Fresh off the world premier at the Detroit Auto show, BMW invited Bimmerfest.com to test drive the 2014 BMW M235i on the strip in Las Vegas and more importantly on the track at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The BMW 2 series is the successor to the popular 1 series and a much needed small sporty coupe in BMW's line up. The name change brings the new 2 coupe in line with BMW's current structure where coupes (2 Series, 4 Series, 6 Series) are even numbers and 4 door sedans (3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series) are odd numbers. Besides the name change there have been significant improvements made to the F22 2 series over the outgoing E82 1 series.
The most noticeable change to the coupe is the increase in size. The coupe has grown 2.8" longer, 1" wider, a 1.6" wider track in the front and 1.7" wider track in the rear. With this additional size, BMW designers were able to build a great looking car. All but the biggest 1 Series lovers will admit the car had some awkward lines as designers worked around the constraints of having a reasonably usable back seat. The new 2 has the body length and width to blend the green house lines gradually into the body. The design is powerful and aggressive, especially as an M235i. The additional size also translates into four full sized seats with .8" more leg room in the rear. The rear leg room is good enough for my 6'5" frame on a 20-30 minute trip. A problem still exists with head room. While my legs fit within reason it is a coupe with a coupe roof line. Anyone over 6' is going to struggle to sit in the rear for lack of head space. For the rare occasion a 2er coupe owner actually stuffs someone in the back the room is more then ample for all but the tallest of friends.
The 2 series comes in two variants for the US including the 228 and M235i. The 228i is powered by the 4 cylinder direct injection turbo N20 engine found in the 328i, 438i and 528i. Making 240hp and 255ft-lbs of torque it bolts up to either a 6 speed manual or the much loved ZF 8 speed automatic (a no cost option). The 8 speed auto moves the 3300lb 228i 0-60 in a brisk 5.4 seconds. The 6 speed is a tick slower at 6.2 seconds despite being 40lbs lighter. The 228i starts at a very reasonable $33,025 with destination and handling (BMW 2 series order and pricing guides). Unfortunately while BMW had a 228i on had we didn't have a chance to get behind the wheel yet.
The second and frankly more exciting variant of the 2 series is the M235i. The M in the name means it comes from BMW's new M Performance Autos division. Technically part of BMW M, M Performance Autos are a step between the top end of normal BMW production cars like the 435i and a full blown M car. M performance Autos takes a car a bit further without compromising the daily usability. On the M235i that means BMW M has touched all the major components making them more aggressive.
Highlights of the M235i
- 320 horsepower and 330 ft-lbs of torque for 0-60 in 4.8 seconds
- First M Performance Auto for the US
- BMW M engineering for the engine, suspension, brakes and steering
- Michelin Pilot Super Sports non-RFT tires with mobility kit and 155mph top speed
- Limited slip differential (LSD) offered through M Performance Parts
- BMW M Performance 4 piston front brakes, 2 piston rear riding on massive brake disks for no fade braking
- Silver mirror caps differentiate the M235i as a M Performance Auto
- Successor to the 135i with more space and more power
The M235i is powered by the N55 engine found in the 335i, 435i and 535i but with additional M tuning that produces an extra 22 horsepower, putting down 322hp in total. The torque has also been turned up and now puts down 330ft-lbs, an increase of 30ft-lbs over a standard N55 motor. The power is up and the delivery has been tuned on the Nurburgring for a linear response despite coming from a twin scroll 3.0L turbo engine. Power delivery was on point with imperceptible turbo lag. 0-60 for the no cost option ZF 8 speed is 4.8 seconds, the 6 speed manual does it in 4.9.
Complete BMW 2 Series coupe press release
BMW M isn't just about power, they are about overall vehicle dynamics which means the M engineers didn't stop at the engine. M tuned springs and suspension dampers were developed to put the power down where it counts, in the corners. Continuing on the improvement path, M dumped the standard electronic power steering (EPS) software and wrote their own version to give the pilot the feedback they need. In total BMW's M division wrote custom control software for all major systems on the M235i: engine, transmission, steering and adaptive suspension. These changes are undoubtedly why the M235i is rumored to have a better Nurburgring lap time then the 1M Coupe.
On the road the M235 feels tight sporty all while offering distinct driving modes depending for what you are up to. General cruising you can leave it in comfort for a mix of fuel economy and a cushy ride with power when you need it. On your commute for work, drop it into eco-pro to save gas and entertain yourself with the dash display showing how many MPG you've saved with your thrifty driving. When you're ready to unleash the 320hp, toggle the driver experience switch forward for sport and sport+. Both modes tighten up the steering, the suspension (when equipped with M Adaptive) and throttle response. Sport+ pulls back the electronic nannies giving you a little more freedom so it is best reserved for the track. In any mode the cockpit of the M235i is a welcome place to do business. The sport steering wheel is the perfect thickness, the pedals and steering position are spot on and all major controls are at arms length on the driver oriented dash or accessible through the center console mounted iDrive controller.
On the track in sport+ the car means business and the M developed software for the M235i shines. One of my favorite improvements is the transmission software that allows you to hold gears in sport transmission mode right to the limiter. When coming in hot to a corner, you can double pull the downshift steering mounted paddle and the transmission will seamlessly double downshift. This is something the standard ZF transmission won't do. This means you're putting the 320 ponies down when and the way you want. When going the other way and reigning the speed in at the end of the straight, the M Performance brakes show their worth with good pedal feel that is communicative of what the Michelin Pilot Super Sports (non-RFT) are up to.
As you turn into the corner the steering is precise and direct but disappointingly lacks the feedback I was hoping for. The car goes exactly where it is pointed and the steering wheel, rack, and connecting element are solid and tight. Despite all of BMW M's improvements the EPS steering continues to be unable to tell me what is happening with the tires. I know where it is pointed and I can tell from the handling dynamics what they're doing but none of that feedback is transmitted through the wheel. Despite that shortcoming, the car was fantastic once I learned to drive around it. The steering and chassis dynamics are so solid that the lack of steering feel doesn't ruin the M235i, but it does disappoint. That being said, the steering is a full step ahead of the 3/4 series; BMW M needs to show the 3/4 series engineers their tricks.
With a day of seat time in the 2014 M235i...what is the verdict? It is hands down the most exciting car BMW is making to date. It is sized for the enthusiasts, yet with enough space to be practical. It has a powerful in-person presence that is both attractive and aggressive while providing all the performance and power you'll ever need on the street. All while being capable of holding it's own on the track. Starting at $44,025 (full M235i pricing) it isn't cheap but for the money there isn't anything else that offers the full range of performance and daily drivability.
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