Or is it more Mini than M?
The era of front-wheel-drive BMW models began in 2014 with the (Europe-only) 2 Series Active Tourer. Since then, BMW has introduced a number of FWD platform models here in the United States with the 2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe as the most recent addition. Unlike the X1 and X2, both of which are available with FWD, the 2 Series Gran Coupe comes with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system as standard, though it still rides on the FWD-based UKL platform used by several Mini models.
We were recently sent a 2020 BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe in the sportier M235i guise to review for a week. The M235i will directly compete against the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 and the upcoming Audi S3 as BMW's entry-level sporty sedan. But is the M235i a good entry into the brand or does it feel more Mini than M? Here's what we loved and hated about the M235i.
One of the key reasons why a shopper might choose an entry-level BMW over a well-optioned mainstream car is the interior quality. Here, the 2 Series Gran Coupe shines with premium materials and a familiar BMW layout. The cabin looks a bit drab without the optional M Sport seats but they are only a $750 option and can be wrapped in Magma Red Dakota leather to spice up the interior.
To explain why we hate the styling of the M235i Gran Coupe, we must take a trip across the pond to Europe where BMW sells a hatchback version of the car called the M135i (pictured below in blue). This car was clearly styled from the get-go to be a hatchback and looking at the back of the M235i, it looks like the designers just called it quits without finishing the car. The coupe-like roofline completely drops off into a traditional trunk, creating an awkward flat space. We wish BMW could have found some middle ground, offering the M235i with a liftback hatch like the practical 4 Series Gran Coupe.
In M235i guise, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces a healthy 301 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. With an eight-speed automatic sending power to all four wheels combined with an overboost function, the M235i rips off 0-60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. In a straight line, this car feels remarkably quick for a four-cylinder car. If there is just one downside to the M235i's speed, it's the engine note. BMW uses enhanced engine noise from the speakers in this car and if you shut the system off, the engine makes some unpleasant sounds.
Good in a straight line the M235i may be, but it is not a fun car to drive through corners. The steering doesn't offer enough feedback to the driver and since the xDrive system can only send fifty percent of the power to the rear wheels, it tends to understeer. BMW's ARB system is supposed to reduce the understeer but it comes in late, inducing unpredictable oversteer at the worst moments. The best cars shrink around the driver when they are pushed but the M235i does the opposite. It feels large and cumbersome, even though it has a tiny footprint.
BMW should have benchmarked the M235i against the Volkswagen Golf R or Hyundai Veloster N, two cars that prove a FWD platform can be fun. Instead, BMW took its Mini platform and made it feel softer and less engaging.
Fuel economy is one area where the 2 Series Gran Coupe excels, especially in M235i guise. The 228i achieves fuel economy ratings of 23/33/27 mpg city/highway/combined with only 228 hp on tap. Even with significantly more power, the M235i only pays a slight penalty in fuel economy with 23/32/26 mpg. This is outstanding efficiency for such a powerful car and in our testing, we proved drivers can even beat these numbers if they're mindful of the throttle in Eco Pro mode.
The M235i starts at $45,500, placing it just below the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35, which costs $46,900. But there are plenty of options you'll need to add before the M235i starts feeling like a real luxury car. Our tester carried a sticker price of $51,295 but lacked features like heated seats, adaptive cruise control, or a moonroof (note: all of these features are standard on a $25,000 Honda Civic Si). To get an M235i with all of these features will cost around $55,000.
Admittedly, the CLA 35 can be more expensive with options but with plenty of mainstream performance options like the Hyundai Veloster N, Honda Civic Type R, Mini Clubman John Cooper Works, and Volkswagen Golf R, we don't see the value in the M235i. Those cars may not carry the prestige of a BMW badge but they are all more fun to drive and are priced significantly lower.