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BMW M235i

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Pablo Mayo Sanz
@pablomayosanz
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So, cooking for me is an ordeal, because no matter how good the food is, I have this horrible and disgusting habit of taking out some but. That if a little oregano wouldn't have been bad for it. I wonder if I should try adding avocado. That if raw, that if cold... Yes, I always say "it's very good" in front, but...

So my wife says that I'm an indefatigable critic. And when it's time to talk about cars, I can't even mention it. You know well, if you're a regular on these pages, that I'm always complaining about something. There isn't a car I don't complain about, and although many people take it to heart, to the point of insulting me for it, I think that, at the end of the day, I have no choice. At the end of the day, that's my job: to tell you the good, but also the bad and the improvable, of every car that passes through my hands. And believe me, nowadays it's not so easy to criticize cars, because almost every brand makes quality transport appliances. But when the person who writes, comments and tests is a passionate about driving, it's not so difficult to find buts and buts, especially when you're on the road, to tell you how "this one is not as good as that one, but that one fails in that other one".


So when it's my turn to think "which car would I buy", you might think that after testing so many gadgets, I'd have to have a clear answer. But that's not usually the case. By H or B it usually happens that the most perfect cars that one touches, the ones that have convinced me the most, fall outside the economic circle of personal power. And those that are within the "common economic power of mortals", usually have little faults equally. The one who stands out in one thing, screws up in another, something that, for me, is also important. Partly as a result of the manufacturers' obsession with selling more story than substance while they bill us for the same product dressed up in different outfits over and over and over again, and they talk about infotainment while we despair of being able to enjoy touch behind the wheel.


But now I have a problem. A serious problem. It's called the M235i and, after all this introductory rant, I'll tell you that it's the car I'm here to talk to you about today. Ok, to say it's "cheap" is not very frank, but between whistles and whistles, the "common humans" who can't buy it new, could soon get their hands on a semi-new used one at prices that are "within reach", although with some effort, of course.

And I have a problem because, after spending almost a week with it, I now want it. Almost desperately. Because it fulfils almost everything you'd expect from a passion car, while also fulfilling as a logical car. Yes, it does have its faults, and yes, I'm going to tell you about them. But this is the first time in a long time that a car has convinced me so much with such a... logical recipe book? And with almost no fuss. Shall I tell you why? Let's get on with it.

Aesthetics

It's one of these cars that look better, much better, live than in photo, although I miss the fins that the M2 will have.

The M235i is a car that photos don't do justice to. It looks tall and narrow when you see it in many of the official and some media photos that circulate around, especially when you compare it with the beautiful 4 Series. The "four" has practically the same height, but more width to make it look "fatter". So, on photos, I missed the fins on the M235i, which seemed to me to be screaming for the dose of anabolics it's going to get in the form of M2 in a matter of months?


But then you see it live, and it's more than likely to change your opinion of it. On the positive.

The front end, as we've said on more than one occasion, is what BMW should have implemented on the 1 Series from the very beginning. This coupe sibling of the Bavarian compact sports an aggressive look, and the "eme" bumper looks great. The use of horizontal lines emphasizes the width of the car live and in real life, and the headlights look more "pissed off" and more menacing than the strange headlights of the 1 Series. It's taking a while for the folks at BMW to export this vision to the compact....

The bonnet is flat and elongated, and where the 1 Series had a strange side view, ending with a very vertical butt, here is the whole profile view very integrated. The front end is tapered forward, the wheels are well integrated into the wings, and the styling line that starts from the bottom of the doors and forms the rear wing with muscle denotes "power" and "muscle".

The standard rigid "eme" brake calipers, painted blue, are visible through the rims. And these, the rims, are perhaps one of the aesthetic drawbacks of the car, as they look very flat. Those of the 1M Coupe would be much better, but that's what the M2 is for...

The first 1 Series coupe had to pull many resources from the normal 1 Series, such as the rear window and certain trim, which conditioned BMW's aesthetic liberties when creating it. But after its success, the 2 Series has earned the ability to have its own unique C-pillar and rear window, and that is appreciated with a rear that is more and better integrated.


The car looks fat from behind, but the discreet exhaust tails don't give you a clear idea of what this thing is capable of.

The rear view is dominated by elaborate L-shaped light clusters, a trunk lid with a cute micro-spoiler finial, and a gray bumper area that frames the two unique exhaust tailpipes, painted in dark gray.

The car looks "fat" from behind, but at the same time it fails in not having more pronounced rear wings and in having a strange finish on the exhaust tails and the bumper. While it is true that it is "very BMW", it is also true that the firm saves much of its aggressive qualities for the genuine M2 with four tailpipes and beastly bumpers and fins. The M235i ultimately goes virtually unnoticed, and looks almost like almost any 2 Series.

Inside

And if the exterior barely denotes "eme", the interior does even less. Yes, the steering wheel is a three-spoke steering wheel, almost like the one in the M4 and company, although here the rim is a bit thinner (almost better). There's an inscription on the gauge cluster that reads "M235i", but otherwise, the rest of the interior is pure Series 1/Series 2.

Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. The seats, as is always the case with BMW, are more aesthetically bland than actually comfortable. And if to the naked eye they look like "anything", when you sit down you immediately enjoy their large, electrically adjustable petals and the way they grip you when cornering, no matter how much you overdo it with the accelerator going sideways (more on that below).

The entire dashboard is typically BMW, which has specialized in delivering an interior driving experience that's virtually indistinguishable from the most basic 1 Series to the M6 Gran Coupe. If something works, why change it?

It's clear that the interior isn't as cool as Audi's, in that there's no real polished aluminium everywhere, nor does the sat nav screen pop out of the dashboard "A3-style". Yes, it's not as designer, but everything falls into place, everything is well positioned, the materials are quality, and there's not a single creak.

Plus, clocks and controls "smell and taste" like BMW, so from the first minute you know you're in the car you're in. And then there's the driving position. The steering wheel and seat have all the necessary adjustments so that, no matter how tall you are, you'll be in the perfect position in a matter of seconds. As the car isn't epically wide, finding your measurements from the driver's seat, which allows you to sit very low and with your legs stretched out, is a simple matter, helped by the rear view camera and parking assistance system.

The cabin is like that of any other 1 Series or 2 Series, with small details that go almost unnoticed.

Passengers in the two front seats have more than enough living space to undertake any journey, however long it may be. The rear seats, limited to two, are not short of space in almost all measures. True, there's a little less headroom, but unless you're 6'5" or taller, you shouldn't have a problem. Legroom back there isn't much of a problem either. The only downside is that, as a good two-door, if you have to make intensive use of the rear bench (put the Isofix seat of the baby) you will end up hurting your back.

The boot is more than enough in size for a conventional family, withstanding holiday trips, and only the narrow load opening (a tailgate would be appreciated, but it would spoil the aesthetics and would probably take away part of the rigidity of the chassis) can condition the ease of use of space. It's been proven that it can fit a week's shopping and the baby's pram...

Technique

We already talked in depth about the 1 Series some time ago and its technical implementation (I advise you to read the test on the right), so I'll go quickly with the basics of the chassis: BMW has in this compact all the mechanical parts where, from the point of view of the passionate driver, they should be.

The longitudinal engine falls behind the front axle. The gearbox follows and the torque is sent to the rear wheels. McPherson struts are used at the front and a multi-link system at the rear, resting a very stiff monocoque, with large crossmembers and beams formed in the body itself, on subframes.

Technically, spec-wise, this coupe is a treat for anyone who likes to drive.

As I told you in the 1 Series, the use of certain of these solutions (the longitudinal beams in the door sills, for example), may sacrifice some of the space to get in and out of the car, but they add up to many positive points in terms of achieving an ultra-rigid chassis. The weight distribution is exemplary, not only in its front-rear distribution, but also in the centering of the masses, which all pivot very close to the center of gravity, reducing the polar moment of inertia (yes, I know, I'm a pain and I owe you a technical article on this, but it will come, believe me).

It's a shame that BMW is going to abandon this path to use the UKL1 platform in almost all of its compacts, moving them to front-wheel drive in favor of extra living space, but we'll settle for the 2 Series with its rear-wheel drive wheels to continue to exist.

The heart of the M235i is yet another derivative of BMW's successful three-liter supercharged inline six-cylinder with direct injection and variable valve timing and lift. This time it has a single twin-scroll turbocharger to supercharge the six cylinders, looking for a very full torque curve from the bottom, little lag, and a decent final stretch. For the M2 we will see another installation, although we doubt that, not to step on the M4, the M2 will end up using two low inertia turbochargers.

There are 326 horses available to the right pedal, and the maximum torque has a full curve throughout the range of the rev counter, from just beyond idle to seven thousand laps to which cuts, which promises a lot. It's also curious that the average fuel consumption is low in relative terms to the power.

You can buy this M235i with two gearboxes, an automatic eight-ratio ZF, well known by all (we have seen and praised already in cars from Jaguar, Audi and BMW among others) or a six-ratio manual. In our case, the test car came with the automatic gearbox.

And although a priori we could regret it, previous experiences with it invited us to think that the result was going to be good.

The electronic controls at the driver's disposal revolve around a typical BMW mode selector, with four modes of operation, from "Eco" to "Sport plus" via "Comfort" and "Sport" normal.

Sport "plus" adds a permissive stability control mode, which lets you play more with the grip limit of the tires, sticky Pilot Super Sport tires. And here the tyres matter, because BMW, under this new product range that are the "BMW cars retouched by eme but not made by eme" like this M235i, forgets about the "runflat" tyres with very stiff backs, which condition the dynamics of the car. Dynamics that, by the way, can be requested accompanied by piloted shock absorbers or passive damping of all life, as in the case of our test unit.

Let's go driving

Key in the pocket, foot on the brake and finger on the ignition. The inline six comes to life almost without flinching. The cabin soundproofing is particularly commendable, and you can barely hear the engine. Cruising with the automatic gearbox taking control of the situation is child's play, and the car is compact enough not to present any problems on European streets, only, perhaps, the view to the rear is somewhat obscured by the C-pillar, but I won't be too sorry about that either.

Immediately, with the first speed bumps, you know that the suspension of this car "means business". It's stiff, but not dry. The spring proves to be stiff, but the shock absorber goes with it perfectly, so yes, you move around more in your seat when you step on those manhole covers that should be aligned with the asphalt, but never are. But even though you move, the car doesn't bounce or bounce.

The feel, weight and precision of the steering are perfect, but not informative, on account of the variable gearing system.

The gearbox plays with the eight ratios so masterfully that you're absolutely never aware of when it's shifting gears. Variable-ratio steering means you don't have to fiddle with the steering wheel during parking manoeuvres and tricky turns, and when you stop at traffic lights, the engine's start&stop works in such a way that you barely notice it. You won't want to switch it off, because it works so well.

The only thing that strikes me here is that the brake pedal has some dead travel before it really starts to brake, which is good in the city to avoid neck sprains, but which, I can already sense, will take some modulation when attacking bends.

From the city experience one can only say that the M235i has everything necessary to be one of those cars that can take you there and back every day without flinching, with full comfort, with an "acceptable" consumption (9.5 liters are not few, but for what it runs is not bad), and without the drawbacks of size of a crossover or a D-segment car, which are beginning to seem exaggerated.

If you don't care about the city and you have to travel on national roads or motorways, the M235i is even better. It's almost absolutely silent, the gearbox makes sure you don't even notice it's in eighth gear (yes, eighth gear), and the suspension, on our roads, works perfectly, at least to my taste, with that hardness and resistance to pitching and rolling that doesn't seem to affect its ability to remain unperturbed by uneven road surfaces, which don't take you off the line.

The variable steering is again marked as a positive, as you can steer the car almost with your mind, and the fuel consumption is... again practically nine litres. The only thing you have to pay attention to is not to overspeed, and here you'll want to turn on the cruise control, because with more than 300 horsepower at your disposal under the right pedal, it's not at all difficult to find yourself far outside the legal limits, and with a potential problem in the form of a fine on the way.

Action

But if a car has "emes" in it, it's to test it and enjoy driving it "spiritually", isn't it? To guess its dynamic attributes, I took advantage of the combination that you have already read here on more than one occasion, of three intertwined mountain passes, ranging from one of very wide and fast curves with asphalt in perfect condition to one of second speed, slow, twisty and with "questionable" asphalt.

Right here, the last "eme" I had tested, the six, had proved "too big, too fast and too powerful to enjoy". And I had that fear with the M235i. A good friend of mine told me that "it didn't make sense to make cars with so much horsepower" for roads like these, where with less power you can enjoy it. He claimed that 200 hp was more than enough, and that adding more horsepower didn't add anything. I wasn't sure about that. The BMW was going to put the answer on the table.

The set-up is very well done, with an incisive nose, perfectly controlled body movements, and a neutral character.

The first pass, the fastest, starts with a very fast and very well paved area. I start by switching the gearbox to manual mode, and select the "Sport" mode of the electronic system, without playing to remove part or all of the stability control yet.

I put my foot down after downshifting to third. The cabin fills with a magical sound while the rev counter climbs up to seven thousand revs with a kick that would make a fool of the M3 E46. The rev counter runs out quickly, and I pull the right cam to get into fourth gear. The gear change is instantaneous, and more importantly, it comes with virtually no interruption of power or pull. There are many dual-clutch gearboxes that should learn from this one...

But there's something odd going on. Gear changes don't happen at exactly the same time as the soundtrack change that reaches my ears. And the sound is very present for how well insulated the car is. Also, if you slow down, the sound is "muffled". A quick glance at the spec sheet serves as a reminder that, like the M135i, this M235i has a "digital soundtrack". In other words, the car's speakers emanate a synthetic engine noise to fool our ears.

Yes, I'm one of those who was furious with this idea, but as they said to Neo in the Matrix, what is reality? If reality is what we can see, hear, touch and feel, it might as well be electrical signals sent to our brain. And this is the same case... The sound "reality" of the M235i is the one you live inside, with the digital sound. It's more accomplished than in the M5 and M6 in this case, and although you know it's fake and if you tune up you can pick it up as fake, it's no less true that this is "for our good".

For our sake? Yes, it is. The M235i is a particularly well soundproofed car, and its engine is supercharged, so, as in F1, any solution to make it louder inside would have been at the cost of losing efficiency in the turbocharger (making the exhaust more brabucco), or at the cost of losing refinement in the soundproofing. Since the M235i is an "all-purpose" car not as much of a burnout car as the future M2, I understand that here the digital sound synthesizer option is fully justified.

I will also tell you that if you listen to the sound of the authentic exhaust on the outside, it will not leave you indifferent, and is that although its roar does not reach your ears, believe me it sounds, it sounds.

But let's forget about all the sound paraphernalia and let's pick up where we left off. We were accelerating, already in fourth gear, on our way to fifth gear. We get there when we have to take a gear off and, flattening the throttle, we have to enter a fast right-hand bend.

Yes, the M235i has a "synthesized soundtrack" emanating from the speakers when you accelerate hard.

So I hollow out, pull the left cam, the gearbox makes the perfect gas slam game to compensate the car without any pull, and I barely slide my wrists to turn the steering wheel. The steering is ultra-direct, thanks to the variable ratio system, and it's easy to make mistakes in the first four corners by putting too much steering wheel for what the road asks of you. You learn intuitively and very quickly in any case.

The car barely pitches on throttle, the rear stays solid on the tarmac and the nose directs operations with absolute precision, going exactly where you tell it to go.

The corner is long, and gives the car time to lean. Time it doesn't need, as the suspension set-up immediately proves superb, with hardly any roll at all, and a pivot point right in the centre of the car.

I come out of the curve like a blast, without the rear end flinching. Full throttle, fourth passes, fifth comes fifth, I brush sixth, and it's time to brake hard for two chained curves, third the first one to the right, and just in the support I have to brake for a second one that turns to the left, with two expansion joints in full support.

That's how I had my first encounter with the brakes. The pedal, as I said above, is a little soft in the first part of its travel, but after that phase where the car "does not stop", the brakes come into action, and they do so forcefully. I take off gears while braking and start to register the trajectory with the steering wheel. Where other cars understeer because of the work on their front wheels, and others start to dance the twist with their rear wheels because they have them with little load, the M235i simply does what you order it to do, perfectly inscribed in the marked trajectory.

Braking in support to prepare for the second corner hardly complicates things, it's just that the Michelin Pilot Super Sport's need heat to work, and I haven't put enough into them yet (they literally need four corners), so I'm finding the limit a little bit. The change of support is almost instantaneous, with complete control by the suspension of the inertias, with nothing out of whack. And so I face the second corner while looking towards the apex. I go through the expansion joints with the car fully supported, but it doesn't jump or get out of place. Once I found the point to give gas, I do it without concessions and the ESP comes to the rescue before I have time for the rear wheels to come into play beyond a very slight skid.

Given what I've seen, I try to play a little dirtier with the inertias, and I apply myself with second and third corners where I throw the car more abruptly to the apex at the entrance of the curves after braking and playing with the inertias. The front seems to want to eat everything, and when it can't do it any more it gives you a gentle millimetric drag from the front to calm you down while the ESP takes control of the situation.

Instantly, and after a few kilometers, that feeling of a well tuned car of any good BMW emerges, and is that it is a neutral car, which can handle almost everything, and that makes things very easy to go fast. There's no stubbornness, no ugly dragging from behind, or the ESP coming in barbarically, unless you're playing "beastly".

It's time to switch to the more permissive ESP mode and meet the pure chassis. Here it's time to try first to be a little bit more precise, before playing the brute. The ESP in permissive mode lets the rear wheels round the corner while you apply the gas pedal. The car is small and narrow enough to feel comfortable demanding it and pulling it slightly sideways. It's one of those crossovers that's only 10 or 15 degrees at most, with a bit of counter-steer, but you can extend it for ever and ever.

With the wheels at temperature, you stop losing the nose, and you only realize that the set-up is not "total eme" because the car is more noble than aggressive. Two more hairs of stabilizer stiffness up front and you'd have something more radical, but also more complicated. Anyway, you don't really need it. Because cornering in this M235i is a real joy, when you're riding it hard, enjoying the power of the brakes, the way they hold before overheating, the way it sticks to the corners... And if you go for a bit of a beastly game? Well, it's up to the challenge too. It's a car that appreciates more driving "on the spot", but if you prefer to go crossways, it also lets you do it.

It's a car that adapts more to you than you have to adapt to it.

After seeing all the positive in wide curves with good asphalt and very fast, I cross to the other side of the port, to move to the twisting curves of second, with more than dubious asphalt. Here the suspension and geometry tuning shines again.

The first thing you like in a tight track is that the car feels compact and... tight. There are few cars with the power of this M235i that you can drive on these roads without feeling like you're encroaching across the width of the road. This car does let you control exactly where you step and when you step.

It's fast, it's nimble, you put it where you want it and you can even yaw around corners with the rear. It's a tribute to how a rear-wheel drive coupé should behave.

The suspension, although hard, as I said above, has a good absorption capacity, so even if you hit bumps in the middle of the line or the straight has a bumpy road, the steering wheels mark the path you want, and the car does not change the trajectory. It has to be really broken for you to have to slow down for fear of bouncing.

With all these lessons learned, I face the third stretch of road with absolute confidence in the car, and I dedicate myself to enjoy. Yes, there may be people who tell you that you don't need so much power to have fun in a car, and they are right. But I'm not wrong when I tell you that with this car you can enjoy each and every one of its horsepower without having to go to the track to do so.

It's one of those cars that leave you with a special and positive feeling after completing a round of corners. A goofy grin that's coupled with the fact that it's still "a car for everything".

Conclusions

I want an M235i. That's the most important part to tell you about in the conclusions. I want it for its tuning, for its power delivery, with virtually unnoticeable lag, and for its ability to do everything and do everything or almost everything well.

It has its small drawbacks, no doubt, like everyone else. Aesthetically it lacks width to be something more macho and impressive. The brake pedal has a little too much assistance and it lacks to make the brakes work from the first millimeter of travel. The steering lacks information. And to ask, the engine, as full as it is, has a lot of power, but it doesn't have an "epic kick" at the end. But all these details, or almost all of them, are more than understandable and forgivable because of all the good things this car does.

In fact, many of the facets I cite as criticisms will be conveniently corrected by the future, unconfirmed but photographed, M2. And this M2 will also add a more feisty, more aggressive set-up in the front and a bit looser in the rear, so we will probably get "the real perfect car for the passionate driver". A sort of reinterpretation of the firm's previous myths, from the 2002 ti, to the M3 E30. Seeing what we've seen in the M235i, believe me any wait for the M2 will be insufferably long....

So where does the M235i stand against the competition? The Audi S3, as quick as it can be and as effective as all-wheel drive can be, is far from offering BMW-level composure and dynamic satisfaction. Yes, you can get there at about the same time, and yes, you can go quicker in the wet, but it won't get smiles out of you like the BMW.

The CLA 45 AMG we have to get our hands on it calmly to compare, but a priori, neither by weight distribution, nor by type of traction, nor for many other reasons, poses a dynamic proposal as interesting as that of BMW.

If we go to another layer of sports cars and coupes (RCZ-R or TT-S), we are again in the same situation that the BMW offers a more pure driving. Yes, less aesthetic spectacle, but more practicality.

Pending the new M2, the M235i is probably our favourite BMW in the current range.

We get to the point that... even within the current BMW range, and in the absence of testing the new M3 and M4, probably the M235i would be "the ultimate BMW" that we would stay to enjoy on the open road and on some particular track day, combining it as an everyday car. And that's saying a lot, isn't it? Now we'll have to wait to test the M3, M4 and wait for the M2 to confirm or discard this statement.

In the meantime I'll keep wondering if my back will withstand constant folding to get my little Nadia in and out of the rear bench before deciding to put money into one of these...

Report originally published in June 2014, recovered for Pistonudos.
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