Which one is the right one for you?
Back in 2014, BMW released the brand-new 2-Series, essentially a coupe/cabriolet variant of the 1-Series. Although it’s essentially the 4-Series’ younger sibling, in more ways than one, it’s a lot better. For starters, it’s cheaper, making it accessible to a lot of young people. It’s also shorter and narrower, leading to a much livelier chassis that likes to move around beneath you. It’s a genuinely fun little car, and with most of its rivals being front-wheel or all-wheel drive only, it’s the only option if you’re after an affordable rear-wheel drive car. That being said, it does come in a wide variety of trim levels and engine options, so today we’re going to take a look at the most popular ones. Namely, the 228i, the M235i, and the fire breathing M2.
Visually, the 228i is the most mundane looking car of the bunch. It’s got a great design with sweeping curves and lots of visual appeal, but it’s just not as desirable as the M2. On the other hand, if you want something that’s understated and doesn’t attract a lot of unwanted attention, this is it. The M235i is slightly more aggressive thanks to its ‘M-Package’, but it’s still quite conservative in the grand scheme of things. Thanks to a more sculpted front bumper and twin exhaust outlets it looks sporty but it’s nowhere near as crazy as the BMW M2.
Speaking of the BMW M2, the first thing you notice about the ‘baby’ M-car is just how wide and low it is. The M2’s massively flared arches give it a square stance that the 228i or the M235i just can’t match. From some angles it appears to be wider than it is longer, which is insane. It’s got a real menacing appearance, starting from the bespoke front bumper, to the unique M-specific wheels, running all the way out back to the quad-exhaust setup. Trust me when I say this but pictures don’t do this car justice. Its proportions in the real world are amazing. It turns heads wherever it goes, even from people who have no idea what it is. It’s instantly recognizable as something special and not just another 2-Series.
BMW 228i Base (Non M-Sport)
BMW M235i Base
BMW M2 Base
BMW is notorious for building conservative even if somewhat dull interiors and the 2-Series is no exception. Build quality is nearly identical in all three models, and most of them use the same types of plastics and leather scattered throughout the cabin. Naturally, the M235i has some goodies the 228i doesn’t, but the M2 takes the cake once again with beautifully crafted bucket seats and an M-specific steering wheel. That being said, there’s nothing separating them in terms of features or tech, it’s all about how much optional extras you want to pour into your build.
The driving position is absolutely superb though, miles better than anything you’ll find in an Audi RS3 or a Mercedes A35/A45. You sit nice and low, the steering wheel comes back to meet you, and there’s massive support from the bolstered seats, especially in the M2. You don’t sit quite as low down as you would in an M4, but even so, it feels just right for the type of driving you usually do in a 2-Series.
BMW 228i Base Interior (Non M-Sport)
BMW M235i Base Interior
BMW M2 Base Interior
Engine and Performance
The 228i is the only four-cylinder in this group, but don’t dismiss it just yet. Although it doesn’t have that straight-six rumble the other two have, it has an advantage of being lighter and more frugal when you’re just cruising around. The N20/N26 engine still develops 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is more than adequate for such a light car. The sprint to 62 mph takes 5.7 seconds, making it properly rapid in everyday driving. More to the point, because the front end is so light, it feels nimble and maneuverable, perhaps more so than the other two and low speeds. It feels the most ‘ordinary’ out of all three variants, but as an object you could genuinely live every day with, it’s probably the best proposition.
As soon as you set off in the M235i though, you realize why everyone raves on about BMW’s six-cylinders and not their four-bangers. The N55 engine is silky smooth with a charismatic soundtrack that makes you want to open it up at any given opportunity. With 322 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, it’ll do the dash to 62mph in 4.8 seconds. It’s got plenty of power to get the tail out on most second gear corners, giving you tons of adjustability and chances to play with the throttle. The chassis is sweet as well. You can control understeer/oversteer with your right foot. The car is ultimately set up for slight understeer at the limit since most people who buy one aren’t Michael Schumacher, but turn everything off and stamp on the accelerator, and it will surprise you with a healthy dose of oversteer.
The BMW M2 is a completely different animal even compared to the M235i though. Immediately the car just feels so alive in your hands. I can’t describe how poised and sharp it feels from the moment you set off. The difference between the M2 and the M235i is greater than the difference between the M235i and the 228i, it really is. It’s got genuine M-division pedigree. If you don’t know what you’re doing and you turn everything off, the car will not hesitate to bite you. It’s a real handful, and I mean that in the best way possible.
The standard M2 uses the same N55 engine as the M235i, with a different tune to develop 365 horsepower and 343 lb-ft of torque. Power alone you won’t feel a massive difference between the M2 and the M235i, but the way the chassis copes with the power is a whole different matter. The M2 likes to squirm around under throttle but it’s so controllable because of how responsive and full of feedback the steering wheel is. The damping is better suited to aggressive driving too, but it does make for a worse street car because of how stiff it is. Make no mistake about it, the M2 will run rings around the M235i on any track or decent stretch of road.
BMW N20 Engine (2.0 L – 4 Cylinder – Turbocharged)
BMW N55 Engine (3.0 L – 6 Cylinder – Turbocharged)
Three cars, three different philosophies. They’re all based on the same platform, but they go about achieving their business in very different ways. The 228i is a great daily driver which has sporty credentials and is fun to throw around. The M235i is a great all-around car, enough to make anyone behind the wheel smile, but still pleasant to live with every day. The BMW M2 is a lunatic, a proper hooligan of a car. It demands respect but it offers copious amounts of fun. It’s the worst car to drive every day, but if you enjoy driving at all, it’s the one to have. You’ll cope with all its little foibles because, at the end of the day, it makes life worth living.