WHAT IS IT?
It’s BMW’s compact coupe with a feisty straight six that drives the rear wheels. This is the updated version of the sporty and involving M235i.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
There’s an all-new engine under the bonnet, and with a waiting list for the M2 the M240i could be the smart buyer’s vehicle of choice
THE WHEELS VERDICT
A serious contender against more expensive metal, the M240i offers huge performance in a well-specced and easy to live with package.
PLUS: Flexible engine, eight-speed auto (and option of a manual), animated sound, adaptability
MINUS: Dated interior styling, tight interior
THE WHEELS REVIEW
TAKE a small car, put a big engine in it, and car lovers will flock to it like moths to a flame. It’s a recipe so simple that a bloody battlefield full of baby performance cars and hot hatches spoils buyers for choice.
BMW’s entry to the fray is a rear-driven outlier, recently updated extensively enough to outgrow its old M235i moniker and become the M240i. Its hatchback counterpart, M140i, has followed suit. Both cars retain a relatively oversized 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six, now making 250kW and 500Nm. That’s a jump of 10kW and 50Nm, and gives the sub-M hot rod enough torque to put the M2 on high alert. This level of performance has never been so accessible.
Figures on paper don’t let on about the depth of engineering advance under the bonnet. Wholesale changes to the engine block, turbocharger and intake mean the powerplant changes its name from N55 to B58. Efficiency improves to 7.1L/100km partly due to an arc spray technology developed by BMW engineers to make cylinder bores slipperier, and it all gets a bit nerdy from there.
Importantly, it works. The old engine was a knockout, but the new mill is even better with improvements focussed on engine response. There’s a smaller turbo, which spools up faster than before, but achieves greater boost pressure via a revised tune. Gone is the front-mounted air-to-air intercooler and its lengthy plumbing, replaced by a water-to-air intercooler within the intake manifold. That shortens the path air has to travel through, and means peak power arrives earlier in the rev range. It’s now two tenths quicker to 100km/h, tipping the ton from standstill in 4.6sec.
Torque reserves are mighty enough that gear selection almost doesn’t matter. On tight corner exit there’s a faint whistle of turbo induction as it picks up from down low and surges forward. A speed date with a racetrack highlighted the strength of its 80-120km/h acceleration. A revised exhaust system sounds rorty and boisterous without becoming too loud inside.
Automatic and manual gearboxes are offered, and hooray for that. The eight speed auto is carried over and that’s no bad thing. It’s decisive, oily-slick and well suited to the task, though not as pure as the direct mechanical connection of the six-speed manual or as forceful as the M2’s seven-speed DCT, though the latter wouldn’t suit the M240i’s more compliant nature.
Front end grip is where the car starts to come unstuck when really pressing, though the sweetly balanced chassis can be rotated from the rear with the throttle pedal. Steering is well weighted, and adaptive dampers fitted standard to M240i split its soft and daily-driveable side, and its sharpened, trackable eagerness. In Sport mode it lacks the rebound control of the M2’s single suspension tune, though it’s more liveable in Normal than the laser-guided M2.
The M240i’s cosy cabin is affected by road noise and looks dated, though they’re minor criticisms in the context of a car centred on the road ahead. Electric, heated seats are now standard and drop right to the floor. A new iDrive infotainment system introduces a higher resolution screen and app-based interface which is snappier than before and has a broader set of skills.
Spec has been further boosted to add showroom pull by including premium Harmon/Kardon audio, adaptive headlights and driving assist systems as standard. Dropping the price to $74,900 – $2300 cheaper than the less powerful car it replaces – should also help.
M240i sits in a unique position where it doesn’t really have any direct competitors. There is little else out there offering the same relatively unspoilt front-engine, rear-drive layout in a compact form factor with this ratio of performance-to-dollar. It’s not quite as outwardly muscle-flexing or as exclusive as the M2, but it nips at the heels of its track-honed sibling for a much sharper price, and it should attract its own legion of followers for that reason alone.
Model: BMW M240i
Engine: 2998cc 6-cyl, dohc, 24v, turbo
Max power: 250kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 500Nm @ 1520-4500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.6sec (claimed)
On sale: Now
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