2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Review - Heritage Heresy

  • Not lacking in power
  • Striking front design is memorably different
  • Comfortable seats
  • Styling loses its way toward the rear
  • Front-biased AWD doesn't feel like a
  • Not hard to find yourself in 3 Series price territory

Nobody asked for the 2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe, but that's not to say there's not an audience for a feistier, crossover-adjacent, heritage-inverting sports sorta-sedan. Unexpected to the eyes and even more shocking when you consider what's going on beneath, there's more to figure out here than just the lengthy name.

Just what defines a "Gran Coupe"? It's basically BMW-speak for a sedan that's not quite a four-door-coupe, tapping that same concept of a swooping roofline, but kicking up the tail in the process. It leaves the M235i Gran Coupe striking from some angles and a tad ungainly from others.

Honestly, I prefer the A-Class Sedan's mini-S-Class vibes overall, but there are elements of the BMW that are appealingly unapologetic. The front lower fascia, for example, with its gaping intakes and their bronze-finish trim flare like bullish nostrils, while the matching grille mesh calls to mind macerating blades. By the time it reaches the rear, though, that deep sculpting has become a little stolid, the trunk lid in particular sitting heavy on the taillamp clusters like the sinking layers of an underbaked cake.

Underneath the love-it-or-hate-it sheet metal is a surprise, the same platform that BMW uses for the X1 and X2 crossovers. Blame the Gran Coupe styling on top of that for the unwelcoming rear seats. At least once you're inside they're okay for those of average height, but the M235i's narrow back doors makes getting in and out a less than elegant affair.

The M235i shares the same 2.0-liter inline-four gas engine as the 228i, though its turbocharged output gets massaged a little higher. Figure on 301 horsepower versus 228 hp, plus 332 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 mph arrives in as little as 4.6 seconds, BMW says, while the top speed is an electronically-limited 155 mph. There's a single transmission option, BMW's eight-speed Steptronic.

While the BMW faithful back in Europe have their purity tested with a front-wheel drive 2 Series, the US only gets xDrive all-wheel drive versions. The AWD is still front-biased, though, albeit with a Torsen limited-slip differential as standard. For casual highway cruising, indeed, the driveshaft for the rear wheels can deactivate itself entirely, in the name of frugality.

BMW also throws in the suspension, brakes, and steering from its M Sport division, and together they leave the M235i feeling sharper and tighter. The 19-inch M Forged 557 bicolor wheels – a $600 option to replace the standard 18-inchers – don't destroy comfort when you're thrumming along in Comfort mode, and nor do they leave the BMW crashy when you're pushing harder.

It all feels level and agile, though notably different from the rear-wheel drive cars that made BMW's reputation. Sport mode and a willing transmission keep things ticking along nicely, and the M235i certainly can't be accused of lacking power compared to rivals like the Audi S3. Even so, that surge of speed on tap still feels more at home when you're trying to keep momentum with highway overtaking, rather than luring you out to find the nearest backroads.

Inside, sunglasses may not be optional if you check the Magma Red Dakota Leather interior. The $750 M Sport seats are comfortable and adjust nicely, while the dashboard borrows some of the exterior's sparkle with its textured silver trim. It's plastic, sure, but at least it's all miles away from the dour black-on-black-on-black that so many "sports" sedans seem to default to.

As standard you get an 8.8-inch center touchscreen and an 8.8-inch digital driver's display, along with Apple CarPlay, front collision warnings, lane departure warnings, blind spot detection, and automatic high beams. There's also front and rear parking assistance, ambient lighting, and automatic climate control. BMW's dashboard feels sturdy and well laid-out, but part of that could well be familiarity: there's not much here we haven't already seen in most other recent models from the company.

The main option you'll pay for is the $2,650 Premium Package. That adds steering wheel heating, adaptive full LED lights, a head-up display, navigation, and BMW's advanced connected features. Ventilated seats are conspicuous by their absence. Still, it's all very nice, but with the other options it takes the M235i xDrive Gran Coupe from $45,500 to $51,295 (including $995 destination).

2020 BMW M235i xDrive Gran Coupe Verdict

That's more than you'll pay for a – less powerful – Audi S3, but it also takes you into 3 Series territory, and that's a bigger problem. The Gran Coupe is interesting, and it even has legitimate personality in places, but while the entry-level 330i and 330i xDrive may be down on power in comparison, they feel more like, well, a BMW from behind the wheel.

BMW's "a car for every niche, and then one more for good luck" strategy has seen its range swell with option after option in recent years, and clearly it's confident there's an audience out there for this particular flavor of M. In a way, the M235i xDrive Gran Coupe is a real surprise. I'd expected it to be, like most of its M brethren, a car for the corners. I actual fact, its strengths come through most clearly when when it comes to the cruise.