As do most enthusiasts, we love small, nimble cars. Given we currently have a BMW 228i Gran Coupe in our long-term fleet, we wanted to spend quality time with its spicier 2 Series sibling, the M235i, to see if the more powerful model was worth its additional $8,000 ask, a not inconsequential amount of money. Both have all-wheel drive as standard, but the M235i gets additional power, a limited-slip differential, a louder exhaust, stickier tires, and a standard M Sport suspension in pursuit of a zestier driving experience.
Among the styling cues that distinguish the M235i from the 228i: a different grille pattern, dual trapezoidal exhaust tips, a more aggressive body kit, unique 18-inch wheels, and silver mirror caps. It’s pretty obvious you’re looking at the hotted-up 2 Series—especially when the cars are viewed side by side—but that fact crystallizes once you start the M235i and hear its burbling exhaust note.
M235i Gran Coupe: Test Results and Impressions
The sweet sounds come courtesy of a 301-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, and it’s the star of the M235i’s show. Minimal turbo lag and a broad powerband make for effortless acceleration at all speeds. The throttle can feel slightly lazy at initial tip-in, but this can be almost entirely mitigated by selecting Sport mode. Once you’re moving, the eight-speed automatic does a great job keeping the engine at a boil—so much so, you might be surprised how often you find yourself exceeding the speed limit.
At the test track, the M235i hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at 102.3 mph. In comparison, the 228-hp 228i (it also has a turbo 2.0-liter) was 1.2 seconds slower to 60 mph and a full second slower to the quarter-mile mark. The 302-hp Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is a direct competitor and should offer similar performance to the M235i, but we have yet to put that one through its paces. The pricier AMG CLA 45, which slots above the M235i, is 1.2 and 1.4 seconds quicker in those marks.
The M235i’s stickier rubber and limited-slip differential helped it pull 0.91 g on the skidpad and lap the MT figure-eight course in 25.8 seconds with a 0.71 g average. The figure-eight result is a second quicker and 0.06 g higher versus the 228i, while overall lateral acceleration improves by 0.09 g. Testing director Kim Reynolds liked the M235i’s ability to stay light on its feet and how easy it was to rotate upon corner exit. He also found moderate amounts of understeer but noted that modulating the throttle easily dialed that out and allowed you to balance the M235i at the limit.
BMW’s suspension engineers also nailed the body control, and the M235i has a planted, secure feel through corners. The steering lacks feel, however, and it is artificially heavy in an attempt to feel sporty, a sensation that only gets worse as you cycle to the car’s most aggressive drive modes. The small BMW sedan took 108 feet to stop from 60 mph, which is about what we’d expect for a car with its mission, though the brakes can be somewhat grabby at the top of the pedal’s travel. (A few of our staffers found the braking system’s bite to be acceptable.) It’s a very capable small car, but perhaps the M235i’s main issue is that it rarely stirs the soul while scorching a twisting bit of canyon tarmac.
Prefer to cruise around? Prepare to be jostled around because of the M235i’s firm ride quality. The suspension thumps over and slaps down at every road imperfection, and impacts are dutifully—and unfortunately—transmitted to occupants with few of the edges removed. We’ve yet to drive a 2 Series Gran Coupe without the M Sport suspension (it’s an option on the 228i), and we’re hoping that the standard calibration is more forgiving. Finally, the suspension impacts and car’s larger wheels and tires generate quite a racket in the interior. “Loud. Lots of cabin noise,” noted features editor Jonny Lieberman. Editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin also complained of excessive road noise, even on the smooth California canyon roads near our offices.
BMW M235i Interior: Not Up to Snuff
Like the 228i, treat the M235i as a 2+2 with four doors rather than an actual sedan because of its size and packaging. “My head is touching the headliner, legroom is quite compromised, and the seating position is just plain uncomfortable,” MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina said of the rear seat. Cortina is 6-foot-1, but staffers of all heights complained about the lack of backseat space, and it doesn’t help that the rear door openings are so small you must contort your way in and out.
The interior design also makes the M235i’s interior look dated, as it has the same clean but safe styling theme of nearly every BMW going back a decade or more. Yes, you have cool displays, an improved infotainment system that’s easier to use, and lots of driver-assistance technologies, but the layout and ergonomics of controls both digital and physical can be finicky and nonintuitive. In addition, the 2 Series Gran Coupe’s cabin lags behind that of the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class in terms of build quality and modern feel. The Mercedes flaunts its available big displays and offers (admittedly gimmicky) full-on light shows using the ambient lighting, among other techy tidbits.
M235i or 228i Gran Coupe?
The M235i Gran Coupe is a pint-sized autobahn cruiser that can devour highways and back roads at surprising rates. So, is it worth the extra money? We’ll say “yes,” but with some caveats. First, keep in mind you’re largely paying for exterior style and extra power, which come bundled with a harsh suspension and cold, somewhat aloof interior and driving experiences. And second, the value calculation must consider other cars priced near our M235i’s as-tested $50,795. These include a Genesis G70, Alfa Romeo Giulia, a Cadillac CT4-V, or even a BMW 330i, all of which offer superior handling, are more engaging, have more room inside, and ride much better. Small and nimble are indeed great attributes, but they’re rarely the whole story.
|SPECIFICATIONS||2020 BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe||2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$48,495||$50,795|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.0L/228-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4||2.0L/301-hp/332-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,473 lb (59/41%)||3,532 lb (58/42%)|
|WHEELBASE||105.1 in||105.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||178.5 x 70.9 x 55.9 in||178.5 x 70.9 x 55.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.0 sec||4.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.5 sec @ 95.0 mph||13.5 sec @ 102.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||121 ft||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)||0.91 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.8 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)||25.8 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||23/33/27 mpg||23/32/26 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||147/102 kWh/100 miles||147/105 kWh/100 miles|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||0.73 lb/mile||0.74 lb/mile|