ROAD TEST: BMW M235i coupé
Johannesburg - It’s been a while since I’ve driven something with lots of horses and a third pedal.
It seems that most performance cars passing through our garage these days are mated to gearbox technology requiring no left-leg input.
In fact, I reckon it’s safe to say that the industry prefers auto boxes – be it old-school torque converter or crisp-and-sharp dual-clutch – for its more-serious machinery. The big AMG, RS and M cars of today seem to be more about launch control – and at least seven cogs for best efficiency – versus dropping a good old-fashioned clutch and lighting up some rubber.
Which is why the manual M235i we had on test was like going back to our roots.
Sitting between the front seats was a short and stubby little shifter – which when paired to 240kW of force-fed rear-wheel-drive power means only one thing: drift car. Okay, okay, it doesn’t mean drift car, although it must be said that the M235i will hang its tail out quicker than you can say Nkandla – if you really ask it to.
ACE UP ITS SLEEVE
What the M235i is, is a rip-snorting, tar-scorching baby Beemer coupé. Strictly-speaking the Two is the coupé version of the One hatchback – it gets the same platform and runs the same wheelbase, but oddly-enough gets a body that’s 11cm longer. You’d think the coupé version would be the tauter offering.
But it’s certainly the tighter offering, with the carmaker driving the 2 Series point home by endowing it with a wider rear track, increased torsional rigidity, and stiffer suspension settings. The M235i also gets a little ace up its sleeve, in the form of five more kilowatts off the factory floor than its M135i counterpart.
TRICKY TO LAUNCH
I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t enjoy performance testing this car. Its force-fed 3-litre straight-six is certainly both a familiar and celebrated powertrain in Beemer’s stable, and makes for level-five hooliganism should the need arise. Launching it is a tricky affair though, and I suggest you get its clutch action down to a fine art if there’s a dual-clutch equivalent next to you at the lights.
But once you find that sweet-spot between high-revs and heavy clutch – that spot that bites just enough to launch you off the line without over-cooking rear rubber – you’re sorted.
It’s refreshing how power urges and surges right through the rev range of this car; it simply has no lag or quieter spots in its persona. Once wheels start turning boost starts churning, well into the far right-hand corner of the rev counter. BMW claims five seconds flat to 100km/h for the manual M235i – we managed 5.2 up on the reef, with the quarter-mile coming up on our Vbox in 13.6 secs.
DECENT PACE INDEED
In the daily grind the 450Nm of grunt means that you can skip a gear or two here and there – which you may be tempted to do as the clutch is Schwarzenegger-spec. Spend an hour in traffic every day and I reckon the calf muscles on your left leg will start shaping up nicely. It was in traffic, and only in traffic really, that I missed an auto ‘box.
If you’ve driven Beemers over the years, especially the older Ms and specials like the 325iS, you’d be forgiven for getting a little nostalgic with this M235i. As advanced as Beemers have become, the shift action and tiny nuances of its manual ‘box has been consistent over the years. And it must be said that even though force-fed, there’s a nice little grunt from the dark tail pipes at either corner. The 11.9l/100km consumption wasn’t too bad either.
SHARP AND AGILE
Handling can certainly be described as dynamic here; it’s an agile little tyke well in-tune with what the steering tells it to do.
I like that the quick-to-use driver modes act as a wand over all the go-faster parameters – sharpening throttle and steering responses while loosening traction nannies in an instant. Sport, with intermediate traction, is this car’s happy place, take it from me.
Being a new Series car, it’s obvious some effort was put into its looks. The two-pillarless-doors meets curvaceous-roofline recipe works well here, with the additional 18” alloys and M Aerodynamics package scoring me a “nice car, boss” remark at the Builders Express. The new nose is stylish too.
What does let it down a bit is that it’s virtually identical on the inside to the five-door 125i.
The only difference I could spot was the M235i illuminated badge which pops up permanently below the dials, and is a bit chintzy to be honest. I’m also not a big fan of BMW’s habit of throwing M badges at everything.
M is M; this car could have happily lived its life as just a 235i.
And one last thing BMW SA – the service books in the 2 Series say 1, 3 and 4 Series – it’s time to get some new ones printed.
If you watch Breaking Bad, this is the kinda car you’d expect Jesse Pinkman to cruise around in. The M235i is a seriously fun package, and at R530 500 offers fistfuls of meth... I mean bang-for-buck.
If you’re gonna tick any options boxes here forget the heated seats and auto wipers – look for the M Performance mechanical limited-slip diff, which promises even more corner-exiting grip. BMW SA reckons it will be available later on this year – and it’s not available to M135i buyers, wink wink.
Or just go all the way and order yourself an M235i Racing, which is a roll-cage race-track-only special, available on order for a million bucks from BMW SA’s head office only. -Star Motoring
BMW M235i coupé
Engine: 3-litre, six-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Power: 240kW @ 5800rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1300 - 4500rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 5.2 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Consumption (claimed): 8.1 litres per 100km
Price: R537 579
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100 000km
ALTERNATIVES (sort of)
Mercedes CLA45 AMG (265kW/450Nm) - R699 317
Subaru WRX STI (221kW/407Nm) - R599 000