Looking at how it stacks up on paper, the BMW M240i sounds more like the original M2 than a replacement for its outgoing namesake.
With the ‘G42’ M240i making 369bhp from a ‘B58’ inline-six, it’s in similar power territory to the M2, making for an identical 0-62mph time. The track widths have ballooned, meaning the front ends of both cars are similarly girthy. And finally, it has that same buffed-up “I’ve spent the last six months in the gym” look, with muscular wheel arch flares and a power bulge.
A few years ago we did a comparison between a pre-Competition M2 and the then-new ‘F22’ M240i. Although the latter was similarly punchy in terms of straight-line performance, big differences emerged when you reached some corners. While the M2 felt like a properly sorted performance car, the M240i was merely a premium coupe with a big engine dumped under the bonnet for shits and giggles.
Driven back to back with the M2, it felt flabby, sometimes wayward and always wanting for stronger brakes. If we ran that test again but with the F22 subbed for the G42, the two would be much closer - this is a much more serious thing, and that becomes clear within the first few miles of driving on a good road.
No longer does the M240i feel soft and floppy. It doesn’t have time for body roll even with the adaptive damper set to Comfort (your best bet for backroads) and reacts much more keenly to steering inputs. The brakes seem a lot stronger, but that’s not the only-confidence inspiring aspect. It’s now all-wheel drive only, which is a big change for 2-series buyers in the UK - although the old M240i was built in ‘xDrive’ form, we never got that version here.
Perhaps on a drier day that might seem like a shame, but on damp and occasionally muddy roads, I’m absolutely fine with the ‘B58’ inline-six under that bonnet bulge powering all wheels. Plus, the use of a cut-down ‘CLAR’ 4-series platform to underpin the rather than the current 1-series platform means you get a longitudinal engine layout and a ‘proper’ all-wheel drive system.
So, this isn’t one of those deals where the car runs in front-wheel drive most of the time, only shoving torque to the rear when necessary. The system is tuned to be rear-biased, and this shows when you’re pushing the limits of traction, with the back starting to go first. It’s just that you have a safety net, which is very welcome on a day like today.
The AWD setup also makes the turbo inline-six all the more dramatic. With no traction issues to worry about, the B58’s delivery is incredibly effective. It’s happiest in the mid-range, where the engine is at its most impressive. Peak power comes in at just 5500rpm, and there’s little point in going beyond that figure, with the B58 feeling and sounding weedier the higher you go.
In terms of the soundtrack, if you’ve had any time with BMW inline-sixes of the past, including the earlier turbocharged units, you’re in for a disappointment. To be fair to BMW, within the scope of modern regulations there’s only so much that can be done in this department.
There is, at least, a cheeky little upshift fart. On that subject, we have an eight-speed automatic gearbox on cog-swapping duties, which gets on with the job efficiently and with a hint of aggression. Unfortunately, there’s no longer the option of a manual. A shame, perhaps, but an auto does suit the car pretty well.
The key thing is, the M240i doesn’t just feel like an M440i that’s shrunk in the wash, despite the very similar stuff under the skin and the copy-paste (but admittedly very nice) 4-series dash staring you in the face the whole time. The smaller dimensions and wheelbase make for a greater sense of nimbleness, and it’s little less ‘remote’ to drive than the range-topping 4er.
It is still more detached than BMWs tended to be not so long ago, however, a theme now running across the range. It leaves us with slightly mixed feelings about the M240i. Yes, it’s a big step up in terms of capability, but you feel more removed from what’s going on underneath than we’d like. The steering is decent enough, with good speed and consistency, but it’s hilariously firm and mushy sensation in Sport mode.
If you stop judging the M240i as an out-and-out sports car, it makes more sense. It’s a fast, comfortable and superbly built coupe with striking looks that grow on you and work far better IRL than you might expect. It’s engaging enough to drive, just not quite thrilling enough to be a substitute for waiting until the next M2 is here.