BMW has a history of filling the gaps in its performance vehicle lineup — especially when it comes to compact models. The idea is that full-blown M cars, such as the iconic M3, are too brash to suit every enthusiast. Accordingly, buyers who desire a hint of extra tenacity should have a reasonable half-step between regular Bimmers and M-engineered models — both in terms of performance and price.
This strategy is best represented by the two prior generations of 3 Series sports cars. In the early 2000s, BMW launched a performance package on the 330i sedan that brought it closer to the hallowed M3. About a decade later, it inserted the 335is between the 300-horsepower 335i and the 414-hp M3 — and this model’s upgrades made it nearly as quick as the M3, just without the flashy bodywork.
Then in 2013, BMW shifted gears. With the 3 Series growing in size, BMW needed a smaller platform to continue its “M-lite” tradition. Thus, the smaller 135is (and its catalogue of M Sport parts) was born.
This brings us to present day. The 1 Series has been replaced with the 2 Series, and its M240i variant is the spiritual successor to this long line of gap-filler fun. The M240i is the hottest 2 Series you can buy — at least without shoulder pads for wheel wells, found on the extra-fast M2 — and this little coupe and convertible might just be this year’s best performance car bargain.
A Daily Dose of Thrust
Chief among the M240i’s strengths is its powertrain. Instead of using a detuned version of the M2’s inline-six, or an upgraded version of the 230i’s turbocharged four-cylinder, BMW leverages a brand-new motor dubbed B58 that debuted in the 340i and 440i. This 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged inline six-cylinder produces 335 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque — just 30 fewer ponies than the M2. Mated to a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions, the M240i sends power to the rear wheels as standard, or all four wheels with the optional xDrive AWD system.
Unlike the M2, which slumbers at the onset of its powerband, the M240i dishes peak torque from just 1,520 rpm. With progressive throttle input, the M240i feels eternally energized, blitzing between stoplights and hustling out of corners. Our test car is equipped with the six-speed manual, a refreshing point of engagement that’s become scarce outside the BMW and Porsche product camps. Gear changes are brief and fluid, with clear commitment from the clutch pedal and an automatic throttle-blip on downshifts. Choosing the eight-speed auto guarantees a 0-to-60-mph burst of 4.4 seconds, but we’re happy to give up a tenth in the service of fun.
Composure Means Confidence
To wrangle the additional horses, BMW equips the M240i with the same four-piston front and two-piston rear M Performance brakes as the M2, albeit with slightly smaller, non-slotted rotors. Stopping power is tremendous, and the progressive brake feel is especially assuring during exhilarant driving.
Though the M240i doesn’t inherit the M2’s electronically controlled limited-slip differential, its open diff does a respectable job getting power to the ground. Grip is excellent, especially given the relatively narrow 225-section front and 245-section rear tires. When the sports car does choose to break away, it’s easy to reel in, but hanging the tail out all day isn’t the M240i’s forte. The true character of an M-lite car is experienced at eight or nine tenths. Put another way, the M240i would rather tame canyons than racetracks.
When you aren’t exploring the M240i’s limits, its adaptive M suspension softens the ride to luxury car standards. In comfort mode, this two-door effortlessly shields passengers from rough or uneven road surfaces. Unfortunately, the ride quality is about the only premium accommodation for M240i riders.
Subdued Inside and Out
Those expecting a plush interior are probably more familiar with larger, more upscale BMW models. Truth is, the M240i is cut from the same cloth as the automaker’s original sport offerings, and that means a conventional, minimalist cabin. That’s not to say that the M240i’s interior is cheap. Each surface is solid and handsome, reflecting the same built-to-last design philosophy we expect from a BMW product.
As convenience features go, the M240i can be equipped with heated seats, Apple CarPlay, a 10-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system, and a wideview 8.8-inch center display, but each of these goodies will cost extra. The standard 6.5-inch monitor and compact TFT driver display lack the allure of the latest digital screens, but BMW’s iDrive module is best in class. Managed via steering-wheel buttons or the console-mounted controller, the iDrive system is intuitive, quick and high-resolution.
Interior volume is excellent up front, but the 2 Series’ rear quarters can only accommodate smaller passengers. Head, shoulder and leg room are in short supply for backseat riders — at least those who value blood circulation. Trunk space, on the other hand, is generous at 13.8 cubic feet. With the top stowed, our convertible tester gives up some cargo real estate, but there’s still plenty of room for a day’s worth of errands.
Visually, the M240i is distinguished from an ordinary 2 Series by a set of dark gray alloy wheels, blue painted M brake calipers, a deeper front fascia, a more robust rear diffuser and larger dual exhaust ports. Like its 335is and 135is predecessors, the M240i is a wink and nudge to those who know what to look for, but everyone else will just see another 2 Series. Part of us wishes the M240 would assert its authority just a tad, but that might tread too far on the M2’s domain.
The Greatest Part of Good
Calling the M240i a lukewarm M car is like writing off every Olympic event that wasn’t being played in 800 B.C. New sports have been created to suit different talents, and new performance cars have been created to suit different drivers. The M240i is amply quick and composed but stops short of the M2’s exhaustive pursuit of speed. Restraint doesn’t always guarantee success, but BMW has performance engineering down to a science.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Autoweb/Miles Branman