Car Reviews

Review: 2015 BMW M235xi

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Let the record show that ten years ago, BMW and I were definitely “in a relationship”, as Facebook would say. I was throwing a significant chunk of change every month at a 330i Sport sedan in Steel Grey with a five-speed manual. It was just the latest stage of a love story that began before I was old enough to drive but definitely picked up steam when I learned to drive in a manual transmission 733i.

Today? Well, the best that BMW and I can manage is probably an “It’s Complicated”, and if you want to know why, the car before you is a good example of nearly all the reasons.

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With leather upholstery, a navigation system, and keyless entry, this is a $50,200 automobile. It came to me courtesy of one of our partners in the April Fool’s Cannonball prank, Greg Ledet, who is a BMW aficionado and the owner of an automatic-transmission 335xi. You can read his opinion on the car at the end of this piece, and I think it’s worth reading because Greg is very much the buyer BMW is chasing now — a successful tech worker who charts his own course in life and considers automotive enthusiasm to be one of his primary defining personal characteristics. If Greg likes the car, then it will do well.

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I, on the other hand… well, I’d already driven a stick-shift M235i during PCOTY and my verdict was that “I get the distinct feeling that there’s a bit too much dignity, too much ball-bearing smoothness, to make this a true successor to the raucous 135i.” Adding all-wheel-drive and a torque converter to the M235i package does nothing to change my mind; rather, it dials the standard model’sboulevardier inclinations up to eleven.

On paper and on the road, this is a fast car, thanks to a 320-horsepower second-generation variant of the BMW three-liter turbo straight six and a curb weight in the 3500-pound range. There’s a “Launch Mode” that Greg demonstrates, a particular combination of the endless menu-based performance permutations found in the iDrive controls, and it’s capable of getting to sixty miles per hour in under five seconds. When I take the wheel, I notice with satisfaction that the Steptronic transmission can be placed into a very decent manual-shift mode. It won’t automatically upshift — I ran against the rev limiter for five long seconds to prove that to myself — and it shifts almost exactly when you request it. It’s probably the equal of the very responsive automatic in the Lexus IS350 F-Sport, and that’s saying something.

If only the engine had some character to go with its twist. After ten minutes behind the wheel of the M235xi, I was longing for my proletarian Accord V6 and its minivan motor, which delivers nearly the same power with a VTEC Earthy-Dreamy rush to the redline and a crisp manual shift at the “7” mark. The M235xi is fast but never exciting, even with the fake engine noises that mysteriously appearbehind you when you’re pressing on.

IMG_9002-550x366

Of course, no Honda on the market, even the ones that say “Acura” on them, can deliver the legitimate this-is-something-special feeling you get when taking a seat behind the Bimmer’s chunky wheel. You could quibble with a few of the plastics but really, the one time you don’t doubt the value proposition of a fifty-grand miniature BMW coupe is when you’re just sitting in the thing. Even I, as the most brand-cynical human being in North America, can’t help feeling kind of cool in the M235xi. I love the fact that it’s easily recognizable as a BMW from the moment you open the door.

IMG_8998-550x366

On the move, that BMW DNA is less apparent. The controls are “dipped in treacle”, as the English autojournos say, responding with a heft and indifference that is more Lexus-like than an actual Lexus, the steering completely and utterly dead-feeling thanks to the powered front axle and the electro-magic assist, the brakes okay enough but nothing special despite the fixed-caliper street cred. There are no fewer than three “sport modes” in the iDrive but none of them feel sporting in anything but the most tacked-on fashion.

Approaching a few fast road corners in a row, the M235i gives little sense of its ultimate cornering potential. I hear rather than feel the front end lose grip, the same way you would in a C5 Corvette, only worse. Then the lights start blinking, even though they’re supposed to be off. When Greg tries a low-speed come-and-show-me power-oversteer maneuver, his command of the iDrive technicalities mean that none of the nannies show up for work — but that doesn’t stop the front axle from clutching-out and pulling the car sullenly straight. You could have a lot more fun in a raggedy old 325e. My 330i Sport was ninety horsepower down on this thing but I know which one I’d rather drive.

I want to love this BMW, but I cannot. On a daily basis, I’d rather operate my Accord, which returns nearly half again the 21.6mpg that Greg’s car shows in daily service, has better visibility, weighs three hundred pounds less, and drives like it weighs six hundred pounds less. Not to mention the twenty-grand price advantage. My old Audi S5 felt more alive to operate despite the V-8 hanging out over the front wheels and I suspect the current V-6 car is even better in that regard.

The very existence of this car is troubling, honestly. Does there need to be an automatic-transmission AWD variant of every single model in BMW’s lineup? Since when did BMW become Audi or even Mercedes-Benz? Trust me, the standard M235i stick-shift isn’t exactly a Lotus Seven in terms of the required hardcore driver commitment. We need a calmed-down version of that car like we needed Peter Cetera to go back and record all his late-era Chicago hits with more Muzak in them. (Which he did, by the way.)

The funny thing is that BMW can see the plain evidence of what customers want in used-market prices, and they can see the bulletproof residuals of the 1M and 135i Sport the same way Porsche can see 1998 Carreras selling for more at auctions than 2013 Carreras, and they’re absolutely uninterested in serving that market on a consistent basis. Sure, the M2 will eventually get here, but note that BMW put the effort into getting AWD and automatic transmissions into the Two wayyyybefore they even dropped public hints about the M2.

Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money, even in the post-QE world. If you have that much to burn or borrow, do yourself a favor and get the car that delivers M3-level power and 135i-level driver involvement. It’s called the Ford Mustang GT and you can use the ten grand you’ll have left over to get a nice winter beater. No, the Ford is not the Ultimate Driving Machine — but neither is this.

And now for Greg’s comments:

“’ve had the car for nearly a week now and I’ve put about 250 miles on it. Compared to my 2010 335xi, the 2015 M235xi is noticeably smaller and feels much better through the corners. With 320 horsepower compared to the 335’s 300, I was expecting the smaller car to be much quicker, but I was surprised to learn that the M235xi actually weighs about 300 lbs more than my 335xi (3695 lbs vs 3362 lbs). The car feels lighter and more balanced through the turns and it seems to push less than the 335, but that can probably be chalked up to the fact that my 335xi doesn’t have the M Sport Package or the adjustable suspension.

Would I buy the M235xi? Probably. I’ve actually speced one out and sent to my BMW salesman to see if there could be a deal made should we realize that the 335xi is finally done for. It is definitely on my list of cars that I want, but with a $50,000 sticker price and BMW’s notorious depreciation rate, I’ll probably wait and pick up a CPO vehicle in a couple years. Not only that, the “real” M2 is just around the corner. BMW has said that the drivetrain from the current M3/M4 will fit into the 2-Series without making any changes, so expect the M2 to be putting out around 400 horsepower while trimming 300 pound or so from the weight. If the M2 holds its value as well as the 1-Series M Coupe, I’d almost be silly to not pick one up.”

Well, there you have it! — jb

IMG_8991-550x3151

Let the record show that ten years ago, BMW and I were definitely “in a relationship”, as Facebook would say. I was throwing a significant chunk of change every month at a 330i Sport sedan in Steel Grey with a five-speed manual. It was just the latest stage of a love story that began before I was old enough to drive but definitely picked up steam when I learned to drive in a manual transmission 733i.

Today? Well, the best that BMW and I can manage is probably an “It’s Complicated”, and if you want to know why, the car before you is a good example of nearly all the reasons.

IMG_89801-550x2671

With leather upholstery, a navigation system, and keyless entry, this is a $50,200 automobile. It came to me courtesy of one of our partners in the April Fool’s Cannonball prank, Greg Ledet, who is a BMW aficionado and the owner of an automatic-transmission 335xi. You can read his opinion on the car at the end of this piece, and I think it’s worth reading because Greg is very much the buyer BMW is chasing now — a successful tech worker who charts his own course in life and considers automotive enthusiasm to be one of his primary defining personal characteristics. If Greg likes the car, then it will do well.

IMG_8994-550x3661

I, on the other hand… well, I’d already driven a stick-shift M235i during PCOTY and my verdict was that “I get the distinct feeling that there’s a bit too much dignity, too much ball-bearing smoothness, to make this a true successor to the raucous 135i.” Adding all-wheel-drive and a torque converter to the M235i package does nothing to change my mind; rather, it dials the standard model’sboulevardier inclinations up to eleven.

On paper and on the road, this is a fast car, thanks to a 320-horsepower second-generation variant of the BMW three-liter turbo straight six and a curb weight in the 3500-pound range. There’s a “Launch Mode” that Greg demonstrates, a particular combination of the endless menu-based performance permutations found in the iDrive controls, and it’s capable of getting to sixty miles per hour in under five seconds. When I take the wheel, I notice with satisfaction that the Steptronic transmission can be placed into a very decent manual-shift mode. It won’t automatically upshift — I ran against the rev limiter for five long seconds to prove that to myself — and it shifts almost exactly when you request it. It’s probably the equal of the very responsive automatic in the Lexus IS350 F-Sport, and that’s saying something.

If only the engine had some character to go with its twist. After ten minutes behind the wheel of the M235xi, I was longing for my proletarian Accord V6 and its minivan motor, which delivers nearly the same power with a VTEC Earthy-Dreamy rush to the redline and a crisp manual shift at the “7” mark. The M235xi is fast but never exciting, even with the fake engine noises that mysteriously appearbehind you when you’re pressing on.

IMG_9002-550x3661

Of course, no Honda on the market, even the ones that say “Acura” on them, can deliver the legitimate this-is-something-special feeling you get when taking a seat behind the Bimmer’s chunky wheel. You could quibble with a few of the plastics but really, the one time you don’t doubt the value proposition of a fifty-grand miniature BMW coupe is when you’re just sitting in the thing. Even I, as the most brand-cynical human being in North America, can’t help feeling kind of cool in the M235xi. I love the fact that it’s easily recognizable as a BMW from the moment you open the door.

IMG_8998-550x3661

On the move, that BMW DNA is less apparent. The controls are “dipped in treacle”, as the English autojournos say, responding with a heft and indifference that is more Lexus-like than an actual Lexus, the steering completely and utterly dead-feeling thanks to the powered front axle and the electro-magic assist, the brakes okay enough but nothing special despite the fixed-caliper street cred. There are no fewer than three “sport modes” in the iDrive but none of them feel sporting in anything but the most tacked-on fashion.

Approaching a few fast road corners in a row, the M235i gives little sense of its ultimate cornering potential. I hear rather than feel the front end lose grip, the same way you would in a C5 Corvette, only worse. Then the lights start blinking, even though they’re supposed to be off. When Greg tries a low-speed come-and-show-me power-oversteer maneuver, his command of the iDrive technicalities mean that none of the nannies show up for work — but that doesn’t stop the front axle from clutching-out and pulling the car sullenly straight. You could have a lot more fun in a raggedy old 325e. My 330i Sport was ninety horsepower down on this thing but I know which one I’d rather drive.

I want to love this BMW, but I cannot. On a daily basis, I’d rather operate my Accord, which returns nearly half again the 21.6mpg that Greg’s car shows in daily service, has better visibility, weighs three hundred pounds less, and drives like it weighs six hundred pounds less. Not to mention the twenty-grand price advantage. My old Audi S5 felt more alive to operate despite the V-8 hanging out over the front wheels and I suspect the current V-6 car is even better in that regard.

The very existence of this car is troubling, honestly. Does there need to be an automatic-transmission AWD variant of every single model in BMW’s lineup? Since when did BMW become Audi or even Mercedes-Benz? Trust me, the standard M235i stick-shift isn’t exactly a Lotus Seven in terms of the required hardcore driver commitment. We need a calmed-down version of that car like we needed Peter Cetera to go back and record all his late-era Chicago hits with more Muzak in them. (Which he did, by the way.)

The funny thing is that BMW can see the plain evidence of what customers want in used-market prices, and they can see the bulletproof residuals of the 1M and 135i Sport the same way Porsche can see 1998 Carreras selling for more at auctions than 2013 Carreras, and they’re absolutely uninterested in serving that market on a consistent basis. Sure, the M2 will eventually get here, but note that BMW put the effort into getting AWD and automatic transmissions into the Two wayyyybefore they even dropped public hints about the M2.

Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money, even in the post-QE world. If you have that much to burn or borrow, do yourself a favor and get the car that delivers M3-level power and 135i-level driver involvement. It’s called the Ford Mustang GT and you can use the ten grand you’ll have left over to get a nice winter beater. No, the Ford is not the Ultimate Driving Machine — but neither is this.

And now for Greg’s comments:

“’ve had the car for nearly a week now and I’ve put about 250 miles on it. Compared to my 2010 335xi, the 2015 M235xi is noticeably smaller and feels much better through the corners. With 320 horsepower compared to the 335’s 300, I was expecting the smaller car to be much quicker, but I was surprised to learn that the M235xi actually weighs about 300 lbs more than my 335xi (3695 lbs vs 3362 lbs). The car feels lighter and more balanced through the turns and it seems to push less than the 335, but that can probably be chalked up to the fact that my 335xi doesn’t have the M Sport Package or the adjustable suspension.

Would I buy the M235xi? Probably. I’ve actually speced one out and sent to my BMW salesman to see if there could be a deal made should we realize that the 335xi is finally done for. It is definitely on my list of cars that I want, but with a $50,000 sticker price and BMW’s notorious depreciation rate, I’ll probably wait and pick up a CPO vehicle in a couple years. Not only that, the “real” M2 is just around the corner. BMW has said that the drivetrain from the current M3/M4 will fit into the 2-Series without making any changes, so expect the M2 to be putting out around 400 horsepower while trimming 300 pound or so from the weight. If the M2 holds its value as well as the 1-Series M Coupe, I’d almost be silly to not pick one up.”

Well, there you have it! — jb

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