(Updated with Bimmerpost’s review)
Despite the fact that we couldn’t make it to the press launch of the M235i, we wanted to bring you some initial views of the most anticipated sub-$50k BMW in recent memory. At least for enthusiasts. This is the M235i we’re talking about of course. A car that is part 135is with a sprinkling of 1M thrown in here and there. Is it a 1M successor? Of course not. But at $43k and available in any spec you want (including AWD in 18 months if what we hear is true) it’s an pretty compelling on paper. And it’s a car we’ve been waiting for since we felt the 135i understeer through a corner seven years ago. But enough of the numbers, lets hear what the press things:
In short, this M235i is the car that we’d dreamed it would be, and wished the M135i coupé would really be too.
It’s not just the taming of puckered asphalt that does it, nor the BMW’s deliciously predictable controllability, but the feedback that subtly comes at you, too. Subtly, because the overly thick steering wheel doesn’t really provide a live streaming interface to the front wheels. Instead, it delivers precision and fine weighting that’s of reassuringly greater heft in Sport mode, but not much of the grainy feel that you’d expect as you stretch the Michelins’ tread with some g-force.
…You don’t change your mind about the getting going when you reach the first bend, either. The M235i’s braking is confident and stable. A few paddle-shift flicks and we’re into fourth, the nose turning with a cleanly eager precision that challenges you to find the perfect line.
Reapply the power and there’s the easy balance of a car whose chassis is at one with itself; there’s no understeering disobedience, no jiggle and squirm from the axles and enough weight in the steering to tempt you into higher speeds next time. And when the next bend turns choppy, this adaptively damped chassis has the absorbency to surf bumps without jerking your torso like an Alpine drag-lift.
It’s the eight-speed auto that we’re in today. It’s not a dual-clutcher (you’ll need the M3/M4 to get one) and the wheel-mounted paddleshifters aren’t as long as those in the old M3, for instance, so they’re not quite as nice to touch nor as practical when you’ve got some steering lock on. But that’s a moot point when you’re ringing the neck of this wonderful machine to its 7000rpm redline.
… The throttle response is near instant and the mid-range pull impressive, with 332lb ft on tap from a low 1300rpm right through to 4500rpm. The eight-speed kicks down promptly when in Sport mode, with its reactions a little lazier when you’re pootling around town in Comfort mode.
Amazingly, despite the harder suspension, the M235i absorbs bumps really well on the Las Vegas roads where the car’s being launched. It feels much more comfortable than the old 135i, leaving space for a harder M2 version, ala the 1M coupe.
… Approach a corner at rapid pace, and those brilliant brakes pull the coupe up swiftly, with supreme stability and little nose-dive. The sharp steering and willing front-end deliver precise, quick turn-in, leaving you to squeeze the throttle early in the corner, with loads of grip from the rear end and the sports seats holding it all together. That bassy idle transforms into a tough, strong metallic shriek as the revs rise, but it’s not as touch as the old 1M coupe’s bold bark.
The steering could do with a bit more precision and the body control is tight, but there’s clearly an element of comfort and livability dialed in. In BMW terms, this doesn’t equate to floaty or sogginess, but a car that’s easy to manage despite its awesome athletic ability. It really has hit a sweet spot between livable and lively.
Even compared with the M135i, the springs and dampers are tautened, which cuts roll, keeps the body under better control and sharpens the steering to boot. This new Coupe is properly bolted to the road. There’s masses of grip, and a lovely balance – all four tyres club together to carry you through the arc. Then when it’s all loaded up you can trim that balance with the throttle.
A straight-six muscled-up with BMW’s quick-witted turbo. There’s 326bhp here, and while it’ll rev beyond 7000 with a song of joy, it’ll also punch forward from well below 3000, sounding eminently fruity as it goes. There’s little trace of the lengthy off-boost gutlessness of the rival four-cylinder Mercedes A45AMG. You can have an eight-speed auto that shifts ratios near-flawlessly, and provides launch control for 0-62 in 4.8seconds. But in the spirit of the simple pleasures this car’s all about, why not stick to the, er, stick: a six-speed manual.
Blimey, is there anything this car can’t do, short of bringing world peace? OK, here’s the laundry list: the brakes could do with more initial bite. The steering doesn’t give much feel, so you’re relying on the (generous) seat-of-pants end of things to understand what’s going on down at the road. And, while it’s a lot better-looking than the old 1-series Coupe it still isn’t the prettiest car on the road.
And for a more real-world enthusiast take, check out Bimmerpost’s review:
Heading into the test drive, of primary concern to me in the M235i was steering feel. In addition to our usual metrics of steering precision and response, I also consider weighting, feedback, centering and communication as equally important when I evaluate a steering system. For me, these are the metrics which comprise the elusive ‘steering feel’.
It seems like every other day we hear of enthusiasts bemoaning the death of hydraulic assist steering and harboring fears about the eventual domination of EPS in all of our favorite enthusiast vehicles. Porsche has embraced EPS in all of the current 911 and Cayman models and soon the new M3/M4 will feature EPS exclusively as well.
I have to admit that I shared many of these same concerns when the current generation of BMWs went to EPS.
During the press reception, I managed to pull Sebastian Sauerbrei and Florian Dietrich from BMW Driving Dynamics into conversation about EPS and to gauge their honest opinion of this technology’s benefit to the enthusiast. I wanted to know whether the switch to EPS was purely for the sake of improving fuel efficiency (which it does, slightly) or whether it gave the enthusiast driver any tangible benefits.
Florian explained that unlike the hydraulic system, EPS gives the vehicle dynamics engineer far more parameters to modify and a more consistent platform to do it in. He explained that hydraulic systems were quite a challenge to tune because they were quite fickle. One example he gave was that they would vary in response to temperature. Your steering feel while the system is cold is quite different than the feel it gives when it’s warm and this presents challenges to the engineer. EPS tends not to suffer from these types of variations. He further assured me that the common criticisms of EPS aren’t necessarily inherent to the technology itself, but rather with how it is tuned. He was confident that the steering system in the M235i would give me the type of feel I am after because they’ve tuned it with the enthusiast driver in mind.