You'll never take the 2014 BMW M235i to a racetrack.
This has nothing to do with the new coupe's abilities, either. Rather, it's that BMW has carefully purposed the new performance 2 Series (which replaces the previous 1 Series) to deftly walk the line between track demon and utterly comfortable daily driver. That it favors daily duty does little to diminish its value as a driver's car, however.
Here, finally, is a premium small coupe with genuine breadth of capability.
Premium Small Coupe Experience
Despite its turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 making 326 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, and a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed rev-matching automatic transmissions, the M235i is no sense of the words a "track car." Though it won't embarrass itself there, it is, rather, endowed with a striking balance of sharp response and ample comfort. The optional Adaptive M suspension yields a machine tuned to suit both your mood and your needs.
We spent time in the car both on the racetrack and on the roads surrounding Las Vegas, where the 2014 BMW M235i paid little mind to Nevada's indifference to road maintenance. The 2's suspension, in Comfort mode, glided smoothly over pockmarked byways while it made high-speed strides on the uneven two-lane roads feel effortless. It is as competent at vanishing commuter miles on imperfect roads as it at stomping confidently up a twisty two-lane.
The inline-6 under the M235i's hood never seems to run short on torque, and when coupled to the eight-speed automatic (the only transmission we drove) rarely felt like it was working hard. The transmission, for its part, made snappy, rev-matched downshifts as routine as sliding up a gear at part-throttle. It is well-behaved, too, urgently following orders in manual mode.
On the track, with the suspension damping cranked up to Sport Plus, there's enough apex-slicing poise to satisfy those who value such things. But despite 225/40R18 front 245/35R18 rear rubber this is a distinctly softer experience than the last 1 Series M Coupe. As a result, the M235i's limits are also far more approachable for most drivers.
Not a True M Car
BMW is keenly aware of the romance vs. reality trade-off when it comes to track use: Romantic enthusiasts like the idea of taking their car to the track. Reality, however, says only maybe 5 percent ever will. So the M235i (the first car from the brand's M Performance lineup sold in the U.S.) splits the difference between standard BMWs and full-blown M cars.
M cars like the M Coupe, which the M235i replaces, are dedicated driver's cars offering higher performance and less compromise for the road. Still, we find most of them good road cars. If there was ever an exception to that rule, however, it was the last low-volume M Coupe, which lacked both adjustable suspension and the offer of an automatic transmission.
So as road cars go, the 2014 BMW M235i is a better machine. Cycle the standard Driving Dynamics Control switch among Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes and you'll alter suspension damping, throttle calibration, steering effort and — on cars equipped with automatic transmissions — shift speed and logic. They're changes that distinguish this coupe as both versatile and desirable.
Bigger, But Not Significantly Heavier
Short of its name change (from 1 Series to 2 Series), the tweaks that matter most on the new 2 are designed to enhance its utility and comfort. An additional 1.2 inches of wheelbase (it's 2.8 inches longer overall) yields more interior space. Despite slightly reduced overall height, front headroom increases by 0.2 inch, rear legroom increases by 0.8 inch and there's an additional 0.4 inch of entry/exit space into the rear seat. Still, this is a small coupe, and adults will prefer the front seat.
Trunk volume is up by 0.7 cubic feet to 13.8 total, and a split-folding rear seat is standard.
It's rare for any car to get bigger but not heavier. Though the use of high-strength steel does minimize weight gain, the M235i's claimed weight with a manual transmission is 3,373 pounds: only 27 pounds more than the last six-speed 1 Series M Coupe we tested.
Interior trim is rigorously simple but also well made from high-end materials. Leather is available in three colors. BMW's three-spoke thick-rimmed steering wheel is better than most, and climate control is standard. Navigation is optional and available with either a 6.5- or 8.8-inch screen that stands proud of the dash.
Performance and Options
When it comes to straight-line speed, the M235i gives up little to the 1 Series M Coupe, at least according to BMW. Zero to 60 times are estimated at 5.0 and 4.8 seconds for the manual and automatic transmission-equipped cars, respectively. Automatics benefit from a launch control function which, apparently, offers faster acceleration than can be achieved using the manual.
Chassis performance can't be expected on the same level as the 1 Series M Coupe but should surpass what the 135i could deliver. Though the M235i relies on brake-induced torque biasing to deliver torque to the rear wheel with the most grip, a mechanical limited-slip differential is available as an accessory. BMW officials say this strategy makes more sense than asking every buyer to pay for a costly part only a small percentage will actually notice. And as much as we hate the idea of applying the brakes to go faster, we can't argue with the M235i's chassis tuning and overall balance.
Servotronic (variable effort) steering is optional and can be paired with M Sport steering, which adds a variable ratio as well. The cars we drove were all outfitted with these options, and though BMW's electrically assisted steering is distinctly different from its hydraulic steering, we found it intuitive enough to prudently guide the M235i at speed.
BMW predicts the M235i will achieve 25 mpg combined, which is better than the outgoing 135i's 23 mpg combined (manual transmission).
Starting at $44,025, the 2014 BMW M235i will hit dealers on March 1 at a base price $450 lower than the outgoing 2013 135is. It will be joined this summer by the 228i equipped with BMW's 245-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, starting at $33,025.
If BMW's target with the M235i is to offer a machine that's comfortable as a premium sport coupe and also rewarding to drive hard, then the mission is accomplished. And though the M235i might not be the sharp track instrument it could be, it is, for nearly everyone, a better car.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.