The BMW M2 is currently the most fun you can have in a modern-day BMW, but the M240i is the one you should buy, as Ben Griffin explains in his review.
BMW has recently got into a habit of undercutting its best products. The M4 and M3 were decent machines, but for sheer fun it made more sense to get the M2 and you saved a big pile of cash in doing so. Now the same has happened again, this time with the M240i.
The BMW M240i is the successor to the M235i and has a lot in common with its sister M140i. Except the looks, of course, because one is a hatchback and one is a coupe or convertible. But on paper it is closer to the M2 in terms of performance, which is a big deal when you consider the price difference.
Underneath the M240i is the standard 2 Series, but various modifications take it from pleasant plodder to plucky performer, including a 10mm lower stance, M Sport suspension, bigger brakes, bigger alloys wrapped in Michelin tyres and, if specced, Adaptive M Sport suspension.
At the heart of the M240i is a turbocharged ‘B58’ Baukasten 3.0-litre straight-six, which generates 335bhp and 369lb/ft of torque, as opposed to the N55 lump you got in the M135i that was tuned-up for its application in the M2.
Prices start from £36,415 for the M240i coupe if you want the more hands-on six-speed manual gearbox experience, or from £37,715 if the eight-speed ZF automatic (not the seven-speed DCT in the M2) is more your thing.
What we wanted to find out is whether the M240i is to coupes what the M140i is to hot hatchbacks and how close can it get to matching the brilliant M2?
BMW M240i review: The M2 has to be faster, right?
No, it’s actually about the same speed in a straight line ─ both on paper and in reality. The M2 is only 35bhp better off, which translates to a 0-62mph time difference of 0.3 of a second ─ 4.5 versus 4.8 seconds. The M235i is two-tenths slower again.
Off the line, the M2 is more gutsy although you would need to drive both back to find something to complain about. The M240i is positively ballistic, especially as it has an extra 23lb/ft of torque, and actually ends up being faster as you head towards its top speed of 155mph.
But all that only tells half the story because the M240i and M140i feel their most savage when you want to go from moving slow to fast. The mid-range surge causes you to head towards the horizon with unrelenting pace.
The fact all power is sent to the rear wheels makes the M240i a seriously rapid machine that needs to be treated with much greater respect than its M135i predecessor, especially in the wet. But then what would you expect from something capable of Porsche Cayman pace?
Another thing we love about the B58 lump is the power delivery’s smoothness and the fact it kicks out a decent raspy growl ─ it’s a little more vocal than the M135i’s N55, anyway, and feels more akin to older BMW straight-sixes than the newer generation of turbocharged alternatives.
The sort of performance that can make your face pull amusing faces.
An M2 is faster to 62mph from standing if that bothers you.
BMW M240i review: What about how it drives?
We expected the M240i to falter a bit here because some M cars in recent times have been too heavy for their own good (not to mention lacking in excitement). But the balance of the chassis and its ability to remain composed is unrivalled at this price point.
There is something beefy and energetic about the way the M240i drives that it really only loses out to the M2 for satisfaction albeit narrowly. An M4 is a much more sterile experience, for instance. Compared with the M235i, it is more aggressive and crisp.
Even without the M2’s much wider track, the M240i sticks hard and you can easily tell when the grip of the Michelin tyres has ended and oversteer has begun, at which point you can easily get the counter-steer going.
The lack of a limited-slip differential is, in reality, passable because you can get the power down as you leave a corner, which, again, helps close the gap between it and the M2. Only an absolute purist or regular track user will really mind its absence.
In the M240i’s defence, BMW can fit a mechanical limited-slip differential or you can slot one in yourself for a bearable amount of cash, solving the issue entirely (and for less money than an M2).
The rear wheels do struggle if you are really heavy-footed, of course, but the sensation that the M240i is on the edge of its abilities is genuinely exciting. No doubt the xDrive version is a little better at taming all that potency.
Steering is an area where the M240i could do better. It errs on the heavy side, especially when you drive in the sportier modes, and is less connected and intuitive as what you get in, say, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce or Jaguar XE S. Still, you get used to it and the meaty wheel makes it easy to man-handle.
In Comfort mode, the Adaptive Variable Dampers provide a bit of extra squish although the M240i is never anything but taut. In Sport and Sport+, it tightens even further but only the worst roads make the ride quality unbearable.
The brakes, meanwhile, are powerful enough to tame the B58’s forward progress, with plenty of modulation for accurate braking and enough instant punch to keep you from making an expensive mistake.
Which version of the M240i is best, you ask. Well, the convertible version is heavier and the dynamic hit you take is too much in our opinion. For posers and those with a vitamin D deficiency, go convertible. For everyone else, go coupe and enjoy seasonal affective disorder.
Another important question relating to the way the M240i behaves: Manual or automatic? The six-speed manual is decent and certainly adds to the drama, especially as it blips the throttle for you to avoid unsettling the car during fast driving.
But where the DIY approach feels more natural in the yout-friendly M140i hatchback, the posher M240i suits the automatic better, which is good because the eight-speed ZF makes the car better on fuel, faster on paper, offers launch control functionality and reduces CO2 emissions.
A combination of the imperceptible shifts and sheer brute force of the engine means the ZF eight-speed really is a pleasure but we would suggest you drive both. The auto is likely an easier resell, but the rarity of the manual could be more sought-after further down the line.
Only slightly less exciting than the M2 on public roads.
The level of steering feel could be a bit better.
BMW M240i review: So where does it fall down?
The M135i’s interior was a bit underwhelming and the M140i and M240i remain somewhat plain. Both are, however, ergonomically sound as the iDrive system is straightforward in most areas and the Harman Kardon sound system is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
We also love the new dials, which are a mixture of digital and analogue and never difficult to see ─ even in direct sunlight. They are stylish enough that you start to forgive some of the cabin’s negatives.
The overall build quality of the M240i is great and the seats are just soft enough for making long journeys comfortable. Cabin refinement is another plus, with engine and road noise kept low enough to remind you that it is a premium Germanic machine.
Some M purists will also shun the fact the M240i is only an ‘M-lite’, as indicated by the lack of a bodykit, but there is a big following for Q cars ─ the sort that never look like they would be that fast, emphasising the surprise when they obliterate you at the traffic lights.
Don’t get us wrong, the M2’s bulldog aesthetic is marvellous and probably as playful as it gets for a BMW. But there is something quietly confident about the M240i’s smart, functional look. It’s stealth performance, a motoring trojan horse if you will.
Practicality wise, the coupe’s boot can never extend to the 1,200 litres in the M140i with the rear seats folded down, but the M240i’s effort is wide and deep enough for large suitcases and 390 litres as standard is actually 30 litres bigger than the hatchback. The convertible takes a big capacity hit, mind.
Really tall passengers will wish they were in the 4 Series. However, for luggage overspill, children or short journeys it is nice to have the option and things are hardly as bad as they are in, say, the Audi TT.
Stealthy design hides what an absolute weapon the M240i can be.
The M140i is more practical, if that sort of stuff thing bothers you.
BMW M240i review: Running costs, UK price and optional equipment?
At the end of our loan, we saw an average of 26mpg. That is about 10mpg off the official figure, but then we never bothered with the Eco driving mode and found it hard to resist speed-based tomfoolery on a daily basis.
Our time included some motorway action to Heathrow Airport and back, where the M240i was able to claw up its average nicely. Around town or when being an idiot, however, yields something in the teens so it is never the cheapest car to run.
Luckily the CO2 figure is minimal for such a big, explosive engine, with the automatic capable of 163g/km. That means paying £500 for the first year compared to £800 for the manual plus an additional £310 extra a year for five years if you spend more than £40,000.
Not that you should because we have been offered an M140i for £26,000 and the M240i can be had similarly as cheap. Because you will never get a discount on an M2, the price difference becomes staggering ─ especially if you similar levels of optional extra goodness.
Even at list price, the M240i is good value for money but with a discount it becomes unbelievably cheap. It is probably the fastest, most capable car for under £30,000.
Serious amount of performance for not a lot of cash.
The M2 will likely hold its value far better.
BMW M240i review: Should I buy one, then?
There are many cars we would love to own, but most are either too expensive, too impractical or too likely to depreciate like a stone for us to bother. It is rare, then, that has those facets of motoring covered while being very affordable.
Honestly, there are so few options out there if you want a fast performance car that turns heads, drives brilliantly, looks expensive and will leave most cars for dust quite as convincingly as the M240i.
At one point we were adamant that the M2 was your only option for compact BMW thrills, and that you should buy the M140i because there is no danger of an ‘M1’ (ignoring the classic BMW with the same name) pulling up beside you to undermine you.
But now, having driven the M240i again, the only real reason you wouldn’t take it over the M2 is because of the aesthetics, but is that worth an extra £15,000 or so? Given our love of ordinary-looking cars that go like stink, we are inclined to say no.