BMW Model Countdown

By Tim Suddard
Mar 16, 2015 | BMW | Posted in News and Notes | From the Nov. 2014 issue | Never miss an article

A new car just showed up in the company parking lot–a 2014 BMW M235i. It’s awesome, but we know what you’re thinking: What the heck is a BMW 2 Series? Basically, it’s the 1 Series’ slightly larger successor. And yes, by “successor,” we mean you can no longer walk into a BMW dealership and buy a 1 Series. Unless you live in another country, that is.

In the past few years, BMW has unveiled a lot of new models, some with designations that don’t seem to fit the standard template. Some enthusiasts have complained online, but we don’t think BMW has lost its way; the new cars follow the company edict. After sampling the updated lineup, we figured it was time to walk through the latest field.

2 Series

Of all the new models, here’s the one that interests us the most: the new 2 Series. BMW shows it alongside the original 2002 in its advertisements, and it’s obviously supposed to be the new small sports coupe.

In our opinion, it’s the BMW Goldilocks would prefer. The 1 Series is a bit too snug and the latest 3 Series is a bit too big, but the 2 Series is perfect. Remember the E36-chassis BMW M3, the model hailed as one of today’s top track cars? The 2 Series is almost the same size: It’s the same length, 2 inches wider, 3 inches taller, and 300 pounds heavier.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “300 pounds is too much, and modern cars are bloated and terrible.” We know, we know, but welcome to the modern world. The E36 M3 feels like a tin can compared to the M235i, and that solid feel is well worth the 300- pound penalty.

To make up for the extra height, width and weight, the M235 has 320 horsepower–80 more than the famed E36 M3. The base price is $43,100, almost identical to the cost of a similarly equipped, brand-new E36 M3 without even accounting for inflation. The M235i is simply a better car and a better deal than our beloved E36 M3.

Or, if you don’t need the M badge, the base 2 Series comes with a screaming 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a Camry-like price tag of $32,100. This base car is the BMW deal of the century. We like this engine a whole bunch and it has enough power to haul around a 5 Series.

Oh, and any of the 2 Series cars, including the M, are available with all-wheel drive for about a $2000 premium.

3 Series

The new 3 Series is available in 320, 328, 335, diesel, hybrid and M trims, and all-wheel drive can be added to most models. Wagons are available, too, in addition to the standard four-door sedans. Technically you can no longer buy a 3 Series with only two doors.

The 320 and 328 versions both use the turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engines. We compared these two versions, and they’re remarkably similar internally–only the pistons themselves are different. At this time, the aftermarket hasn’t yet cracked the ECU, but piggyback modules that increase power and torque are available.

The 3 Series is bigger and heavier than the 2 Series, but not by much if you order the M3. It weighs just 3530 pounds–25 more than the M235i. Whatever diet pills the M3 is taking, they clearly work. The M3 is almost 2 inches taller than the 2 Series, 7 inches wider and 10 inches longer.

4 Series

The 4 Series is nearly the same size as the 3 Series. It’s slightly wider except in M guise. The 4 is only available as a two-door coupe, but there is a non-M, fourdoor version called the Gran Coupe. This doesn’t make any sense to us, but if it makes BMW buyers happy, then so be it.

As an aside, we recently spent a week in a 428i Coupe with the M Sport package, which includes 18-inch alloy wheels, tweaked suspension, sports seats and a few other niceties. We really fell in love with this car.

Sure, for $48,000, you should like a car, but this turbo four delivers incredibly smooth performance and surprising economy. Comfort is excellent, even for adults in the back seat. The fit, finish and ergonomics are nearly perfect, and in Sport mode this coupe handles extremely well on the switchbacks of California’s Gold Country.

5 Series and Above

The current BMW lineup still features 5, 6 and 7 Series cars, but we don’t see these as part of our market. Surprisingly, the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine–the same one that’s available in the rest of BMW’s lineup–still works damn well in the 5 Series and knocks nearly 150 pounds off the weight compared to the available inline-six. The ECU is told that it’s in a 5 Series instead of a 3, and it bumps up power and torque to compensate for the extra weight.

Picking Your Winner

If you want a great M-car at a great price, the M235i is a real winner. Think E36 M3 with tons more power and more sophistication. Its super easy to drive on track and to live with on the street.

If you need more room, the 3 and 4 Series cars offer it with very little increase in price and weight over the 2 Series. The new M3 and M4s are amazing machines, but at more than $20,000 pricier than the M235i, they do come at a premium.

The real bargains of the bunch are the four-cylinder cars. Don’t discount them. They’re lighter, less expensive and more fuel-efficient than their six-cylinder brethren. They’re also lovely to drive.

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View comments on the GRM forums
mr2peak HalfDork
3/16/15 9:43 a.m.

Euro E36M3 is still the hot ticket. Crazy.

PHeller PowerDork
3/16/15 10:09 a.m.

Probably the perfect sized car, shame they aren't doing the hatchback in the states.

I'd love a liftback coupe.

mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/16/15 12:14 p.m.

odd numbers are 4 doors.. even are 2. 1 Series should be the four door, 2 series should be the coupe'

bmw88rider GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
3/16/15 12:43 p.m.

Not so true. I present the 4 Series Gran Coupe. It's a 4 door hatchback.

And I'm still trying to figure out how that is much different than the 3 series Gran Turismo

Trackmouse Reader
3/16/15 12:45 p.m.

Nothing German makes sense. Stop trying. Lol.

Feedyurhed SuperDork
3/16/15 1:17 p.m.

BMW is trying to cover every vehicle transportation segment ever created or dreamed of. 2 door, 4 door, 5 door, SUV, CUV, Minivan, humpy back whale thing, electric................some very good, some OK and some just kinda weird. It can't be too long before the BMW pick up arrives followed soon after by the Bimmer roller skates, surf board, skis and soap box derby racer. Me, I like the old 2002 and the M 3 series line. What ever happened to the The Ultimate Driving Machine philosophy?

Driven5 HalfDork
3/16/15 2:42 p.m.
mad_machine wrote: odd numbers are 4 doors.. even are 2. 1 Series should be the four door, 2 series should be the coupe'

Evens are 'coupes' (2 or 4 door) and convertibles. Then odds are sedans, wagons, and whatever you want to call the 'gran touring' back thing...Except for the 2-series, which covers (2 door) coupe, convertible, and a not-sold-here FWD (4 door) hatchy-minivanish thing based on the Mini platform. The 1-series is both 2 and 4 door hatchbacks, the while I believe are related to the 2-series coupe and convertible for now, will (along with the X1) become FWD on a similar platform to the 2-series "tourer" MPV's before they come to the USA.

Simple as that.

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