By: Mark Moskowitz MD
A few contradictions and surprises but still a fabulous pocket rocketThe BMW M235 xDrive Gran Coupe is one hot little sedan. (It has four doors, a rear bench seat, and B and C pillars. It must be a sedan.) Semantics aside; it's fast. The factory claims 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 155 miles per hour. Power comes from BMW's 2.0 Liter Twin Power Turbo four which provides an amazing 150+ horsepower per liter. Lots of tech gets it there including computer-controlled valve technology, a twin scroll turbo, four valves per cylinder and direct cylinder injection. BMW employs regenerative braking to charge the battery and lessen the horsepower drain of constantly powering the alternator. Aided by an eight-speed automatic, and paddles or a floor shift when you want them, power is delivered quickly and smoothly even from a standing sudden brake release start. Further efficiency is gained by a transverse lie powering the front wheels. Anathema! A front wheel drive favored BMW M car. The configuration is not new for BMW, having been launched in the 2014 2 Series Active Tourer. It's been extended to all wheel or xDrive, the only Gran Coupe configuration offered in the US. The xDrive is enhanced by a limited slip differential and ARB (actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation). Different from the units which are part of dynamic stability control, its slip controller is part of the engine control unit and relays its signal three time more quickly than the aforementioned units. It adds up to a confident driving experience at all but the most extreme speeds. Steering is quick and there is control in the curves. But I do miss tail happy. It's hard to break this one loose. The setup does extend the normal limits of cornering but it is a bit uncomfortable to test them. Go deep in a tight curve, expect understeer, most often corrected by throttle application. Go deep and too fast in high a speed curve?.........not tested on public roads!
The most distinctive styling features of the Gran Coupe are in the front. There are very large paired front intakes and the blackened kidney beans seem to merge in the center. Four exhausts, well-defined rear vents and rocker panel side extensions separate it from a multitude of other compact sedans. From a distance it looks small, but it measures 178.5 inches in length (e.g. longer than last year's Vette and more than ten inches longer than a Golf GTi).
The interior of the BMW is comfortable. The touchscreen is in easy reach and high up on the dashboard for easy visibility. The instrument cluster provides a large amount of information including temperature, fuel level, rpms (the space displays active fuel consumption in eco mode), miles traveled, horsepower and torque employed and more. I found the gear indicator too tiny to be interpreted quickly and, unlike in bigger BMWs, is not part of the heads-up display. The tachometer and speed display are oriented differently than the classic round format and take a bit of getting used to, if you are not among the 'Bimmer' faithful.The test model's seats and doors were covered in Magma Red Dakota leather whose texture and color reminded me of a Wilson football. The optional sports seats offered classic controls, variable and separate lower thoracic and lumbar support, as well as bolster adjustment. A memory function saved driver's seat settings, the heads-up display orientation and external mirror position.Seating position was incredibly comfortable; I drove for hours. No complaints here. The back seat experience was less pleasant. I am 5 foot 10 inches and my head hit the roof liner. And getting in and out required a bit more contortion than required in many smaller cars.Front seat heaters are optional. Perforation is not part of the sport seat upholstery and my nether parts might have enjoyed the breath-ability.The infotainment system was easy to control and feature rich. One could configure personal driving preferences adjusting shift points, engine dynamics and steering. Touch, buttons and I-drive dial allowed input, Gesture control was optional. (The test car's damper settings were fixed.)The M235i is a comfortable car for two; it would be an easy car for the enthusiast to live with on a daily basis. And I suspect it would be a car well-appreciated by the tuner generation. With the seat low and back, it could be enjoyed by an NBA point guard. There's power and safety tech aplenty. The $2650 Premium Package is recommended. It augments infotainment and navigation function and includes adaptive headlights and a heads-up display. Among the driver aids are front collision mitigation (active braking after an unheeded warning), lane departure warning with active steering intervention, and active blindspot detection. Conclusion: BMW has produced an appealing small sport sedan which races along a new front for the BMW faithful.