.” As-tested price of $47,290? That’s far more affordable than a no-frills 2015 BMW M3 ($62,950) or M4 ($65,150).
The rest of my route takes me south past the tiny village of Unadilla, on to the larger town of Chelsea, and then east along Scio Church Road toward I-94 where I’ll set the cruise control and head home. On each of these rural roads, whether straight and flat or winding and hilly, I’m running the engine up and down through third, fourth, and fifth gear, and looking far through corners so I can trace a smooth line to the next bend. I could do this all day long.
That’s why the 2014 BMW M235i (and its 228i little brother) scored a place on our All-Stars list. It’s not the highest-performing sports coupe around, but it’s one of the most engaging and exciting — for a price that’s not hugely out of reach of most car enthusiasts.
But for now, excuse me. There’s just enough time for me to chase the sun for a few more miles, soaking up every last drop of Michigan daylight.
- 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