2015 BMW M235i xDrive Review

Not the exactly the M you’re looking for

It’s strange to see a car appreciate in value, but it’s not impossible. For example, iconic sports cars of certain vintages may yield some kind of investment value after just 25 years.

But what about a car that’s just three years old? After 740 units sold in North America, BMW stopped selling its 2011 1M Coupe. The car was expensive at the time, but it was received with so much fanfare that it has only become more valuable since then. Simply put, it was an instant icon and a future collectible.

Its successor, the BMW M235i hasn’t enjoyed the immediate popularity that the 1M Coupe received. For 2016, the Bavarian brand gives this Mini-M its xDrive all-wheel-drive setup, but that does little to lift the brand’s entry-level sports coupe up to the pedestal its ancestor is perched upon.

It [M]oves!

Under the hood is the same turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine as before, making 320 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. It’s plenty powerful and reaches its peak torque quickly in the rev-range, starting at 1,300 rpm and staying that way until 4,500 rpm. And unlike the last model, you can only get the all-wheel-drive variant of the car with an eight-speed automatic.

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That’s OK, though. The eight-speed is excellent. It fires off fast upshifts and each one is accompanied by a fantastically flatulent “frrraaap!” sound. Full throttle upshifts are as rewarding to your ears as it is to your sense of speed, as the car can quickly hit high speeds and still feels wonderfully refined as the speedometer climbs.

But it’s the way that the car takes off from a stop that will get you hooked. At 4.6 seconds, BMW says that the addition of all-wheel drive doesn’t improve the vehicle’s 0-60 compared to the rear-wheel-drive model, but the sheer grip makes stomping on the gas pedal an addicting habit. Luckily, the M-Sport brakes help the car come to a stop quickly, and they even spice things up when the car isn’t moving, as the brake calipers are painted an eye-catching shade of blue.

See Also: Five-Point Inspection: 2015 BMW 228i

Several selectable drive modes make the M235i xDrive even more interesting to drive. While the car defaults to a Comfort mode whenever it’s turned on, drivers can select a Sport and Sport+ mode to make things more engaging. In both of these modes, the throttle becomes more responsive, the shift points more aggressive and the standard adaptive M suspension firms up. These two modes give the car some attitude and the Sport+ setting dials that up a bit more by giving you more leeway with the traction control. Both settings also transform the steering effort, making the wheel feel heavier.

Not Feeling It

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Sadly, this heft doesn’t translate to actual road feel. I’m disappointed to report that the steering feedback in the M235i is the most lackluster part of the drive. Sure, the rack is extremely quick, requiring just 2.2 full turns to go lock-to-lock, but the actual feeling of the tires on the road is completely missing from your fingertips. I find that to be a pretty important aspect of a sporty car, especially one that’s as capable as the M235i is and weighs in at a hefty 3,700 lbs. For reference, the tiny M235i xDrive is just 10 lbs lighter than the large, V8-equipped Ford Mustang GT.

The lack of steering feel is an even bigger shame when you look at the beautiful, thick M-Sport steering wheel. As the major point of contact between the driver and the car, it’s nice that the tiller feels like a well-crafted piece of hardware. However, the luxurious-feeling wheel sets up a standard that isn’t matched elsewhere in the cabin. From the inside, it still feels and looks like an entry-level 2 Series. In particular, the inner door handles feel cheap and don’t line up nicely, leaving an uncomfortable edge where your hand grips it.

Features and More Features

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At least the M235i features a large and high-resolution infotainment screen. Thanks to the $2,150 Technology Package, our model came with the excellent iDrive infotainment system that is simple and easy to use and includes navigation and traffic information. The car also came with the upgraded harmon/kardon sound system, which provided rich, high-quality audio when I became tired of listening to the engine/exhaust note. If you spend hours perfecting a road trip playlist, the $875 cost for the upgraded audio system is totally worth it.

Other additional features on this test vehicle were the heated seats and heated steering wheel that were included as part of the $700 cold weather package, rear-view camera and park distance control as part of the $900 driver assistance package, and the $700 driver assistance plus package that could read the speed limit signs and tell you if you’re too close to the car in front of you. While the model tested was pretty much fully loaded, the M235i comes with a number of awesome features as standard equipment including beefier M-Sport brakes, a moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, auto engine start/stop, and rain sensing windshield wipers.

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While the car starts at $46,445 including destination, our tester rang in at $53,270 with all the options ticked off. In comparison, a similarly equipped Audi S3 costs $51,350 and includes adaptive cruise control, a Bang and Olufsen sound system and 19-inch wheels. It sprints to 60 mph a little bit quicker than the BMW, too. It’d be interesting to see how the sporty sedan from Audi fares against its two-doored rival from BMW in a head-to-head comparison, now that the M235i is offered with all-wheel drive.

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While it’s not the raw, enthusiast-dream-come-true that the 1M Coupe was, the M235i still has a demeanor that’s fun and aggressive. It might be a bit too stiff for everyone, but with the drive setting in Comfort, many of the bumps and cracks in the pavement are muted, thanks to the adaptive suspension.

See Also: Poll: Has BMW’s M Division Lost Its Way?

The fact that it just doesn’t evoke memories of the 1M Coupe exposes the truth that this just isn’t a true M car, like the M3, M4 and M5. In a way, that’s good, because the M235i is a half-way point between mainstream and hardcore. However, it seems misleading to have so much M-branded trim on a car for it to lack the driving enjoyment an M car should bring. A true M version of the 2 Series should be uncompromised and engaging. It should be an absolute joy to drive all the time, not just in a straight line, like the M235i is. It has to reward the driver, too, and that’s just not happening here.

The Verdict: 2015 BMW M235i xDrive Review

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But that’s the interesting thing about the M235i xDrive. It’s liveable. While it’s not exactly a replacement to the iconic 1M Coupe, it offers something that’s less raw, yet still fast. While I don’t think anything with an M badge should have such lifeless steering, the truth is that this BMW is still agile and fun to drive every day; and with the new all-wheel-drive system, it features even more grip for days when the driving conditions aren’t perfect. Until a real M2 is offered by the company, the M235i is a decent enough sports coupe, but not the raw, engaging BMW it could have been.

  • Isend2C

    Some other cars that don’t depreciate are the WRX & STI along with the GT-R.
    It’s like BMW is ignoring everybody who reviews their cars. For the last 4 years everybody’s been saying their steering stinks (similar to what they say about Hyundai’s…). They can make a steering wheel with feel, and I seriously doubt it would but off badge-buyers, as they still bought plenty E46 & E90’s.

  • ChiCarGuy

    Hallelujah, Sami. It’s about time auto journalists recognize that BMW is losing its way. I drove a 2014 228i the other day and I was shocked that it had less road feel than my mother-in-law’s Lexus RX370. That’s a shame, because the rest of the car was excellent. Problem is, steering feel is 50%+ of the driving experience. BMW lowers who miss purity of driving feel might want to check out a new Mazda (pick one). Yes, they’re FWD, but the whole driving experience is sublime. I traded in my 6 mo. old 2012 BMW X5 Xdrive35d for a Mazda 5 because I hated the way the X5 drove. The Mazda 5 is a fun and fantastic little car, as is the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6. IMO, Mazda is today what BMW used to be (except with a lot less power).