How I learned to love my BMW M235i

2 Series | August 17th, 2015 by 23
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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!

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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.

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Bonus points

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Photos:

Sam Rashty: @samrashty

Max Fallor: @max_fotography

Ben Carufel: @bencarufel, www.facebook.com/bencarufelphotography

Rachel Mills is the CEO of Lady Driven America

Follow us on Instagram: @ladydrivenamerica

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E: Rachel@speedsociety.com

23 responses to “How I learned to love my BMW M235i”

  1. Kaisuke971 says:

    What a post, thank you sir.

  2. Daniel Johnson says:

    Does the M235i come stock with staggered tire set-up? Something like 225 section on the front tires and 255 on the rear? If you get a square set-up (225 OR 255 all around) that will help a lot with the understeer as well. Going to a square set-up is common even for e36 folks to remedy factory understeer.
    The article is a good read, thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Zizikos says:

    How much camber did it need to eradicate understeer?

  4. jason bourne says:

    “relatively cheep fix ”

    How “cheep”? ;)

    Oh, and the headshot pic is flipped, since you’re obviously not driving a RHD car.

  5. FilipMPower says:

    Is it possible that the understeer is induced by the limited slip diff?

    • Daniel Johnson says:

      I think that could only incur if you happened to lock up the rear brakes in the turn, but that would send you spinning. Otherwise I don’t think the LSD would lock when the tires are turning at such similar rates.

      • FilipMPower says:

        Yes, but when you turn in to a rather sharp corner, the differential of rotational speed in the rear left and right tyres is high, and the LSD wont allow that large differential and slightly locks up the rear, making the car less eager to turn in. Thats why the M active diff stays open during turn in and locks only at exit, where its needed.

        • Daniel Johnson says:

          The car does not come stock with an LSD, so she must have the m performance LSD installed.

          • FilipMPower says:

            Yes, the M active diff allows high differences in wheel rotations, but the M performance aftermarket Diff installed by Rachel here isn’t the e diff which is in the m cars, it’s the simple mechanical LSD.

          • Daniel Johnson says:

            Yep, we are on the same page :) I just looked up the numbers on the M Performance LSD – http://www.2addicts.com/forums/showthread.php?t=982936 It is 30% on acceleration and 9% on deceleration. Which if I understand the diffs correctly, it would only lock under braking or corner entry if one tire was going slower than 9% than the other wheel. In other words, if one tires was going 100mph, the other tire would have to be going 9mph or slower for it to have any effect. Though in tight corners as soon as you get off the brakes and get into the gas it could begin to lock and either break traction altogether and cause the back-end to step out, or if the car is not quite at the limit of traction it could begin to induce understeer. But I think they would have to be a pretty tight corner, would be interesting to run a calculation of the turning radius of the car and the speed difference of the rear tires at that radius.

            I think the more likely culprit of understeer is the fact the car weighs ~3500lbs and like any new BMW is configured for light understeer from the factory through use of staggered tires, camber settings, and toe settings. The M235i is also front heavy compared to say a 228i, so it will by it’s nature be more likely to understeer. I feel like on a track the 228i with a tune is probably the faster tool because of this. In fact GSR took on the challenge, and hit within 0.5 seconds of a tuned M4 at Willow – http://www.2addicts.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1117222

  6. Otto says:

    Great article.
    I appreciate that every time you get a new BMW, you post a new one :
    https://www.bmwblog.com/2013/11/27/rachel-love-bmw-135i/

    Please, could you get a new BMW more often so I can read you more often too ?
    Thanks.

  7. Oscar Li says:

    Nice Article :)

  8. Brian English says:

    Good article, but let’s not be BMW snobs. The new Mustang can be compared to the M3, and will. The GT350 will be an amazing beast. I and many others also cross shopped the M235 and the Mustang. The only reason I sided with BMW was the Mustang was too big. GT with PP will spank an M235i, but I don’t think such a wide/long car is as fun on the street.

  9. I had an M235i six speed and its a nice car, but 4 months and 6,000 miles later I went back to an M3. Just not the same level.

    • janon says:

      At $30k less it shouldnt be! I unloaded my 08 E92 M3 (stickered at over 70 grand when I bought it new) and moved to an M235i that stickered $52k.

      With what I would consider a normal build (ie – DCT, EDC and *leather seats*) the M4 pushes up against 80 grand. Thanks but no. 99.9999% of the time any perceived “level difference” is placebo. And for 80 grand? I’d prefer a Porsche placebo (Cayman S) which is superior in every way.

  10. janon says:

    Epic post. Although I’m not adding an LSD and refuse to settle for a 228i =P

  11. milklizard says:

    I find it odd that Randy F’ing Pobst and Chris Harris mentioned nothing of the sort in terms of understeer. They’d be all over that. Different spec maybe?

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