TEST DRIVE: 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe – Is It Fun Enough?

Test Drives | February 18th, 2020 by 46
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At the moment, premium car companies are fighting each other over millennials. While premium brands will always sell to older audiences, due to their higher average income, younger demographics are becoming the desired target audiences of said premium brands. The idea is to offer inexpensive entry-level cars to younger drivers, get them into the brand and then keep them as customers for life. BMW’s latest attempt to reel in some of these young buyers is this — the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe.

What’s It About?

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I recently had the chance to drive the new four-door 2 Series in Portugal, where the roads were great and the weather was even better. The 2 Series Gran Coupe as a whole might not be the purist or most exciting of BMW models but, then again, it doesn’t have to be.

Even the BMW M235i, with its more powerful engine and sporty looks, isn’t designed to harken back to a bygone era of BMW’s Motorsport success. Instead, it’s designed to lure young, extroverted types that want something unique looking and fun to drive.

It’s also designed to offer a lower lease payment to current BMW customers, specifically 3 Series clients. Customers that were used to that low lease payment for their F30-gen BMW 320i will want to get into another four-door Bimmer quite soon and the new G20-gen BMW 330i is quite a bit more expensive.

So that’s where the 2 Series Gran Coupe fits in, as the less expensive alternative. Sure, the M235i isn’t exactly cheap but it’s the most expensive model in the 2er GC lineup.

Youthful Styling

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But, really, it’s all about style and attracting a younger audience. Many BMW enthusiasts mock the BMW M235i for its quirky looks but that’s sort of the point. The car is supposed to look different than anything else on the road, it’s supposed to stand out and offer something young people can get behind.

To be honest, after spending some time with it in person, it’s not bad looking at all. Sure, it’s quirky and can look a bit odd from some angles but it looks good from most angles. Of course, the rear-end could have been streamlined like some of its competitors and the iconic Hofmeister Kink should have retained its originality.

I also wish BMW did a hatchback design like the 4 Series Gran Coupe which is more practical in that regard.

You can also tell that it’s catered to a younger audience from the inside. The cabin of the BMW M235i is very sporty looking and has some features that are specifically designed to appeal to millennials. For instance, the dashboard and door trim have a cool pattern on them but they’re also both back-lit.

So as the cabin gets dark at night, LED lighting shines through the trim, emphasizing the pattern. It’s actually pretty cool, despite being gimmicky.

You also have two large screens. The center console can be had in 10.25 inches or 8.8 inches, along with the latest iDrive 7 (OS 7.0) infotainment system. Now standard is Apple CarPlay with no subscription fee.

One complaint that I have is in regards to the rear doors. Despite having the cool frameless design, they have a quite small opening, making it difficult to get in and out. Also, rear seating is not for extremely long journeys, if you’re on the taller side of things, especially since the headroom is nothing to brag about.

The rest of the interior is mostly the same as what you’ll find on a BMW M135i, though. That’s not a bad thing, as the interior looks good and is made very well but it’s nothing unexpected. The back-lit trim is cool, though.

How Does It Drive?

The biggest complaint most enthusiasts have with the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe is that it’s based on a front-wheel drive platform. To be honest, it’s a big deal mostly for us, old school enthusiasts. The target demographic will likely ignore the RWD vs. FWD debate.

After driving it around Lisbon and testing it on some curvy roads, I can tell you the car drives very well. The xDrive system lets you have a bit of fun and you can even get that rear before to dance a bit for you. So yet, it can drift a bit, but don’t expect the “Ultimate Drifting Machine.”

With DTC off, it gets a bit more tailspin but obviously not a ton, given that it’s still front-biased. Understeer is typical of FWD cars but it has a couple of systems that help it out.

One of those is something BMW calls “ARB”. The idea behind ARB is to improve the extra grip at the front wheels and reduce understeer. It works in two steps. Firstly, it calculates the perfect slip on the situation you’re in – acceleration, condition of the road and other factors – and it’s calculated into BMW’s own made algorithm.

Secondly, the controller which reduces the engine torque is sitting in the engine, so the latency from DSC to the controller is reduced by three fold. And the controller’s output speed is ten times faster. Now, basically the engine knows immediately what rpm is needed in every situation when the wheels start slipping.

The second major handling aid comes from its Torsen front differential. Yes, it’s a front-bias all-wheel drive system but its mechanical front differential helps to put power down to the front wheels as effectively as possible. So while understeer is of course present at the limit, it’s barely noticeable unless you’re driving too fast for public roads. BMW has done a good job of making this car fun, considering the hardware it was working with.

So when you go fast into a corner, with a RWD, you will take your foot of the gas pedal. But in this case, you actually have to apply more power because the ARB will work to straighten the wheels and deliver power to the right one. At first, it’s counter-intuitive since we’re all so used to reducing power in a rear-wheel drive car, so it takes some time to learn how to apply more power to help you exit fast corners.

 

So in a nutshell, the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe will understeer when pushed hard into a corner, but only until you go back on the throttle. It is a different style of driving, but you get used to it pretty quickly.

Steering is certainly feels lighter than what I’m used to in a BMW and especially in Comfort mode, it can feel a bit numb. In Sport, it’s more weighted and accurate but it’s not going to light anyone’s hair on fire. The Sport mode also tightness the suspension and therefore, reduced body roll.

Things are a bit different on the highway. The adaptive system works flawlessly, so you’re getting a comfortable and smooth ride. Some may call it uneventful, but not everyone wants a sportscar at all times.

M Performance Engine

Making things a bit more fun is the engine. Powering the BMW M235i Gran Coupe is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 302 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. That engine sends power to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. It can get from 0-60 mph in 4.4 seconds, which is pretty fast. It’s not going to make thrill many enthusiasts with its power or performance, but it’s enough to be fun.

More than that, though, it’s a good engine. It pulls hard and very smoothly, with a surprising amount of acceleration for just a 2.0 liter engine. The transmission is very smooth as well, with quick shifts that never feel rough or choppy. It’s not as good as the ZF eight-speed found in rear-wheel drive BMWs but it’s still good.

Even better than that is its engine sound. It’s not the best engine sound in the world but it actually sounds sporty and quite loud. Furthermore, you can actually adjust the Active Sound intensity through the iDrive. So you can make it louder or quieter, depending on your preference. You can’t turn it all the way off but at least you can quiet it if you don’t like it.

Baby steps.

Is It a Real Performance BMW?

The answer to that question really relies on what you expect from a performance BMW. If you’re an old-school enthusiast that wants rear-wheel drive performance, tail-happy drifts and perfect steering feel, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re open to the idea of a new kind of BMW, one that’s fun, safe and easy to drive fast, but also looks interesting and has a modern interior, the BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe is a great car for you.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out, though. The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe was a project that began about five years ago, when sedans still showed a lot of promise. Now, sedans are on the downhill, so we’ll see if BMW can bring them back a bit with the 2er GC.

All in all, it’s not as exciting as a rear-wheel drive BMW but it’s not meant to be so that’s an unfair argument. The BMW M235i Gran Coupe is aimed at a new demographic of BMW customer and, for that customer, it seems like a perfect fit.

BMW sells the two versions here in the U.S., both xDrive. The BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe starts at $38,495, while the top-model M235i starts at $46,495. Not cheap by any means, but if those lease rates are attractive, the new 2 Series Gran Coupe could find plenty of buyers.

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