BMW M235i, Front view 28 Photos Zoom

BMW M235i in the super test: Border-crosser with 333 HP

The successor with the more catchy name, M2, is already at the starting gates. But until it arrives – presumably in Autumn 2015 – we will just have to content ourselves with a sports coupé that already comes close to perfection: the BMW M235i.

It actually didn't need the host of gimmicks, especially since with a total price of around 4,000 Euros they are by no means cheap. But nowadays there is very little that won't be done to create an impression, even if the additions, regardless of whether in terms of colour or form, are barely in keeping with the original design at all. Accent stripes and decorative films, as well as exhaust embellishers, mirror caps, a rear spoiler, carbon interior and sill trims: embellishments retrofitted to the vehicle can nowadays easily leave the driver with the impression that the vehicle didn't actually come straight off the production line.

But then it may actually just be a shame to alter the beautiful car. This would be really sad in this particular case, for with the BMW M235i, particularly in the Performance version, the scene has been gifted with a tool that, with its technical logic, joins the dots in a BMW history that is sprinkled with sporting highlights. Consequently, the almost standard M235i has also for some time again been used in motor sports, and incidentally on the Nürburg Ring.

The tradition is to continue

Compact figurativeness and practical talents, combined with an exciting engine and – of course – rear-wheel drive: so faced with these traditional-seeming framework conditions, who among us is not reminded of an early 3 Series or, if we delve deeper into BMW history, some even older BMW icons?

To all those of good repute within the sporting world, who have formed the core of the white & blue brand. Can anyone remember the 168 HP 2002 turbo from 1973? Incidentally the first sports model fitted with an exhaust gas turbocharger to be produced in Europe. With its notchback, the BMW M235i harmoniously continues the tradition, not only in terms of character, but also in terms of form. At the same time it also represents the antithesis of the occasionally perceived as being foreign act of resorting to front-wheel drive – the new 2 Series Active Tourer sends its greetings!

The BMW M235i has also succumbed to the continual growth, if you take the ideal dimensions of its brother, the M135i - a vehicle that is closely related beneath the bodywork - as the benchmark, but nonetheless has very manageable dimensions: at just under 4.50 metres long and with the longitudinally installed gem of a six-cylinder engine up front, as a two-door notchback that is labelled a Coupé it has everything that it needs to uncover the BMW spirit of past decades – of course now with the most modern technology as well.

Convincing automatic transmission

The heart of this coupé, inspired by the M-philosophy but until not identified as an original workpiece from M GmbH – the six-cylinder engine with so-called Twin-Turbo technology – has in this respect grown close to our hearts, as it has already earned exuberant support within the context of the super test performed with the M135i. The combination of six-cylinder turbo and manual six-speed transmission used at the time is still considered an exemplary arrangement – which, incidentally, is reflected in the fact that the BMW M235i that has just taken the endurance test also enjoys exceptional popularity on account of its manual transmission.

The sympathy for drive systems with conventional manual transmission that prevails in the editorial office may be down to precisely this white & blue example. Therefore to now condemn the eight-speed automatic transmission installed in the super test candidate would be entirely unjustified. For even in this context, the six-cylinder engine excites with a competence and smoothness that really leave no room for complaint.

If there is a difference from the dual clutch transmission, which in principle works without traction disruption, then it is that gear-shifting with this eight-speed automatic is more polished – including in the sporty Touch and laid back Automatic modes. The inline six-cylinder model with mono rather than the previous biturbo charging, which was condemned by broader circles of fans as the efficiency-focussed version of the earlier 1 Series M Coupé, also appears completely resistant to criticism.

The BMW M235i produces 333 HP

Although equipped with a nominal 6 HP more than the M135i (322 HP), the HP yield is ultimately practically identical – with the standard fluctuations, up and down. While the engine of the M135i steps onto the block with 335 HP rather than the promised 316 HP, the technically identical unit in the current BMW M235i produces 333 HP – that is 12 HP more than specified.

Accordingly, the drive performance is also in keeping: the BMW M235i zooms to 100 km/h in 4.9 seconds and to 200 km/h in 18.5 seconds. Not a bad performance given the slightly higher total weight compared to the M135i (an additional 22 kilograms). However, the powerful 2 Series takes to the road with the support of the now optional mechanical limited slip differential, that is the effective traction aid, that was painfully missed in the M135i.

The projection cited at the time, according to which a mechanically lock would prevent the to date noticeable losses of traction at the cornering limit and in so doing would help to make up time on the 1 Series M Coupé that has been established as the benchmark, unfortunately prove – as shown by the lap time that is only an improvement of three tenths on that of the M135i – to be false, although only at first glance.

The BMW M235i falls at the 15th hurdle

For the extremely moderate time improvement has no technical justification or drive dynamics-based reasoning, but is rather down simply to the thermal conditions prevalent on the measurement day. Given the Hockenheim lap driven with an external temperature of 30 degrees (1:15.4 minutes) it is impossible not to make another projection as follows: under more compatible conditions, a time at least in the high 14s would probably have been within the BMW M235i's capabilities – and it would have been possible to get close to the considerable target set by the 1 Series M Coupé. At one point in time, it made an appearance at the same venue, recording an exceptional lap time of 1:14.1 minutes.

Thus it is down to the future M2 to make amends, for even with the xDrive version offered in parallel it didn't manage to break the 15-minute barrier: 1:15.0 minutes – the BMW M235i with all-wheel drive wasn't capable of any more either. There is no trace of the loss of handling when using mechanical locking often observed in the M235i: the BMW, which rather typically pushes over the rear wheels, with sensitively applied acceleration as it enters the corner, tends to be among those that drift into understeer, and not, as was once the case with the 1 Series M Coupé, among those that abruptly deteriorate into oversteer mode at the limit, with a loud hurrah.

It requires a deliberately introduced rear drive to align the MBMW M235i, which features a wheelbase that is slightly longer than that of the 1 Series model, in the strategically optimal manner as you enter the corner. To conclude, it can be stated that the compact rear-wheeler, as a peaceful border crosser, only in the rarest of cases tends to provoke moments of horror – especially not when the DSC system is activated.

Turbo engine without any shortcomings

Back once again to the engine of the BMW M235i: with its silky running, the smooth power distribution, the lack of turbolag and not least with its free-revving in the upper rev range, the three-litre turbo engine leaves barely any room for criticism – take or leave the popular high-speed concept. With regard to the power distribution, especially with the required sensitive dosing of the gas within the limit range, the turbo engine seems an open-mindedness similar to that of a high-revving naturally aspirated engine: neither sags nor surprising torque jumps disrupt the elegance of the power distribution.

With this equipment level, it is very easy to live with: where high acceleration values are at an enjoyable level, but also in places where it is considered good manners to present oneself with a low tone and speed frequency. In any case, the BMW M235i is not out to cause a riot, even if the decorative touches applied to the test car might suggest something different at first glance.

This is not least on account of the arrangement that surrounds the driver in such flattering fashion. Thus, the exemplary integration of the entire system is always guaranteed: the triangular steering wheel – the seats – the pedals can be so cleverly adjusted that driver's of any stature can find a suitable position. And because the BMW M235i is sold as a coupé, there won't be anyone who seriously wants to give off about the more limited space in the back.

The BMW M235i with good handling

The steering also comes across as extremely constructive: its feedback and – even more so – its accuracy contribute just as much to the proverbial drive pleasure as the sounding out of the final tenth on the lateral acceleration scale. And while we're on this: with the Michelin Pilot Supersport tyres applied as standard, maximum values of up to 1.25 g are possible – even these tyres, developed for a broad power spectrum, don't allow any more than this.

But given the already standard, attractively finished sports package and the light, that is, largely malice-free handling, after one lap without opposing traffic in the BMW M235i the desire for pure racing sports tyres emerges – in keeping with the slogan: if you're going to do something, then go the whole hog. Whether this makes an increase in drive dynamics evident isn't the question here – and clearly it does –, but rather how the increased grip of the semi-slicks could affect the control algorithms of the ABS. There have already been a few surprises in this regard, which have not always ended solely in longer braking distances.

During the course of its climax-approaching M2 development, the topic of sports tyres and the tuning of the control systems will certainly have been given due attention, simply because M GmbH – unlike BMW Ag who are responsible for the M235i – has a much lesser reluctance when it comes to uncompromisingly designed tyres. The BMW M235i is great, but we are really looking forward to the M2!

Horst von Saurma

Author

Photo

Rossen Gargolov

Date

9 July 2015
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