In the 80s if you wanted a fast 2 door BMW but couldn’t afford or justify the M3, there would be a 325i Coupe on your drive, its front mounted 2.5L straight-6 punched 170 horses through the rear wheels in a package weighing the same as a modern day Mini Cooper. The 325i was a real driving machine that put a smile on your face every time you got behind the wheel; it had balanced but lively handling, made a great sound and oozed class without shouting about it. The 325i lived on through the 90s, eventually being trumped by the 330i and in 2007, BMW produced the mighty 335i Coupe which now sat at the top of the 3 series range, but below their then new M3 V8. The 335i had 300bhp courtesy of a 3L twin turbo engine – it absolutely flew! Fast forward 8 years and the 3 series Coupe is now called a 4 series. To conclude then, the modern day 325i equivalent would be the 435i … or would it?
Over the years the 3 series Coupe (now 4 series) has become a very capable GT (Grand Touring) – it does everything you ask and with very little fuss. I would go as far as to say the 435i is a near perfect car, but not a car that would give you goose bumps every time you fire it up. It has lost some of that excitement and rawness of the original 325. It has gained 300kg and over a foot in length, and also happens to cost just over £42k for a manual car in M sport trim. Once you’ve added a couple of must-have options that price swells to almost £50k! No, the 435’s biggest problem is BMW’s own M235i.
The 2 series is a replacement name for the new 1 series Coupe in the same way the 4 replaces the 3 Coupe. The flagship 2 series (the M235i) was available from launch early last year – it shares most of its running gear with the excellent & very successful M135i. I’m lucky enough to own one of these 1s and absolutely love it; it’s compact, practical, fast & very subtle, and only a handful of people could tell it apart from a basic diesel model – I like that in a car. Aside from the 2 series being more handsome, it was launched a good 18 months after the flagship 1 which gave BMW enough time to iron out any minor issues the M135i was reported to have.
BMW introduced these halfway M cars for buyers who wanted something a bit special but found the M3/M4 out of reach – does that ring any bells? The M235i has been tweaked in many ways to improve its handling and manner over a standard 2 series, the 3L 6 cylinder turbo is the same lump found in a 435i although it has been fettled with and now produces 322bhp, that’s 16bhp more in a car weighing 50kg less! It doesn’t stop there either, the car is fitted with proper four pot brakes that are more effective than most full fat M cars of the past – they also look great painted in Estoril Blue. Full leather, Xenons, Bluetooth, DAB radio & Rear Park Assist are also standard equipment on this model. The M235i is on sale today for just £34,535.
Climbing aboard, everything was very familiar to me; typically with BMW its driving position is spot on, massively adjustable & accommodates my 6’3″ frame with ease. Hit the Keyless starter button (again standard on all 1s & 2s) and the glorious 6 pot fires into life. This sounds particularly good on cold starts where one of the two exhaust valves close, causing it to idle very deeply, almost like an old school V8. This particular car is fitted with the very popular £1685 ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox – of course I love manual boxes but this auto is about as good as it gets! It shifts seamlessly through gears in default comfort mode; when switching to sport or sport +, it holds onto gears before giving you a faster more aggressive shift, a more sensitive throttle pedal, heavier steering & a better exhaust note too. Selecting Eco Pro mode softens the throttle response, changes gears early and genuinely achieves outstanding economy for a car that can get from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. I regularly saw a 40mpg average in this car on A roads and the motorway.
I think the M235i is a handsome little car, it has a slightly questionable backside but the rest of the design is spot on. It could do with 19″ wheels, though I think the 1 seems to get away with wearing 18s due to it having less overhang. The 2 is almost 8” shorter than a 4 series: some of this is lost luggage space, the remainder is reduced rear passenger leg room. With two large adults up front you wouldn’t want more than a couple of teenagers/small adults in the back. I guess this is the one place in my opinion where you might be left wanting the 4 series. There is plenty of boot space though, no spare or space saver in sight. BMW offers a free option of either run-flat tyres or some superb sticky Michelin super sports – the latter come with a sealant repair kit (good luck with that!).
It is really difficult to combine sporty handling and a supple ride … the M235i manages that task very well! This particular car was helped further by the £515 adaptive M Sport suspension option which brings electronically controlled dampers that have two stages of stiffness – comfort for your everyday stuff, and sport when the mood suits. Electronic steering certainly numbs feedback, and unfortunately that’s the direction all car manufactures need to go. Electric steering reduces the CO2 output and therefore helps make BMW a greener company. Maybe I’m getting used to electric steering now as I found little wrong with the 2s; I did find it too heavy in sport but comfort felt fine and it also helps when you’re grabbing one of the sweetest steering wheels in the business. It’s an engaging little car to drive, blistering straight line performance, excellent handling, yet all very calm when you ask it to be. You can feel its near perfect 50/50 weight balance when really pushing on, as with all fast rear wheel drive BMW’s it’s the rear end that will let go first but not in a dangerous manner, a fast steering rack will help you gather up any unwanted sideways action if you decide to turn off all the traction aids.
0-100mph in less than 11 seconds – that’s faster than a Ferrari Testarosa and on par with a £150k Bentley Continental GT 6.0 W12 – this car absolutely flies! The engine doesn’t just produce plenty of power, the twin scroll turbo musters up bucket loads of torque from only 1500rpm, thankfully it loves to rev out to the red line too depending on your mood. There is no denying the M235i makes all the right noises, the exhaust note is typically a BMW 6 and doesn’t sound muffled by the turbo, the cabin ignites when you start pressing on too. Okay, BMW have plumbed in “active sound” – basically synthesising engine notes through the car speakers, but who cares when it sounds so genuine? The other benefit of this system is when you’re just cruising around town or on the motorway, the cabin is near silent. You won’t step out of this car wishing it had more go – I’ve had my M135i for 18 months and it still surprises me.
To summarise – there are plenty of fantastic “hot hatches” on sale for around £30k today, but when it comes to (what I call) hot coupes, the M235i has very little opposition at this price point. We all know the Porsche Cayman is more than brilliant, but it only offers 2 seats and 270bhp for £40k. I haven’t tried one of Audi’s new TTs yet, but I’ve read lots of positive press about it which is great; again, the Audi would struggle to get anyone in the “back seats”, a useful place to secure extra luggage but not for seating (think 911). It also lacks the boot space of the 2. The M235i is a practical Coupe, but it happens to have ability to threaten excellent sports cars like the Cayman & TT. Nothing else can do that for 35 grand!
Performance & Economy 8/10
Value for Money 8/10
Overall TLE score 23/30
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A special thanks to my good friend John Holbrook for the use of his lovely M235i
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