The baby brother to the recently introduced 4-series coupe is already on sale in the U.S. with the choice of two gasoline engines in a lineup that, BMW officials confirm, will grow to include similarly powered 2-series convertible models in early 2015.
Kicking off proceedings in North America is the keenly priced 228i coupe. Pitched at $32,100, it runs BMW's widely used 240-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the N20 as it is known internally.
But it is the range-topping $43,100 M235i coupe, driven here with its 320-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, that enthusiast drivers have been eagerly waiting to get their hands on.
The M235i coupe is not a full-blown M division model in the mold of the new M4 coupe, but the successor to the much loved M135i coupe is the first M-Performance model to be sold in the U.S.
The M Performance moniker is attached to BMW models that have been engineered by the automaker's M division but are not considered sufficiently focused to be anointed with the iconic M badge.
Sporting but not uncompromising is how BMW describes its M-Performance lineup, which is meant to challenge Audi's S models, including the new Audi S3 sedan against which the M235i coupe competes.
In line with BMW's new naming system, the 2-series coupe replaces the 1-series coupe. It shares a similar three-box silhouette with its predecessor, but it is quite a bit bigger. Length has grown by 2.8 inches and width extends by 1.3 inches.
The larger body is underpinned by a heavily reworked chassis that boasts a 1.2 inch-longer wheelbase together with front and rear tracks that have been increased by 1.6 inches and 1.7 inches, respectively, giving the new car a fantastically confident stance.
Stylistically, the new 2-series coupe borrows from the second-generation 1-series hatchback, alongside which it is assembled at BMW's Leipzig factory in Germany. The two share the same hood, front fenders and doors. However, the inclusion of uniquely styled bumpers, headlamps and a notchback rear deck gives the 2-series an undeniably handsome appearance.
The M235i receives an M Sport styling package, with even more aggressive-looking bumpers, wider sills underneath the doors, 18-inch alloy wheels and beefed up brakes.
Inside, the 1-series hatchback-styling theme continues, with unique instruments, superbly supportive seats and a lovely three-spoke steering wheel. Front seat occupants receive a little more headroom in the 2-series coupe than its predecessor featured, while trunk capacity grows by 0.7 cu ft to 13.8 cu ft.
What is it like to drive?
The M235i coupe is a blast to drive, both on the road and the track.
BMW hasn't reduced the curb weight over the old M135i coupe, but it still has plenty of grunt to make it quick, both in a straight line and over challenging sections of blacktop.
How quick? BMW claims 0-62 mph in 4.8 seconds – 0.1 sec faster than the old M135i coupe despite giving away 15 hp to the car it replaces in the BMW lineup.
The M235i's aluminum-intensive chassis delivers greater feedback and precision than that of its predecessor, allowing the driver to make the most of the high levels of grip and push the boundaries with an added sense of controllability and confidence when conditions allow. As we've come to expect from BMW, the weight distribution is quoted as being 50:50 front to rear.
At the heart of the new car is BMW's familiar N55 engine. The longitudinally-mounted 3.0-liter inline six has been around for some years now, but it remains competitive in a class that is now largely dominated by high-strung transversely mounted 2.0-liter fours. With a twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection, variable inlet and exhaust camshaft control and variable valve lift, it possesses a creamy smooth nature all the way from idle through to its 7,250-rpm cutout.
Drive is channeled through either a standard six-speed manual or optional eight-speed automatic, as fitted to our test car. There is also a standard electronically controlled differential, although a proper mechanical differential can be had as part of an extensive list of performance parts BMW is offering.
As in most BMW models these days, there are four driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. Given its sporting brief, the M235i coupe is best experienced in one of the latter two, in which the mapping of the electro-mechanical steering and electronic throttle is altered to deliver superb response. Nudging the gear lever sideways places the gearbox mapping into sport, providing crisp and rapid shifts.
If there is a weak link in the engine's overall repertoire, it is the less-than-razor-sharp throttle response at the lower end of the rev range. The turbo six-cylinder's seamless thrust and standard eight-speed automatic gearbox compensate for this. With peak torque of 332 lb-ft available between 1,300 and 4,500 rpm and eight closely stacked ratios, the M235i Coupe accelerates with real gusto all the way to its electronically limited 155-mph top speed.
BMW's M division engine experts have tuned the M235i Coupe's exhaust to provide a compellingly raspy sound when the engine is worked hard. It is a constant companion under load, making it fun to hold gears longer than is necessary in manual mode. Happily, the volume is reduced at lower revs, making the new BMW quite subdued at typical highway cruising speeds in taller gears for more subdued progress over longer journeys.
At the launch of the M235i Coupe in Las Vegas last week, BMW's engineers pointed out the many changes they have incorporated in its chassis to provide it with a smoother ride than its predecessor. Among them are slightly stiffer springs and dampers but more compliant bushings and bump stops, they say.
There is clearly better small-bump compliance than with the firm riding M135i Coupe, with far less vertical movement. The reworked chassis also possesses a greater ability to absorb big shocks. Indeed, there is a welcome smoothness to the ride in Comfort mode, with far less fidget over coarse road surfaces.
Do I want one?
The M235i Coupe is a fantastically appealing and engaging car with truly compelling performance and breadth of dynamic ability that is sure to make it a big hit among enthusiast drivers. Like the best BMW models through the years, it is big on entertainment. But thanks to some deft chassis-tuning, it also serves up sufficient comfort to make it a terrific everyday proposition.
Yet despite its many talents, the new BMW won't suit everyone. With only two doors and a relatively cramped rear, its practicality and luggage capacity is rather limited despite the bump in size over the old M135i coupe. Not a family car, then. But when it's such fun, who cares?
2014 BMW M235i specifications
ON SALE: Spring 2014
BASE PRICE: $44,025 base MSRP, including destination and handling
DRIVETRAIN: 3.0-liter, 320 hp turbocharged inline six; RWD, six-speed manual transmission
0 TO 62 MPH: 4.8 sec (mfr. claim)
CURB WEIGHT: 3,400 lbs (est)
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA): 19/28/22 mpg
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