It took precisely two seconds after I parked up on the seafront. A bald, shirtless man accessorized with bad tattoos and a can of fighting lager, impressively inebriated considering it was before lunchtime, began gesticulating wildly at me through the windscreen. “Nice car mate! That is WELL WICKED! FAHKIN’ SWEET!” Well quite. Does the M stand for moron?
I’ve not driven a car that attracted quite so much attention since I bought my Nuova Fiat 500 some 15 years ago. Everywhere I went I got similar, less drunken appreciative comments, although I should point out the majority of my week with the BMW M240i xDrive (you could probably lighten the car 10kg by prying all the badges off) was spent in the taste-free county of Essex. It’s basically England’s Florida.
Front bumper triangle violence aside, it’s an aggressively handsome car—well proportioned and, if not exactly under the top, it’s not over the top either. All 2 Series (including the M2) share the same body in white now (the bare metal shell stripped naked), with the different models defined by front and rear bumper treatments.
The amazing purple hue my loaner came in is known as Thundernight Metallic and at our regular meeting last week it was accepted into the palette of acceptable gothic car colors. I loved it. But before we get into the specifics of what the M240ixDrive is and isn’t, there’s a large elephant in the room to deal with, and I’m about to piss on its peanuts.
Will the Armchair Design Critics Shut Up Already
The hate-boners from BMW fans that accompany every new release from Munich are getting increasingly fucking tiresome. A subset of cars, consisting mainly of the E30, E36, E46, E39 and E38 (but curiously not the original E21 3 series) and a few other outliers, have been glorified and masturbated over to such ridiculous lengths by simpering shit-gibbons with BMW roundels tattooed on their dicks that any new one that doesn’t meet the untouchable perfection of earlier models is taking a giant steamy dump over everything that they worship, and how very dare BMW do that.
Get over yourselves. You’re talking about a series of cars that span, charitably, two decades, which is a relatively small timeframe for a company that started building Austin Sevens under license in 1928. BMW’s market no longer consists of German CEOs needing to storm the Autobahn at midnight with Kraftwerk thumping out the Blaupunkt. They need to sell cars worldwide to a much wider audience, and with vastly different safety and efficiency standards. These people need to stop thinking BMW makes cars exclusively for enthusiasts and journalists. They do not.
Is there a reasonable design discussion about their current direction to be had? Sure. I have criticized them myself in the past. But in our technology-drenched and attention deficit present, BMW is designing cars it knows it can sell, and that is the context we should apply to its current output. Not some adolescent wank fantasy about what BMW used to be 30-odd years ago. Stop pining like a lovesick puppy. They’re just not into you that way. Ugh.
That being said, the 2 Series remains something of a shibboleth for the BMW faithful. Of the current range, it’s the one closest in spirit, if not execution to those old athletic three boxes. When it comes to drivetrain options there’s an element of monkey paw wish granting. The cooking 230i, despite its name, is a 2.0-liter four. Sixes are only available in this M240ixDrive (a RWD, non-xDrive is available in the U.S., but not in the UK) and the M2. And the M2 is the only way to get a manual. Here’s the thing though; despite its M badging and being marketed as an M car, I’m not sure this model would be improved with a manual.
It Has An Actual Straight-Six
What you do get is a 3.0-liter straight six with a single turbo making a whopping 374 bhp. Even though it bellyflops onto the scales at over 1,600kg (about 3,500lbs), this is a Very Fast Car. There’s enough firepower underneath the curve to rocket you down the road and past dawdling pensioners with an ease that feels almost decadent.
Because it has a traditional automatic, as opposed to a DSG, even full-throttle kickdown shifts are creamy. There are paddles, but you have to be in Sport Plus mode to control the changes yourself – otherwise, it defaults back to auto after a few seconds. And in Sport mode(s) the engine howls gloriously. Is it real or is it Memorex? Honestly, who cares? It’s fantastic. US models have a launch mode that will allow an almost four-second 0-60 mph time, but because the UK is a nation of hooligans, it’s not available here lest we turn up at the local BMW service department with a box of shattered drivetrain parts.
What’s more impressive than the engine is the way this car rides. A lot of cars in sport mode become total bone crunchers (hello Civic Type R). It’s staggeringly good considering it’s on 19” wheels with 35-section Pilot Sport 4s. In comfort mode, I’ll stick my neck out and say it’s better than my old air-suspended Range Rover was. Bumps are heard and not felt – even those sharp angry little speed humps designed to knock your eyeballs onto the floor barely register.
Tuneful, big-lunged engine. Auto gearbox. Brilliant ride. You might be getting the impression the M240i (I can’t be arsed to keep typing out the full name) is a bit wafty and soggy. Not a bit of it. There’s the tiniest hint of pitch and roll on initial input to let you know it’s responding, and it then composes itself into a fluid, flowing road burner.
The four-wheel drive system is rear-biased so out of tighter corners you feel the rear digging in to catapult you from the exit, but even in treacherous weather (one day it won’t rain when I have a test car, but that day is not today) there’s no hint of it struggling to get the power down. It’s an immensely capable and confident way of getting down a bendy road quickly, helped by its handy dimensions. But it’s not a tangy, zingy, wriggly device, and this is where the first of my small niggles comes in. The M badging and marketing feel a bit incongruous. Although it makes sod all difference to how the car goes, it does sell it as something it really isn’t.
Remember those Great BMW Instrument Panels?
The next niggle is an ergonomic one. The latest 2 series all come equipped with iDrive 8, which turns the instrument cluster cinemascope. This mostly works well, although diving into the secondary menus the iconography takes on a whiff of unbranded generic media player. The problem is the gauges directly in front of you.
With traditional dials (or digital facsimiles) you read important information at a glance – the position of the needle on the dial tells you all you need to know instantly. It’s a long-established heuristic that didn’t need reinventing for the digital age. Which is exactly what the UX/UI geeks in Munich have done. You now have two sort of semi-hexagon shapes with a small rising bar to indicate road speed and engine revs. This means the information is squeezed into a smaller vertical space instead of being spread out around the edge of a much bigger one. It’s incredibly unintuitive and impossible to read. Flummoxing around with various display settings didn’t make it any better. In the end, I had to settle for a digital mph readout and gave up trying to read engine revs. In sport mode the situation is slightly better, and if you’re shifting your own a set of change-up lights appear. For a company once famed for its ergonomic clarity it’s bloody infuriating. While I’m griping, there are no volume controls on the steering wheel, which drove me absolutely loopy. The optional heads-up display however is brilliant – every car should have one, proof that on some level BMW does care about people who actually want to drive, rather than merely control.
Everything else ergonomically related is absolutely nailed on. It’s a normal sedan shape, so the visibility is superb. The driving position is perfect, although my butt is bonier than the Natural History Museum so I found the seats were a little hard over a longer journey. Non-goth supermodels will be fine. Probably less fine in the back, which despite being well-appointed with its own HVAC controls and USB ports, is decidedly snug. The front seats shuffle forward automatically when you tip the backrest, and I managed to squash my foot when the seat moved back into position after I clambered in the rear to take the interior shots. At just over 4.5 meters (179”) long though, this is still a compact car with a decent-sized trunk. There are plenty of thoughtful touches as well – a reminder if you’ve left your phone in the wireless charging tray, the way you can dip the passenger side mirror with a flick of a switch for reversing to make sure you don’t curb a wheel (ahem).
It’s Not All Misery in the Slack
I was chatting with our resident BMW expert Thomas Hundal in Autopian Slack about this car (yes, we do actually use it to talk about work. Sometimes) and he said it’s “probably the third best 6 Series of all time.” And although agreeing with him makes me crazy, he’s absolutely right. (Editor’s Note: Damn, where does that leave the 4 Series, then? —PG)
The M240ixDrive isn’t a mechanically alive road scalpel. It’s a grown-up high-performance personal luxury coupe with a slightly awkward techno-sheen and swagger for days. There’s no stupid exhaust note, no tacked-on go-faster bits, just a quiet and subtle menace about the way this car goes about its business. I wasn’t sure I was going to get on with this car. In fact, for the first day or two I did feel a little at odds with it. And then by the end of our week together I didn’t want to give it back.
Style, equipment, power, handling and build quality. You’re probably thinking this combination of killer attributes is going to be expensive. Well, about that: According to the media pack I was given, the On The Road price with a few options was £50,210. I couldn’t quite match this in the BMW UK configurator, but it represents staggering value for money. When was the last time you could say that about a BMW? Take the M badges off, fix the gauges and the volume controls with an OTA update and it would be nearly perfect.
So go ahead and crank yourselves blind into over ZHP packages or whatever other obscure BMW chassis or engine code does it for you. It’s boring and I don’t care. Because BMW is still making great cars for enthusiasts. You just need to look a little harder to find them.
And specify the metallic purple paint.
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