2014 BMW M235i
2014 BMW M235i
2014 BMW M235i
2014 BMW M235i. Click image to enlarge

Review by Michael Bettencourt, photos by Michael Bettencourt and courtesy BMW

Las Vegas, Nevada – So when is an M not an M? When you’re talking about BMW’s new M235i sport coupe, which despite its name, isn’t a full M hardcore performance machine, but the first M Performance model in North America. Yes, M Performance means less performance than M.

So the new BMW M Performance line is a step up from standard BMW models, for folks that want extra power and styling flair that its sporting M models are know for, but not the rock-hard ride or loud exhaust noise that often accompany them – or their much higher price. They’re meant to take on the breathed-upon versions of Audi’s S-Line, Infiniti’s IPL and Benz’s Sport package–equipped models.

Think M light, unless that reminds you of beer. In that case, think lower case m (and get help for that beer obsession).

The new compact 2 will essentially replace the 1 Series, since BMW now likes even numbers for all its coupes and convertibles. That includes all four-door “coupes,” such as the 6 Series Gran Coupé, X6 slantback crossover, and the just announced 4 Series Gran Coupé as well, a lower and sportier version of the 3 Series sedan. No official word yet on whether there’s a more practical 2 Series four-door Gran Coupé in the works, but there’s certainly a pattern emerging here.

The M235i we drove on Las Vegas Speedway and up the famous Vegas strip is the top-line model of the 2 Series two-door is set to arrive in March. The overall look and feel of the car is now more substantial, less stubby than its 1 Series predecessor, but also less aggressive than its one-(year)-and-done predecessor, the dastardly fun 2011 1 Series M coupe. The M235i is larger in all dimensions, and the car has graduated from the subcompact to compact class, about the size of a two-generations-back 3 Series coupe, so it both looks and feels inside like a more substantial car than the current 1 Series.

This increased sophistication is apparent inside as well, where the iPad Mini–like central screen is a touch better integrated than the similar arrangement inside Mercedes-Benz’s entry-level models. The electronic shifter from pricier BMWs adds to the high-tech look, but is still just as finicky too, the driver needing to look down much more than usual to check that the transmission is in the intended gear, or in Park, because it always returns to its home position, so you can’t tell by touch.

What used to be a curse with the iDrive system is now a blessing, as BMW has finally figured out where it went so wrong with earlier, tougher-to-use versions: it just needed more buttons. Thankfully, there are actual hard buttons near the spinning controller for all major functions (navi, stereo, climate and phone), basic climate functions on the dash, and actual presets you can touch, plus a back button useful in any of the many menus available. There should be no angst over this system being standard in the 2, even though its whole raison d’être was ironically to help limit the number of buttons inside.

There are two seats in the back, and they can even fit real adults for a short period of time, while the standard power sliding controls up high near the front headrests make it easier for folks old and young to jump back there. It’s still a two-door coupe, so it’s never going to be the most practical or accommodating family car, but the 390 L trunk and standard 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats both help on that practicality front.

2014 BMW M235i2014 BMW M235i
2014 BMW M235i. Click image to enlarge

No, folks will be drawn to this car for its driving appeal. BMW’s jewel of a turbocharged six-cylinder engine sits under the hood, here rated at 322 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. Yes, that’s slightly less than in the 335-hp 1M, but BMW rates the M235i’s acceleration as basically equal, quoting a 4.8-second time – assisted by a new Launch Control system – compared to the manual-only 1M’s 4.9. The single turbo, twin-scroll six is impeccably refined even at redline, dealing with four laps of the highly banked Vegas circuit at up to 200 km/h with no complaints, the M235i confidently following whatever line set for it, its back end staying planted even under heavy braking.

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