BMW M235i vs BMW M2 – performance coupe clash

If you’re in the market for a compact, rear-wheel drive coupe that’s also great to drive then the BMW M235i covers all these requirements. Most critics agree – it’s sweet to drive, sounds fantastic and carries the legacy of the original M Coupe – the E30 M3. So why has BMW bothered making the M2?

The M2 is touted by BMW as the new entry point for M-car ownership that was previously occupied by the bigger M3 saloon. It’s also rumoured that it will form the basis for several special editions later in the model’s life similar to the M4 GTS.

Both cars weigh around the same and use the same engine, yet the M2 will cost around £10,000 more than the M235i. Let’s see if the new car deserves the mark-up…

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BMW M235i vs BMW M2 styling

The M235i looks more reserved and understated than the M2 and, for some, that’s part of the appeal. Not everyone wants to attract attention in their performance coupe, so the M235i is pretty good at slipping below the radar. The M235i’s design is closer to what the original E30 M3 stood for – supercar pace and handling in an unassuming body.

Only when put side-by-side is it clear that the M2 looks more aggressive – somewhat resembling a shrunken M4. According to BMW, all styling changes were made for function instead of just looks – those complex front air ducts actually help channel air to cool the brakes and the fender flares are not just for show, but to accommodate the car’s wider track. The crevices and bulges that’re hard to spot with an untrained eye make for more downforce and better aerodynamics, according to BMW.

Choosing between the two is hard because they follow two separate legacies – the M2 is the spiritual successor to the very successful, but limited production 1M Coupe and the M235i is, to our eyes, much closer in ethos to the E30 M3.

BMW M235i vs BMW M2 interior

Here, the M2 really starts to justify its £10,000 premium over the M235i. The M2 is much more M car inside thanks to sporty leather seats, even more M badges than the M235i and carbon fibre inserts all around the cabin. The M235i is more restrained and business-like, but little M touches such as the aluminium pedals and fantastic steering wheel are enough to make most buyers feel special.

Choosing which one is better is a difficult choice, because they represent two different ways of doing things – the M2 uses everything in its power to convince you it’s far removed from the regular 2 Series and is a true sports car, whereas the M235i is a normal 2 Series that has been given the bare necessities to cope with the increase in pace and performance, without shouting about how racy it is.

BMW M235i vs BMW M2 driving

The M235i used to be the most performance-focused version of the 2 Series before the M2 was revealed. It has lower and stiffer springs for increased control and beefier brakes. When they drove it, critics loved the way the M235i drives and said it was a big improvement over the regular 2 Series, but it wasn’t quite “M” enough.

To rectify that, the M2 uses aluminium suspension parts similar to the M3 and M4 and, as a result, the system weighs 5kg less. Another, more noticeable improvement is the M sport rear differential that’s electronically controlled to increase cornering grip.

Another important point is that the M2 can be ordered with a manual gearbox. In a time when most automatics are faster than their manual equivalents and many M3 and M4 buyers go for the auto, the fact that the M2 has a manual means the brand is still keen to cater to enthusiasts.

BMW M235i vs BMW M2 engines

Both the M2 and M235i use the same 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol that has been tried and tested in numerous BMW models. The M235i produces 325hp – quite a large amount in a light weight coupe and enough to hit 62mph from rest in five seconds flat (4.8 with the eight-speed automatic) and for a limited top speed of 155mph. This is enough to challenge most entry-level Porsches and should be plenty for most buyers.

Some might be a little let down that the M2 doesn’t use the same engine from the M3/M4, but, to compensate, it shares many parts with it such as the pistons and exhaust. Before you nod off, the most important figure in any performance car is its power and the M2 has plenty, if not much more than the M235i. Its 370hp helps it accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds (4.3 with the deal-clutch automatic) and on to a optional top speed of 168mph if you specify the Driver’s Package.

BMW M235i vs BMW M2 value for money

The M235i is much easier to recommend in terms of value because it does just about everything the M2 does, it doesn’t look as shouty and, if you invest the money you save over the M2 in some performance upgrades, it can easily match the pace of the M2. Both cars get generally the same equipment levels and the only glaring difference is the M2’s aggressive styling.

This is an area where the M2 is hard to recommend – costing from £44,000, it’s around £4,000 more than an Audi RS3 Sportback and a whopping £10,000 more than the M235i. Unless you’re a BMW M fan, you’d hardly care that most of the suspension is different along with most of the engine and body. The problem is that these changes are so well hidden that you start to question where the extra money has gone.

BMW M235i vs BMW M2 verdict

Both car are low-slung, two-door sport coupes with plenty of power. However, the ethos behind each is a bit different. The M2 is a true M car with all the bells and whistles and, in this case, flares and bulges while the M235i is a more understated performer.

So the choice becomes quite simple – get the M235i if you enjoy driving for the sake of driving and don’t mind not having the true M version. Pick the M2 if you are more about show and want everyone to know you’ve bought a genuine thoroughbred, despite being £10,000 more than what is essentially the same horse.

Save money on your new BMW

If you can’t wait for the M2, put the BMW M235i in our car configurator to see how much carwow could help you save. For more options, head over to our deals page or, for more help picking your next car, check out our car chooser.

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