BMW's stomach-rolling M235i woos driving machine purists

Luxury carmakers such as BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are furiously filling in market gaps as they expand model ranges into new segments. Most often this means new sport-utility vehicles like Porsche’s upcoming Macan.

This be-everything-to-everybody philosophy can threaten the reputation the automaker was built on. BMW has historically been known for its focused lineup of sedans and coupes, “ultimate driving machines” for those who like to spend time in the left-hand seat. Models such as the all- electric i3 and X6 crossover decidedly fall outside that camp.

Which brings us to the M235i, a blunt two-door, four-seat bullet that calls back to older BMWs like the earliest 3 Series. This new 2 Series model, which starts at about $43,000, is an olive branch to the BMW purists.

It is smaller, lighter and more driver focused.

I recently found myself on a two-lane Nevada road unfurling through desert scrubland, interrupted by only a few sharp turns and abrupt rolling hills. Prairie dogs called to each other in warning as the M235i’s inline six-cylinder climbed to the top of fourth gear. Something fast this way comes.

Blasting into the bottom of a short rolling hill, the suspension sucked down toward the asphalt and then released as the car bounded to the top. No actual air, but my stomach took a roll.

The two turbochargers on the 3-liter engine mitigate some of the motor’s raucous noise, but it still sounds rough and ready when revved high, with 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque available at full tilt.

The M235i is relatively quick, reaching 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour in 4.8 seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph. (It could go faster, but BMW’s electronics cut power automatically.)

The 2 Series’ steering was nicely taut and the car responsive. Still, it isn’t perfectly sorted in the way of some of the older BMW coupes. Turn the wheel too quickly to make a swift directional change and you’ll feel the weight lurch to the side. This is Munich-based BMW’s smallest coupe on offer in the United States (the i3 not included), and it still weighs more than 3,500 pounds (1,588 kilograms).

Excessive weight is one of BMW’s modern issues. Much of it is the result of necessary safety equipment — all of those air bags and electronic processors — but some is self-imposed in the pursuit of luxuries such as the optional 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound stereo system. You can’t have it all.

You may have a question about now: What the heck is the 2 Series, anyhow? A relevant query, because this is the first time the company has used the nomenclature. The M235i and its less- potent brother, the 228i, are not entirely new.

BMW has been playing tricks with its names lately, rebranding models across the range. Vehicles with four or more doors retain their odd-numbered names — the 3 Series and 7 Series sedans, for instance — but anything with two doors now gets an even-numbered name. The former 1 Series coupe turns into the 2 Series, and the 3 Series two-door becomes the 4 Series.

(This is actually not as confusing as the recent naming strategy at Nissan Motor Co.’s Infiniti, which has slapped everything with a “Q” designation. The FX crossover is suddenly the QX.)

The change from 1 Series to 2 Series also comes with a redesign. The new models are ever so slightly larger, inside and out, and the proportions a bit less awkward. (Though I rather liked the homely lines of the 128i and 135i.)

The 2 Series is offered in two variants in the U.S., the range-topping M235i and the 228i. The 228i has a 240-horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder engine and pricing starts at $32,100, not including destination charges.

More name trickery here: The M235i is not a true M model like the M3 or M6. M cars are the sportiest models on offer, with various mechanical and aerodynamic enhancements.

Rather the M235i is an M “Performance” model, a designation that BMW uses to signify autos with a mid-level of performance modifications. Don’t feel bad if you find all this confusing. I do this for a living and it gives me pause. BMW could stand to be more transparent.

Ultimately, if you don’t need four doors and you like to seek out back roads, the M235i is a reasonable mix of attributes. It’s comfortable if not roomy; rear-seat occupants will grumble but not actually rebel. The suspension is stiff but reasonably pliant. The interior is spiffy, though it falls short of actual luxury.

What the M235i won’t be is a breakout hit. It’s pricey at $43,000 plus, and that’s before you add any options.

It goes a reasonable measure to showing that BMW still remembers its roots. It will keep some, but not all, of those purists happy.