Since purchasing my BMW M235i I have been hearing a lot of banter about how BMW has lost its touch with the current fleet of vehicles they have to offer. On any given Saturday, one need not look further than the local Cars and Coffee to understand what I am talking about. I promise that somewhere in the corner of the parking lot there will be a huddled group of BMW fanboys (and girls) standing in front of their E30s, E36s, and E46s lamenting about the golden days of BMW and how car manufacturers are now solely cash hungry sell-outs. Just this last Saturday, I heard an E36 owner compare the new F80 M3 to a Mustang and almost shot coffee out of my nose.
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Although I am not quite the pessimist that these folks are, I have to admit that I see their concerns. Like all manufacturers, BMW keeps releasing bigger, heavier, and pricier cars with each passing year. For the Fords and Lexus’ of the industry, this is not a huge problem. They have always made rotund cars with massive engines to make up for it, so more weight won’t effect their already average-at-best handling. BMWs, on the other hand, are known for their sporty size, power, and most importantly… balance. A car can have all the power in the world, but if that power cannot be utilized, it will never be fast. BMW recognized this decades ago and strove to build a car that was nimble around a circuit instead of explosively fast in a straight line.
This is one of the best BMW advertisements. In red you see big, powerful sports cars that still dominate the market today: Corvette, Viper, Porsche, and Ferrari to name a few. Then there’s the E36 – the small, subtle coupe that’s quicker and more graceful at the track.
This is because BMW was dedicated to making “The Ultimate Driving Machine” instead of a road ornament like all the other manufacturers in those days. If you Google “BMW”, ads promoting fuel efficiency and horsepower will pop-up long before you read anything about handling. While I’m all for excessive horsepower and saving the environment, those are not my biggest concerns when purchasing a vehicle. All I want to know is if I can drive the wheels off the thing with a smile on my face and still get around town in a reasonable manner.
So, the question is: has BMW lost its touch? If you say yes then I recommend you test drive an M235i today. If you can whip the sporty coupe around town, auto cross, or the track without grinning like an idiot, then I will believe you, but I know from experience – that’s impossible.
While the M235i is not perfect by any means, it did revive my faith in BMW. The styling, the size, the balance, how connected I feel to the pavement beneath me through the steering wheel (yes, even though it is fully electric which I initially hated) – it is all reminiscent of BMW’s glory days when they shook up the world of motorsport with the introduction of classics like the E30 M3.
Now to the point of this article: REVIEWING THE M235i! Although I absolutely love the styling (especially the front end) of the F22, I will leave that out as looks are relative to the buyer. Having driven the car every day for the last 6 months, including taking it to numerous track and autocross sessions, I would like to share my experience with potential buyers and fanboys/fangirls.
I will begin with the bread and butter of every BMW: HANDLING. It is painful for me to admit, but I was disappointed after just one lap at autocross with how my new M235i handled. I could not believe that BMW would release an “M” car with that much understeer. It was so bad and I was so frustrated that I wanted to quit. However, instead of throwing my sucker in the dirt, I decided to give it another chance, hoping it was driver induced and not poor manufacturing on BMW’s part – I was wrong. I asked Connor Bloum, San Diego BMWCCA autocross instructor and decorated professional racecar driver (Skip Barber and Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge champ) to drive my car and tell me what he thought.
“So much understeer!” were his exact words. We discussed it a little more in hopes it might be just the short and tight autocross course. I went to Buttonwillow and Willow Springs International Raceway, famous circuits in Southern California, the next weekend to test out theory number two. I am sad to report that after a few hours, my $1,600 Pilot Super Sports were chunking and chording on the outside wall thanks to excessive vehicle-induced understeer.
For most car enthusiasts this may sound like a death sentence for the M235i but I assure you, it is not. The understeer is a quick and relatively cheap fix thanks to the good people at Ground Control Systems! I all but eradicated factory understeer with their gorgeous camber plates. After installing mine I shaved a few seconds off my autocross times and burn rubber at a much slower rate!
Now for the fun part: POWER! Somewhere in between the E9x and F8x M3/4, the M235i gives you enough torque to last you a lifetime. Thanks to some extra juice squeezed out of the already stellar N55 motor, throttle steering, drifting, donuts, and pretty much anything to do with burning rubber is second nature to the M235i. I assure you, no matter what car you drive now, the turbocharged, 320 horsepower, 330 lb-ft of torque N55 will be plenty to handle.
Interior details, limited slip differential, and EXHAUST! BMW has stepped up their interior game as of recently. The 135i that I traded for the M235i had exactly 0 options and had an interior that was less luxurious than anything I’ve seen inside a Honda Accord. For the M235i, I went the similar no-options route (except for the LSD), but was pleasantly surprised by how improved the cabin was. The ability to scroll through the display screen for music and telephone contacts is a major bonus.
Any car with an ///M badge needs a Limited Slip Differential (LSD). Period. End of story. Do us all a favor and buy a 228i if you’re not going to need an LSD.
As for the exhaust, I decided not to go with the M Performance Exhaust (MPE) upgrade and I will regret that decision until the day I die. The beautiful sound of the MPE is especially drool-worthy when paired with the ZF 8-speed as it backfires every time you shift – even though I am a strong advocate of saving the manuals.
While I could go on and on about the M235i, the truth is, nothing I say will do the car justice. With its futuristic styling and specs it’s hard to see just how classic and nostalgic the M235i really feels. I could tell you stories about how fun it is to be completely sideways through turn three at Buttonwillow, or you could go find out for yourself and see your faith restored in BMW as mine has been.
Special thanks to the boys of San Diego BMWCCA: Connor Bloum, Nick Owen, Brandon Watson, Matt Kogan and more for always pushing me to drive harder – no excuses.
Sam Rashty: @samrashty
Max Fallor: @max_fotography
Ben Carufel: @bencarufel, www.facebook.com/bencarufelphotography
Rachel Mills is the CEO of Lady Driven America
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