Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 16, 2021
PALM SPRINGS, California - The smallest BMWs have always been the most memorable, effectively seared into our brains with tour de forces like the 2002ti, 1M, and more recently, the M2 CS. Even though these compact coupes were never volume sellers, they became some of the most influential icons of the brand, attracting driving enthusiasts with their silky inline-sixes, manual gearboxes, and playful chassis’, all without straying too far up the price ladder.
BMW aims to keep the magic going with the new 2022 2 Series (G42), which is only available in the M240i xDrive Coupe ($56,950) trim at launch. It’s bigger, faster, and BMW claims that it handles even better than before. The key proportions are intact with a long hood, short overhang, and a rearward cabin, but the footprint is no longer diminutive or compact. Its length has increased by 88 mm, width by 66 mm, wheelbase by 50 mm, and the rear track widened by 63mm at the front and 61 mm in the rear. Yes, it's been lowered by 28 mm but to put the size into perspective, the M240i is longer than the E46 3 Series and about the same size as the E92 3 Series.
The iconic kidney grill hasn't taken the beaver teeth shape of the 4 Series but are more reserved instead, featuring active air flaps to control air flow and improve engine cooling. The new LED headlights are a reference to the classic BMW 2002ti, and the rear lights have also been redesigned but we can’t unshake the fact that they look like Fruit Gushers. The door handles are now flush with the body panels - their quality is better than a Tesla’s and more like the Porsche Taycan’s in their resistive, operative feel. Overall, the new 2 Series has adorned a stiffer and slightly more robotic look, but serves as a nice visual balance against the shoutier and more controversial vehicles in the BMW lineup. And we will admit that pictures don't seem to flatter the 2 Series, even in its sportier M240i guise, but it appears more balanced and well-proportioned in the flesh.
The interior will be familiar territory for anyone coming from a current-generation BMW product. The design is conservative but heavily favours ergonomics and usability. That means no fancy gimmicks or an overload of fingerprint-laden touchscreens. BMW has only implemented features that work well, and that includes the eight programmable shortcut buttons, large 12.3-inch touchscreen, a rotary dial, dedicated buttons for the safety systems and driving modes, and a meaty leather steering wheel. The 8.8-inch instrument cluster is still a visual mess and we have complained about it since its debut in the 8 Series, but diving into the driver menus and selecting Reduced Mode remedies the cluttered layout.
There will be a 230i coming to Canada next year but there’s no official word if it will be RWD or AWD. In the mean time we have the more performance-focused M240i xDrive that utilizes a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six dishing out 382 hp and 369 lb-ft through an 8-speed automatic via a rear-biased all-wheel drive system. That's 47 hp and 1 lb-ft more than the outgoing model and of note, it does not utilize the 48-volt mild hybrid system that underpins the M440i. Standard equipment includes a stiffer M suspension, additional front axle struts, larger brakes, a rear limited-slip differential, and a sports exhaust. An adaptive suspension with electronically controlled dampers remains optional, and it will do the 0-100 km/h sprint in 4.3 seconds. 19-inch all-season runflats, performance runflats, and performance non-runflat tires will all be available for the M240i.
Out on the barren, dusty outskirts of Palm Springs, the M240i xDrive showed us why its swollen dimensions was a good thing - the improved ride quality. Thanks to the stretched wheelbase, the M240i is more comfortable and stable than before, and most of the previous model’s underlying firmness has been polished and ironed out. Expansion joints and pockmarked roads don’t unsettle the chassis as much, and the M240i stays grounded without becoming twitchy or nervous at higher speeds. We highly recommend the optional adaptive suspension too, as it seems to completely transform the ride when flicked between Comfort and Sport modes. Road and engine noise are minimal as well and hardly undermine its premium pretense.
But it wasn’t until we hit the serpentine canyon roads just south of the Joshua Tree National Park were we keenly reminded that BMW makes some of the torquiest and smoothest six-cylinder engines out there. With such a flat and punchy powerband, the M240i xDrive is effortless to drive. Its maximum 369 lb-ft is available right from 1,800 rpm, and when matched with its slick shifting 8-speed gearbox, it really is as easy as flooring your right foot and letting the boost chugging reactor warp you into unholy speeds. Grip around long sweeping corners wasn’t a worry either with its competent all-wheel drive system, and BMW managed to keep the M240i’s inherent balance intact with an eager front nose and a loyal rear end, enough to keep our worries at bay about painting a guardrail Thundernight Metallic anyways.
To complete the evaluation, we were granted what felt like unlimited laps around the Thermal Club racetrack, and we weren’t shy to fully exploit every horsepower available. Thermal Club is a relatively flat track without many elevation changes or difficult corners, and seems to really favour the nimble M240i. The electric-power steering is expectedly numb but accurate, and while its fluid movements are far from surgical, we never had any issue placing the front nose right on the apex and letting its limited-slip diff manage the Michelin’s contact patches and fire us off onto the straights.
BMW’s direct instructions to keep the stability and traction control switched on did bog the M240i down when trying to lay down power earlier on corner exit, but it wasn’t too much of a buzzkill. We weren’t chasing laptimes anyways, but it did keep us from flirting with the limits and letting the playful rear end slide across the rumble strips. At any moment did we moan about the lack of a manual option? Of course. This is a rev-happy engine that’s just begging for three pedals, but we don’t think the majority of prospective owners would mind, and we expect the more enthusiast-focused M2 to be available with one when it debuts.
The M240i’s exhaust is as harmonic and melodic as we remember from the outgoing model. The turbochargers turn down the overall combustion volume compared to a free-breathing flat-six from Porsche, but it still delivers a passionate and distinctive exhaust yawp that could never be mistaken for anything other than a BMW inline-six. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear it for yourself.
The new BMW M240i xDrive is a genuine improvement over its predecessor, and is remarkably more satisfying to drive than the Toyota GR Supra, Ford Mustang GT, and even the Audi TT RS. Dynamically, it edges even closer to the F87 M2 and has proved its competency on city streets, canyon roads, and on the racetrack. But what impressed us most about the M240i was its expanded breadth of capability and how it effectively unifies its newfound road mannerisms with accessible performance, putting it on a rare pedestal of engaging yet relatively attainable sports cars under $60,000.
Model: 2022 BMW M240i xDrive Coupe
Paint: Thundernight / Alpine White
Base Price: $56,950
As-Tested Price (Alpine White M240i): $66,950
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,548 / 1,838 / 1,404
Curb weight (kg): 1,755
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 382 hp @ 5,800 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 1,800 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Tires: 225/40R19 front; 255/35R19 rear