Here's how the automotive media actually works - on an extremely superficial and unimportant level. I asked BMW if I could run
for a few months, it said "yes". I then added it might be fun to take a look at the M Performance options, especially the optional locking differential. It said "Sounds like a plan". I then added that none of the cosmetic stuff interested me, in fact it would probably actively annoy me, but BMW Germany still sent a lovely chap over to adhere the most dreadful stickers to the sides of the car. I duly said they were foul; BMW wasn't happy. I suppose I should just tear them off, but I watched dear Toby apply them with such love that I haven't the heart.
But I really can forgive the stickers, because this is one hell of a machine. It will do battle with the new Golf R on video soon (yes, we're coming back!) but in isolation it's everything I could want in a small rear-wheel drive coupe. BMW is still considered the master of naturally aspirated high-performance six-cylinder motors, but it has seamlessly transferred its skills to turbocharging. Yes, it's not a full M-car, but for response, outright shove and music, this blown-six makes a compelling case for being one of the best engines on sale.
It hits hard from 2,500rpm, sings all the way to 6,500rpm and is connected to a very slick six-speed manual and now a locking rear differential. For me, that's the perfect recipe for fun. Other rivals in this fast emerging sub-M3 performance category are faster point-to-point, but none gives you that delicious feeling of adjusting cornering line with your right foot, or fills the cabin with straight-six sonics. Again, I like the fake-ish noise, but then I'm a Human League fan.
Isn't it strange how a gearlever can make a gearshift feel quite different? The optional, stumpy M Performance item somehow gives the sensation of a more direct shift - and I've grown to like the look of it too. Would I pay £172 for it? Of course not.
Chris and the fancy wheel getting on here
Likewise much of the interior Alcantara and carbon trimmings which are actually very tastefully executed but sadly do nothing for an aesthetic-vacuum like myself. I suppose I can only sanction wasting money on visual tat if I feel I've exhausted the spend on stuff that adds to the driving experience. So the differential is a must, but the upgraded brakes are actually no bigger, so I can't really see the point. If I was BMW M Performance, I'd have left the rears standard and offered a big steel, vented rotor to fit behind a 19-inch wheel.
I do however love the silly steering wheel and its illegible readout and controls that caused me to invent new swear words during a shoot earlier this week. It's the definition of a cool gadget, and I'd probably waste £1,250 just for the way it looks and feels in the hand.
If I happen to think the stickers look like a dog's dinner, the population under the age of 30 appears to disagree. Neil bought the car along to the Nurburgring 24-hour and ended up being folk hero for the weekend, a role I suspect he quietly enjoyed. The Germans just loved the bodykit and the M Performance logos and the fruity exhaust burble. For me, colour plays a big part - BMW Cardiff has an M235i demo in black, with all the same body mods as this car, but without the stripe and with bigger 19-inch rims. It looks the conkers.
"Where's the Michelin man gone?"
We're up on 7,000 miles now - there has been no request for a slurp of oil, the brakes have taken a beating but do not judder and I can't really comment on tyre wear because two video shoots meant beasting two sets of rears. As a dual-role tyre that allows you to drive on the road in any weather, but then tolerate hard track use, I think Michelin Pilot Super Sports are flipping brilliant.
I remain an iDrive sceptic. The interface just doesn't work for me, and the new track-pad simply adds to the confusion, but the counterpoint is Neil who simply adores it. What I do enjoy is stepping inside the car and immediately having it Bluetooth to my phone and music. But then all modern cars seem to do that these days.
Where BMW manages to just raise itself above the competition is making the cabin feel more driver focused than the others: the dash is canted toward the driver, just like in Bimmers of old. And the seat, wheel, pedals relationship is spot on. Those few remaining three-pedal performance cars (god I hate writing that) seem to have no understanding of the importance of the height of the brake pedal in relation to the throttle - in the M235i, rolling onto the accelerator for downshifts couldn't be more natural. It's a small point, but one that I enjoy countless times even on the shortest drives.
This comparison is coming very soon
Fuel consumption fluctuates wildly according to how it's driven, but I see mid 30s on longer journeys and can suppress that in to the mid 20s whenever the mood takes me.
I suppose the last point of discussion is size. Small coupes are now what we used to call big coupes, but this remains a car you can thread with confidence on UK roads. It's the key ingredient in making it a great car over here. Take that engine, the fun chassis, the sheer performance and then allow the driver not to worry about width and you have something very special.
With or without stickers.
Full breakdown of the M235i M Performance options here.