BMW M235i Manual Review (2014)

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Whilst bearing definitive M badging, the BMW M235i is not a pure M car but an ‘M Performance’ model. Other names like the X5 M50D and M135i have similar upgrades, but don’t get the official nod from the famous M division. Nevertheless the BMW M235i does not lack for M-like performance with a serious turbocharged engine, rear-wheel drive and track-worthy handling.

Looking the Part

I would go as far as saying this is the best-looking BMW you can buy. I said the same about the previous generation 1-Series Coupe though – which is now the 2-Series. The dimensions look right, short, muscular and just enough mean in those headlamps to initiate a fight.

That said, the two-door nature means rear occupants have to climb in behind the front seats. There has to be a better mechanism for sliding electric seats forward than waiting for a minute whilst it slowly crawls forward so there’s enough space to clamber in behind. Pre-electric seats used to slide forward when you tilted them, so why the step back?

Kick of the M

The BMW M235i carries a whole 5 kW more than the M135i taking it up to 240 kW, but sticks with the 450 Nm of torque. In our manual version that means a 0-100kph time of five seconds with a top speed limited to 250kph. In spite of the turbocharged engine the BMW M235i delivers its power so smoothly and continuously right the way until the red numbers start appearing.

Shift up to the next gear and the familiar BMW short lever, hard notch action calls more power and torque to attention. Around the city the manual shift can be a bit cumbersome, but the BMW purists will hark back to ages gone by and familiarity to cement its place in modern BMWs. Out on the open road when you’re driving for pure enjoyment and thrills, that’s when you want the hard shift action – it’s fun and involving like no other.

It’s a Biter

Whilst BMW’s German competitors have gone the four-wheel drive route with their performance models, BMW has stuck with rear-wheel drive. It makes the BMW M235i stand out from the likes of the S3 Sedan and Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. The steering in particular feels fast, small movements of the steering wheel set the BMW into a g-force fed turn of direction.

It takes some getting used to but it makes the Beemer feel super direct and pointy – very involving. Don’t think it’s a tame beast though, try and manhandle it or show it who’s boss and it will snap at you, the rear end breaks away under power – with the traction control settings set to off. The wet Cape winter taught me that the M235i likes to be treated with finesse and rewards a smooth driver with a great feeling of achievement at the other end of an awe inspiring set of bends.

Simple Interior

BMW has simplified much of its interior over the years, the number of pressable buttons decreasing dramatically but the overall functionality of the vehicle sky rocketing. Almost everything is controlled through the iDrive system, allowing you to scroll though navigation, multimedia and lighting settings.

The M performance touch comes in with a digital power and torque display screen that lets you know just how much of that 250 kW and 450 Nm of torque you’ve just used – neat. You’re not left wanting for gadgets or tech, but I can’t help feeling that modern BMWs could do with a major spruce up of the rpm and speedo dials. Whilst they do their job adequately it’s the same font and colour they’ve been using since as far back as I can remember. It would be nice to see a fresh take on these.

Finishing Touch

The BMW M235i is a performance bargain as far as BMWs go, you get near enough M power, with dynamics that have been breathed upon by the chaps at M division in a car that is the best-looking BMW out there. The acceleration is supersonic, handling spot on for a driver’s car and it’s got just enough bite and attitude to keep you on your toes. Yes it has a few things that you can nit-pick at like the old school manual gearbox and historic dials but that never detracts from the driving experience it involves you in. Simply brilliant. Yours from R537 579.

Another opinion

The BMW M235i could be called a race car for the road as few cars are this involving and hands on to drive. Once you learn how to drive it properly, you'll be rewarded with breathtaking performance coupled with a raw emotive soundtrack. In six-speed manual guise, the BMW M235i is one of the finest driving cars I've ever experienced. - David Taylor

2014 BMW M235i quick specs

Engine  3-litre 6-cylinder turbo
Power  240kW
Torque  450Nm
Transmission  Six-speed manual
Wheels  18-inch alloys
0-100km/h  5.0 seconds (claimed)
Fuel economy  8.1l/100 km (claimed)
We like: . M Power without M price . Superb driver's car . Well styled BMW

We dislike: . Old school manual gearbox . A few interior updates would be nice

Also consider: . Audi S3 Sedan . Subaru WRX STi  . Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG