First Drive: 2014 BMW M235i

 

“Ghetto Supastar” is not exactly the song one might expect to come coursing from the speakers of a brand-new BMW. But, as I drove down Las Vegas Boulevard in a bright red 2014 BMW M235i, that is exactly what I was hearing.

Despite my shock, it was surprisingly fitting, given my surroundings. For at that moment, roaring through a rough part of Vegas in a compact, rear-wheel drive, 326-horsepower sports coupe, I felt a bit like a Ghetto Supastar.

Perhaps I should explain; BMW recently flew me to Las Vegas, Nevada to test its latest creation, the M235i – the performancier (my word) version of the all-new 2 Series for Digital Trends. Between track trials, we were allowed to venture out onto the streets of Sin City to see how the M235i handled real-world roadways.

Ripping along the sun-bleached, dilapidated streets is when I discovered a playlist inspired by the 2 Series, and presumably Vegas, pre-loaded on the M235i’s iDrive system. Making a slow transition from Tom Jones to Elvis Presley, the playlist took an unexpected left turn to Pras featuring Mya and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

After a good chuckle, I turned the powerful stereo up and punched the throttle.

Dynamism

While I appreciate efficiency, eco-friendliness and the ability to haul children and labradors, at the forefront of my automotive interest is driving dynamics.

It’s been rather disheartening, then, to see so many formerly sporty brands turn all soft in order to attract a wider, luxury-seeking audience. Think: Mercedes-Benz CLA.

Despite the desportification (again, my word) of some brands, one still remains true to its athletic legacy. And, yes, you guessed it; it’s BMW.

With the BMW 2 Series you can enjoy every part of modern-day motoring without looking like you’re trying too hard.

In fact, as other automakers slip slowly into bland, front-wheel drive muck, Bimmer has arguably become even sportier over the years. The 2014 2 Series – specifically the M235i – is a perfect example.

BMW took its rollicking 1 Series and, for its brand reshuffling, discontinued the moniker Stateside and replaced it with the 2 Series. Rather than simply bolting a new badge to the rear end, the designers have extended all dimensions of the 2 Series, making for a wider track and improved interior space.

Looks have improved, too. Penned to conjure images of the iconic 2002 model, the new 2 Series has low and wide air inlets, higher side air inlets, and a sinewy belt line that runs into the rear-end.

I think it’s quite good looking. I wasn’t convinced in photos, as I worried the new 2 looked too much like a mini 4. In person, though, it has much more gravitas. It’s elegant without being pretentious and sporty without being too verbose.

The M235i’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo “TwinPower” inline six-cylinder engine makes 326 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. It’ll rush to 62 mph from a dead standstill in 4.8 seconds and onto a top speed of 155 mph, all the while eking out 37.2 mpg. Impressive stuff.

But wait; it gets better.

BMW also offers a slew of factory performance parts designed in collaboration with BMW’s M division. Parts like a front splitter paired with an aggressive rear carbon-fiber spoiler and distinctive side skirting add downforce and visual pop.

Buyers can also specify a BMW M Performance limited-slip differential. Yes, I could explain how it works in an extremely Germanic lecture using words like “dynamism” and “torques.” Suffice it to say, the limited-slip diff is a must-have for any true performance enthusiast seeking to put all the ponies to the pavement.

On the interior, buyers can add an Alcantara race steering wheel with a g meter and led lights that indicate engine rpm as well as – you guessed it – lots of carbon fiber trim parts.

My favorite showroom add-on, though, is the low-pressure sport exhaust that BMW wraps in a special heat resistant carbon fiber. Not only does the exhaust add a fantastic optical contrast against, say, a white M235i, it also sounds very mean indeed. At full rev, it sounds less like a compact sports coupe and more like a vintage Formula 1 car.

Track time

Although I had found myself on the streets of Sin City for a short drive, the fine folks at BMW flew me down to Vegas to test the 2 Series at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. So when not ‘Ghetto Supastaring’ it through Vegas, we journalists were hot-dogging it on track.

The first test was the oval. In groups of three, we took the M235i out and slowly – well, OK, quickly – climbed the walls of the Speedway. Eventually hitting around 140 mph, the Germans wanted to show us how the 2 Series handled high speeds.

The rest of the track experience was what one might expect from a BMW, especially a top-end model. It was spectacular.

Doing 140 at a 30-degree incline is a strange sensation. Your brain feels like it’s being sucked down to your right shoulder. The rest of your body, though, feels normal. Did it tell me much about the 2 Series? No. Was it neat? Yes.

The second round of tracking took us to, well, the inner oval track, where we hit some proper corners. After a few laps following a Z4 piloted by a BMW chassis engineer, we were given the green light to go at our own speed.

First out of the gate, I had the circuit visually to my lonesome. The track driving gave me two distinct impressions of the M235i: It both hugged the road incredibly well and also offered more body lean than I expected. Impressively, and surprisingly, both these sensations were discernable at the same time.

I could feel an incomparable – for the price point – amount of grip and also quite a lot of body roll, given the planted stickiness of the car. Despite these contradictory forces, I was able to kick the backend of the M235i out a few times. It kept itself in line and I never felt like I was going to lose control or composure.

The rest of the track experience was what one might expect from a BMW, especially a top-end model. It was spectacular.

I’ve long said that BMW simply doesn’t make a bad car. It just doesn’t. The M235i continues that lineage. Braking was firm and fade-free. The electronic power steering is well weighted and precise. Both the eight-speed sport automatic transmission and the six-speed manual shifted with the kind of preciseness the Germans have built a healthy sporting career on. And the exhaust note is masculine without being heavy-handed.

Not-so-entry-level

Believe it or not, the 2 Series isn’t the entry-level BMW. Despite its diminutive size, the 228i is priced just above the X1 crossover, albeit just slightly. The X1 starts at $30,900, while the 2 Series starts at $32,100. And just slightly above the 228i is the $35,720 320i. The M235i, however, starts at $43,100, which is a pretty penny for a compact coupe.

Put it into perspective, though, and it’s a clear value.

The M235i is a car that not many people readily recognize as a performance car. So it’s that perfect sleeper, that is, unless you pile M Performance parts onto it with sporty stripes and downforce-inducing carbon fiber.

With the BMW 2 Series you can enjoy every part of modern-day motoring without looking like you’re trying too hard.

All the praise aside, let me just say that I absolutely cannot wait to get an M235i up into the mountains and hilly gorges of the Pacific Northwest to see how it really handles real-world corners.