Lots to love and lots to improve in the smallest GC.
Oh, how things have changed. Once upon a time, the BMW M235i was a brilliant, rear-wheel-drive coupe with a fantastic straight-six engine under the hood. It was so good that we compared it to the iconic E46 M3. Fast forward four years and the new 2 Series Gran Coupe has hit our shores with a vastly different setup that includes a turbocharged four-pot developing 301 horsepower. Power also no longer only goes to the rear wheels, with an all-wheel-drive system now adding grip but detracting from the possibility of sideways action. It's also become quite pricey, but it has redeeming qualities. Below is a list of our favorite and most-hated features of the M235i xDrive Gran Coupe.
The cabin of the M235i GC is something special that reminds us of much bigger and more expensive offerings in the Bavarian automaker's range. Particularly with the available M Sport seats, the cabin is swathed in high-quality materials that blend sportiness with luxury. It's also got a pair of 10.25-inch screens that make navigating the roads, picking your music, and fiddling with drive modes all very easy. Everything looks and feels premium, and we found plenty of reasons to applaud the M235i's build quality. Furthermore, you can configure the illuminated trim panels as you desire, which can make it feel like you're in a different car every time you drive it.
Yes, taste is subjective. But you're reading my piece so this is my opinion - not that there are many people who disagree with me here. The overall look of the car is seriously awkward. It looks as if the designers thought they were penning a much larger car when they chose to draw the grilles and headlights. Then they realized that this is the smallest Gran Coupe on offer and decided to squeeze the design of the 8 Series' rear into the 2. It all looks unresolved, and if you look at the profile without the knowledge of this car's origins, it could well be that of a Kia. Bad job, BMW.
The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is bigger than the competition where it matters. It's got a trunk that offers almost 15.2 cubic feet of volume, while the Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 only manages 11.6 cubes. The trunk opening on the Bimmer is quite large too, making it easy to slide large items into the back. And if you need more space, the rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split. If you need to use those seats, they're also impressive. Yes, the sloping roofline affects headroom, but it's still pretty comfy back there for a six-footer like myself. There is a load of storage bins scattered about too, making this car a pleasure to sit in.
BMW is known for making fantastic engines, and more often than not, these engines perform better on the wheels than even their crank output claims. Who can forget the glorious V10 of the E60 M5 or the highly-tuneable N54 straight-six of the BMW 1 Series M? Well, those days are all but forgotten when you put your foot down in the M235i. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder sounds disinterested and suffers from below-par throttle response. Sure, it does the job, but it's lacking something that "real BMWs" never do: character. As if adding chili to an open wound, BMW further insults us by sending power predominantly to the front wheels and never giving the rear axle more than half the output. The result is a boring drive in the corners and an affinity for understeer. Who would have thought we'd ever say that about a BMW?
This is an aspect normally not considered in a positive light when talking about a performance car, but then again, this isn't really a proper performance car, is it? Still, let's give credit where credit is due: the M235i can cover over 343 miles of mixed driving before its 13.2-gallon gas tank empties itself. That's only 14 miles less than the base model can do. Obviously, if you drive absolutely everywhere with a lead right foot, then the M235i gets a little thristy, but never to the point that you think you're behind the wheel of an old AMG with a big V8.
We've already spoken about how the M235i does the opposite of oversteer, but what makes this all the worse is that the electric steering setup in this car is totally devoid of feel. You can't feel a thing through the wheel, and you have no clue if you're understeering, holding your line, or even turning in the correct direction. For a company known for its handling prowess and brilliance in this department, we're disappointed. On the plus side, this overly light steering wheel does make parking in tight spaces and maneuvering through traffic very easy. Since most people who buy this car won't be true driving enthusiasts, we doubt many customers will complain.
As standard, the M235i gets a load of stuff thrown in. Besides the M Sport touches like the body kit, wheels, suspension, brakes, and steering system, the M235i also boasts dual 10.25-inch configurable displays. Power front seats, a hands-free trunk release, parking sensors, and LED headlights with automatic high beams are all welcome inclusions, while charged options such as a head-up display, adaptive suspension dampers, and a dual-pane panoramic glass sunroof can all make this feel like more of a car than you'd expect for its size. Naturally, the options aren't all cheap, but many of them are reasonably priced.
This is less about the car itself and more about what it stands for. The M235i is impressive in many ways, but the ones that matter most to loyalists of the brand - fanatics who have spent years trying to convince their friends of the benefits of a good BMW - have all been overlooked. There's no longer anything about the 2 Series name that suggests high performance, brilliant handling, communicative steering, or a powerful six-cylinder engine. Instead, we've got an identical formula to that employed by Audi and, more recently, Mercedes-AMG too. While buyers before could look at a BMW and know that it would not compromise on sending power to the rear wheels or offering an exciting driving experience, we now have yet another generic product that would only be chosen by those who don't know any better or who detest the other German offerings.
As a BMW fanatic, I never thought the day would come when I would have to reread my own work to remind myself of things I like about a Bimmer. Sadly, that day has arrived, and instead of talking excitedly to my friends about the brilliance of my most recent BMW drive, I left them with less enthusiasm for the brand than ever before. RIP to the real BMW.