Rating: 8.8
Bottom Line:
This new BMW coupe aims to blur the line further between pure performance and daily comfort. It’s certainly capable of winning the hearts of enthusiasts, but it comes at a steep price.
  • Awkwardness gone from design
  • Excellent handling balance
  • Great automatic transmission
  • Price, price, price
  • Stop making everything bigger!

As part of BMW's new model nomenclature, the 1-Series is now the 2-Series (coupes are even numbered) with the 135i becoming the M235i — well, sort of. That little "M" in front signifies M Performance. While not a proper, full-tilt BMW M GmbH creation (like the last generation's bonkers 1-Series M Coupe), BMW's M Performance line instead represents a halfway step, essentially a comprehensive, deeply integrated sport package. The goal is to deliver a fun coupe with both track-day capability and uncompromised daily livability.

Model lineup
Like the 135i before it, the new baby Bimmer is a spunky-looking sports coupe with a powerful 6-cylinder engine and lively handling, although for the M235i, BMW put great emphasis on maturing the design. The new coupe features an attractive body free from the 1-Series' trademark awkward proportions, and with an increase in all dimensions but overall height, it's unmistakably larger than the outgoing 1-Series. On the plus side, this larger size was achieved without upping vehicle weight by any significant amount, which is quite a feat.

View Pictures:  2014 BMW M235i

The M235i isn't likely to confuse buyers at the dealer. It comes in one flavor — sporty — and only offers a few typical BMW packages as options (well, there are also some wheels and smaller accessories, and even an available differential for the diehard enthusiast). Interestingly, there is no "normal" 235i. If you want a 2-Series with the six-shooter, you'll have to go whole hog with an M Performance car — at least for now. That said, there is a more basic 2-Series on offer as well, the 228i.

So then what's the deal with this M Performance stuff? Well, with no such thing as a 235i to compare, it's hard to say for sure, but there are a number of interesting details that BMW is crediting to the M Performance name beyond the usual sport package bling, like adaptive suspension, sport brakes and even a tweaked chassis and drivetrain. New marketing moniker or not, this coupe is unquestionably an enthusiast-oriented vehicle.

Under the hood
Surprising absolutely no one, this BMW comes equipped with the brand's ubiquitous TwinPower Turbo engine. As the latest and greatest iteration of the venerable N54 inline-6 engine that sees duty across BMW's lineup, the M235i's mill produces a heady 320 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. The M235i's mountain of torque — arguably the best trait of this engine — is actually more of a plateau, as its peak becomes available at just 1400 rpm and lasts until 4500 rpm.

Mated to the available dry-sump manual transmission, this engine can blast the M235i to 60 mph in just five seconds. If the 8-speed automatic is your transmission of choice, you'll be treated to paddle shifters and a launch control system that, combined with the short gearing, gets the car to 60 mph even faster, at just 4.8 seconds. But you'd be driving a performance car with an automatic transmission.

Drivetrain aside, there are plenty of other technical bits worth noting. All M235i cars in the U.S. come with the M Sport adaptive suspension system, which enables drivers to adjust the car's driving dynamics on the fly. Also standard equipment is the M Sport brake setup, featuring blue-painted 4-pot calipers up front and 2-pot in the rear. BMW's variable steering system (dubbed Servotronic) is available as an option, as well as a rear differential for even greater performance on the track.

Inner space
BMW was already doing a good job creating a reasonably premium feel inside the entry-level 1-Series. This carries over into the new 2-Series, which feels even more solid and is substantially more spacious. The car's cabin is stylish and simple. It's put together well and made of noticeably high-quality materials. The thick-rimmed steering wheel, while comically thick, is a total delight to the touch.

Although not quite as cramped as the outgoing model, the M235i is still a bit of a snug fit, particularly in the back seats, which we'd only recommend for smaller people unless you're in a pinch. Speaking of those rear seats, they are now available with a 40/20/40 split-folding option (as opposed to the standard 60/40 split), which should help the small(ish) car swallow various cargo arrangements.

On the road
We spent some time putting the M235i through its paces, although BMW didn't provide a single example with the 6-speed manual. There's nothing wrong with the new 8-speed autobox, mind you, it just seems like a stick shift is a no-brainer on a car like this. It may put down faster numbers on a spec sheet, but an automatic transmission rarely speaks as deeply to the heart of the enthusiast, paddles or not. We'd gladly sacrifice a fraction of a second in a car like this if it meant we had direct, mechanical control over the transmission. Still, the automatic did perform wonderfully.

It should be no surprise that the new M235i handles well. Essentially designed to be the brand's sportiest non-M car, it impressed during our time on the Las Vegas International Speedway. We were immediately taken by the car's neutral manners and near-perfect balance — a welcome relief over the slightly sketchy 1-Series. Some initial understeer from the weight of the engine up front quickly gives way to rotation with the right modulation of the throttle, and before long hustling the car becomes second nature.

The M235i is the type of car you can really tango with if you felt so inclined, but exit the track and flip the suspension back to Comfort, and the car immediately takes a step back out of the picture. In day-to-day driving the M235i simply does its job getting you from place to place without fuss. Fair to say BMW succeeded with its driving demeanor goals here.

Right for you?
This is a tough one. The car is great, no doubt, but it may have a hard time targeting spirited enthusiasts and gearheads. This isn't due to any fault in the car, but because these are buyers who may see greater value buying used. With a handful of common options ticked, the $44,000 M235i could easily be hovering at the $50,000 mark — and that's for a 2-Series. Let that sink in for a second, and think about what kind of pre-owned metal that kind of money can buy. While it's not terribly out of line with last year's $40,000 135i, it's still a lot of money for an entry-level line.

Granted, this pricing might not be as big of a problem as it sounds, as the M235i doesn't really have much direct competition. Although the new M Performance line matches up to Audi's S line in a general conceptual sense (just as BMW M cars compete with Audi RS cars), there's nothing from Audi to match the M235i. You could argue the new Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG might steal an interested buyer or two, but that's not quite the same type of car either. The M235i is dancing to its own drum, and if you're intrigued by a great-looking, entry-luxury Euro coupe with brilliant performance, it's really the only option.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.