The perfect recipe for a fun, sporty coupe would be a naturally aspirated engine paired to a manual gearbox driven through the rear wheels. My 2015 BMW M235i xDrive tester had none of those things. It had a turbocharged engine, an automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. It was from the Dark Side, yet it still made its way deep into the cockles of my heart. Spoiler Alert: It’s very, very good.
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It’s Got Looks That Kill
The particular model I was to be testing was a Glacier Silver Metallic M235i with Oyster Dakota Leather interior and brushed aluminum trim. The color combination was striking at first, and I wasn’t sure whether or not it worked well together. However, after spending a week with it, I’ve grown to really appreciate the combination and would now choose that exact combo if I were buying a new Bimmer. It looked particularly good on the 18 inch double spoke wheels wrapped in ultra sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. The M235i is definitely one of the better looking BMWs, with its beautiful classic coupe body.
The interior was tight, but comfortable. The seats were superb, with adjustable side bolsters and thigh support. A two and a half hour journey in the M235i xDrive was a breeze and I walked away with zero back or thigh ache. The ergonomics are typical BMW, easy to use and find. All of the materials were top notch, I especially liked the real brushed aluminum trim, which looked and felt excellent. The back seats are tight, but can fit two average sized adults in reasonable comfort for short to medium journeys. The trunk is also quite spacious for such a small car. BMW worked some packaging magic with the M235i.
But the best part about the looks of the M235i, especially in this color combo, is that they’re subtle. I only got few nods and waves from fellow drivers and the few I got were usually in other fast Bimmers who knew what it was. But most of the time, people thought it was just a small silver BMW and didn’t give it a second look. So you aren’t going to get a lot Subaru STI drivers pulling alongside of you trying to race. Though when they do, you have the power to blow the doors off of most.
There’s no two ways about it, the M235i is a monster. It may not look like much, but it will deliver a swift ass-kicking to almost any car you come across. The 3.0 TwinPower I6 engine, delivering 320 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque, mated to the ZF eight-speed automatic gets it from 0-60mph in around 4.4 seconds and on to an electronically-limited 155mph top speed. Ten years ago that would have been supercar performance, and it can be had in a little BMW with a six-cylinder engine, back seats and a big trunk.
The N55 3.0 liter is so buttery smooth at any rpm, with a quiet burble at low revs and a high-pitched howl as the needle races toward the red. It just pins you to the seatback with a tidal wave of power, as if it were powered by a jet turbine, all while making a wonderful noise. Every person I stuck in the passenger seat was either yelling or laughing when I pinned them back into their seat. The performance in the M235i is so satisfying yet so easily accessible that it becomes addictive.
We’ve talked about the ZF eight-speed countless times before and I can say it’s still as excellent as ever. With crisp, smooth upshifts and right-now downshifts via paddles, it’s just the perfect automatic gearbox. Left to its own devices, it always keeps you in the correct gear, regardless of which mode you’re in. No manual option on the xDrive models, but to be honest, I never missed it. The eight-speed felt perfectly suited to the car.
The biggest complaint of modern BMWs is that the steering feel lacks compared to the BMWs of yore. Was the M235 xDrive dripping with steering feel? No, it was mostly devoid of it. However, the steering was direct and incredibly accurate. The lack of feel won’t stop you from placing this car on a dime. I felt the best steering setup was Comfort Mode, oddly enough. Normally, I put every BMW into Sport Mode almost immediately. However, in Sport Mode, the steering felt a bit artificially heavy and could seem twitchy at times, maybe attributed to the all-wheel drive, though it did have the best weight. Comfort Mode, while a bit too light for me, felt the most progressive and neutral. It just felt the most natural. But overall, the M235i xDrive steers and handles like a BMW should, near perfectly.
All-Wheel Drive Ain’t That Bad
Ahh, xDrive. The entire reason we’re testing this car. I must admit, when I read xDrive at the end of the name, I was a bit reluctant. I was always kind of against putting all-wheel drive in a car with such pure sporty intentions. But I’m happy to report that I never once wished it was rear-wheel drive during my entire week with it. The xDrive stayed completely under the radar, only acting as needed, and when it did work its magic, I hadn’t the slightest clue.
Sure, would rear-wheel drive be more fun? Probably, as the tail would be more willing to come out. But there’s something to be said about chucking the little 2er into a corner, at silly speeds, and having it dig its claws into the pavement and launch you out the other end with little to no fuss. The M235i is already an incredibly capable car, but xDrive sends it over the top. It’s genuinely fun to drive and toss around. In fact, it’s one of the more fun cars I’ve ever driven. I’ve driven faster cars and better handling cars, but this little 2er put a bigger smile on my face than most others.
Also, the xDrive all-wheel drive system can turn the M235i from a summer toy into a year-round daily driver. I live in New Jersey, and the winters can be brutal, so I can totally see myself going for the xDrive model now that I know how good it is. Normally, I’d just stick with RWD and deal with it, but this xDrive system has made a believer out of me.
I love the BMW M235i xDrive. That may sound a bit frank, but it’s true. Despite the fact that the M235i xDrive is the antithesis for what makes a great sports coupe, it’s just so much fun and so capable. It can be used all year round, has decent back seats and a big trunk. It just may have converted me to the Dark Side.