BMW M235i a bizarre non-conformist
When word that BMW was working on a small, four-door coupe based on its front-wheel drive architecture reached us, the skepticism crept in as we assumed that this was a retaliation to the highly successful Mercedes-Benz CLA. With the new CLA now available locally in two AMG flavours, the M performance-tweaked 2 Series Gran Coupe appears to have its work cut out for it.
The architecture the underpins the Gran Coupe is shared with the Mini Cooper and is designed for a transverse engine layout, also meaning that four-cylinder engines are now the order of the day, with yet more enthusiasts bemoaning the apparent loss of the six-cylinder in the more performance-oriented models, making this a more practical car in terms of packaging in the process.
For BMW, its hallmark has most certainly been that it provides some of the best rear-wheel drive straight-six performance cars on sale, particularly in the small-medium hatchback, coupe, and sedan segments. We worry that this new M235i may just be a niche too far. It is now essentially the same recipe as the rather pricey Mercedes-AMG CLA 35. That means that when shopping for a sedan with a coupe rear-end, both competitors feature four-wheel drive and 2.0-litre turbocharged engines, although the AMG features a dual-clutch gearbox versus the torque converter in the BMW.
There's a lot of performance to exploit in the new M235i though, some 225 kW and 450 N.m from a 2.0-litre turbo-four with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox from Aisin. A Torsen LSD upfront and a trick all-wheel drive ensure fantastic traction an indeed, surefooted handling. This is a fast car, regardless of the prevailing weather conditions.
As an A-to-B performance car, the Beemer makes for an effective tool, expects 100km/h to come up in less than 5.0 seconds, and for the car to reach an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h. The ride and handling are also rather confidence-inspiring, with the assurance of all-wheel drive and a lovely handling balance making this an easy car to drive quickly when the mood strikes.
Where things become a bit disjointed is with the pukka driving enthusiast where the synthetic engine sounds piped into the cabin combined with the overly-assisted driving experience will make this just another point and squirt four-door sedan, without any discernible characteristics for those looking for raw feedback from their driving experience.
There is certainly space for a more driver-focussed small BMW based on this architecture, although, at over R900 000 for our press car with options, we couldn't imagine an M2 Gran Coupe to be all that affordable, much as its Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 S rival appears to be setting a new benchmark for how much one can pay for a small performance car.
The M235i is a bit of an oddball, catering for a very specific niche, those who are not interested in its cheaper M135i hatchback sibling or the more expensive, but ultimately more satisfying 3 Series. One thing is for sure though, the 2 Series most certainly provides more value for money than its Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 counterpart.
BMW M235i xDrive R 795 864