BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Review: A BMW Only In Name

The M235i xDrive Gran Coupe sounds like a great way to have your cake and eat it: four doors in a relatively small package, a coupe roofline, and a straight-six powering the rear wheels. Except that BMW decided not to get any of these things right, besides maybe the sizing. The styling is anything but an instant classic, the engine is a four-cylinder turbo, and the driven wheels are on both axles. Still, that 2.0-litre turbo-four is gutsy, with 225 kW of power and 450 Nm of torque. In addition, BMWs of old have always been about more than just their engines, so can the new 2 Series GC be redeemed, or has Bavaria gotten it all wrong? We drove one for a week to find out.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Interior is pretty and comfy
  • Decent ride quality
  • Acceleration is strong – for what it is
  • Looks more expensive than it is
  • Good boot space

Cons:

  • Wrong-wheel-drive
  • No manual
  • Engine sounds horrendous
  • Steering is totally numb
  • Options can make it cost almost a bar

BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Exterior

With an imposing front end boasting kidney grilles that are a touch too big, the M235i GC looks bigger than it is when coming up in your rearview mirror, and those LED headlights are perfect for flashing the peasants in their Polos out of your way. Cerium Grey accents on the front grilles and mirrors help set this apart as the “hot” model, while the rear shows off a subtle boot spoiler and LED taillights that look like they were stolen from the 8 Series and then shrunk in the wash. A pair of angular exhaust tips finish off the rear. Our tester also had a panoramic sunroof and optional 19-inch Style 552 M Bicolour wheels while the body was finished in the classic Black Sapphire Metallic hue. If that’s not to your liking, Alpine White III, Melbourne Red Metallic, Mineral Grey Metallic, Misano Blue Metallic, and Snapper Rocks Blue Metallic are available. We think black is best for this car, as other shades highlight some of the car’s less appealing angles in a way that makes them look all the more bulbous.

M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Performance

Engine and Transmission

The biggest problem that purists have with the M235i GC is its powertrain. Long gone are the days when all BMWs sent their power exclusively to the rear wheels with the aid of a straight-six whenever possible. In the M235i, you get a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that develops 225 kW and 450 Nm of torque. With an all-wheel-drive system that takes a lot of hooliganism to come unstuck, it’s a capable and competitive package that allows the little pocket rocket to accelerate from 0-100 km/h in a respectable 4.9 seconds, with top speed limited to 250 km/h. While that may seem a little underwhelming for a BMW (and especially one with an M somewhere in the name), it’s worth remembering that the M235i generates the same power as the first E-series 135i did with its 3.0-liter straight-six turbo, although that car launched here 12 years ago. It’s more than enough to get you away from the robots with ease, ensuring that your windscreen is able to dodge the spray of a window washer. On the highway, it’s not bad at all either, with the eight-speed automatic transmission perfectly picking the right gear for the moment. However, we did find that kicking down sometimes took a fraction longer than we’d have liked in Comfort mode, while Eco Pro predictably dulled all throttle response immensely. In Sport, gear changes are quick and well-timed, but all modes made for smooth changes.

Unfortunately, while the engine itself may be pretty capable, it’s not the best-sounding four-pot we’ve ever come across. BMW realised this, but instead of tuning a toneful exhaust, the Bavarians instead chose to pump fake noises into the cabin via the sound system. This kind of thing is common practice in cars with low-capacity engines, but BMW has done it in a way that is far too obvious. In addition, the sounds it pumps aren’t all that nice anyway.

Handling and Driving Impressions

But what about the way it drives? That’s the most important aspect of any Bimmer. Sadly, we have a rather middling answer to this question. The AWD system offers plenty of grip and gives the M235i a strong launch, but like many other BMW products, torque is limited in the first two gears to save the gearbox and AWD components. As a result, the launch isn’t as brutal as we’d like. Nevertheless, it gets away from the line strongly. In the corners, that AWD system again offers pretty good levels of grip, but thanks to a totally soulless steering setup that offers absolutely no feedback, you can’t determine when the tyres are at their limit. In addition, a bootful of power does little to correct your driving line, and the M235i prefers understeer to precision. This makes it one of the worst BMWs I’ve ever driven, with the exception being an automatic E36 that just happened to be falling apart, and even that car offered more sideways fun despite being on the road for over 300,000 kilometres. 

Still, we must give credit where it’s due: the M235i GC is well-composed over all but the harshest bumps, and even there, we think that the optional 19-inch wheels on our tester were more to blame than the suspension setup. This makes it suitable for daily driving and road trips from the Highveld to the Cape. Once you get there, you can have some fun at Killarney, as the body does stay pretty flat. It’s just not an experience that leaves you feeling all that enthused. This is a good car, but it’s more of an appliance than a driving machine to fulfil your needs as a petrolhead. From BMW, that’s despicable.

Fuel Economy

According to BMW, the M235i xDrive Gran Coupe will achieve 7.6 l/100 km – exactly two litres less than the E82 BMW 135i managed when it launched in 2008. Obviously, the engine is much smaller and more modern, but considering the weight of the AWD system, it’s still impressive. With a 50-litre fuel tank, you should get around 658 km per tank. During our time with the car, we didn’t reset the trip computer, so achieving that average figure was impossible. Nevertheless, we must concede that the Eco Pro mode does help lower the consumption considerably, and we have no doubt that the 660-odd-kilometre estimate could be achieved and exceeded on a trip to Table Mountain from Joburg.

M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Interior

While BMW may have gotten the petrolheads’ criteria wrong, it’s got everything right for the masses. The interior is the kind of place that you feel comfortable and special, and the M Sport seats do a great job of keeping you in place and making you feel at ease while also looking fantastic. The steering wheel is also nicely shaped, although the placement of buttons here is a little less than perfect. The infotainment system works perfectly though, and it’s both easy to navigate and attractive to look at. We also liked how much space there is in the back. I’m a six-footer, and I could happily sit behind my driver’s seat without feeling claustrophobic, although sitting bolt-upright did see my combover get slightly flattened. The one downer is rearward visibility, as the rear window is so small and aggressively raked that you can’t tell where the boot ends without the aid of the rearview camera. Overall, the interior is one of the aspects that Munich has down to a T, and you can no longer say that Audi makes the best interiors on the planet no matter what. It’s a good balance of sportiness and luxury, but Mercedes’ still makes a more opulent cabin.

In terms of boot space, the M235i Gran Coupe lives up to its grand name by being truly commodious behind the rear seats. There’s enough space for two large suitcases in the 430-litre boot if you’re any good at Tetris, while the rear seats can also fold flat in a 40/20/40 split if you’ve left the X3 at home.

M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Equipment and Safety

Although an M-fettled BMW, you won’t be sitting on leather upholstery if you stick with the standard configuration. Instead, you’ll get ‘Trigon’ cloth mixed with Alcantara or with SensaTec faux leather. Full SensaTec is offered in Oyster or Black at R1,750, but our tester was wearing Dakota leather in Magma Red with Grey, although this is actually a vibrant but not obnoxious orange. Also offered are colours like Mocha, Oyster, or variations of black, but all of these will set you back 10 times what the SensaTec options do.

Although extended ambient lighting is a no-cost option, you also get illuminated and configurable trim panels that are backlit in a choice of Orange, Blue, Green, Lilac, Bronze, or White lighting. Shadow Line gloss black accenting is standard as is an M rear spoiler, LED headlights and taillights, dual-zone automatic climate control, run-flat tyres, a 10-speaker sound system, a pair of USB ports, and a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation and connected services are standard too, but you’ll pay extra for our tester’s 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system (R4,400), or the 10.25-inch digital cluster (R14,500). Wireless charging is also available for R5,800 while gesture control is R3,650. Other options include park assist, adaptive LED headlights, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and adaptive suspension.

These features are all impressive if expensive, but even without them, BMW’s iDrive 7.0 infotainment system stands out as a brilliant piece of software that is intuitive and attractive. That said, we did find the optional head-up display to be especially useful on long drives, so consider this when you buy. In terms of safety, you get the usual suite of dual frontal, side-impact, and overhead airbags, a rearview camera, and the usual traction and stability management programs as standard, while blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assist, park distance control, adaptive cruise control, and high beam assist will all cost extra.

BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Price and Verdict 

As a diehard BMW fanatic, the M235i was supposed to convince me that even with the wrong ingredients, the master chefs in Munich could make a magnificent souffle. Instead, what we’ve got here is another fast-food takeaway burger with expensive mayo and a shiny wrapper. The concept of a small but quick four-door with coupe-like styling remains an attractive proposition, but the execution here is all wrong. Based on styling alone, the upcoming Audi S3 and the current CLA 35 are better, but sadly, while we could overlook the Chris Bangle era of BMW design and focus on the drive because the cars themselves were still phenomenal, we can’t do that here. Instead, the oddball styling of the newest and smallest Gran Coupe that BMW makes is simply salt in the wound. The M235i Gran Coupe is a great fashion accessory for those who want to turn heads with bold styling and a premium badge, but for true enthusiasts, for those who search for Sheer Driving Pleasure, for those who know what BMW is capable of, the latest 2 Series is nothing but a tepid disappointment. The fact that BMW thought that they could get away with this car is an insult to the brand’s heritage and everything it once stood for, but hey, it’ll sell and it’ll be on every boutique street corner. We’re sure BMW’s bean counters are happy, especially since they know we have to fork out even more for a proper M car to get a taste of a “real BMW”. For this Bimmer nut, the Mercedes-AMG CLA 35 is now the hero, and the M235i is now the villain. Progress is not always progressive, and say what you like, but I’d rather drive my eight-year-old 135i or any Suzuki Swift Sport than this wannabe.

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