MOTORING: BMW M240i Steptronic: A junior M2 … or not?

BMW’s highly desirable, no-holds-barred M2 is a rare beast and costs more than a million bucks. The latest M240i can be yours for around R200k less. But how close does the more accessible M240i really get to its celebrated sibling?

BMW’s M Division has a reputation for creating the kind of no-compromise driving machines that make petrolheads drool, and traffic officers rub their hands in glee. The M2 is such a car: nominally based on the BMW 2-Series Coupé, it combines beefier, more menacing aesthetics with extra power and torque,an upgraded chassis and sharper handling to earn its M-car stripes. Recently replaced by the even quicker, even more aggressive (and likely to be even more expensive) M2 Competition, the smallest car in the M stable is also its best seller, contributing to a perennial shortage of supply. But for all its M-derived sophistication, the M2 can’t deny its 2-Series origins. Which brings us to the current 2-Series flagship: the M240i. The M-prefix confirms that this Two has performance at heart, and while it may have neither the allure nor the bespoke sophistication of an M2, it still expresses real dynamic intent. Like the rest of the 2-Series range, the latest M240i has benefited from a raft of aesthetic changes and interior upgrades announced in 2017. The front-end treatment is bolder and more cohesive, with sleeker headlights, striking daytime running lights, and larger air intakes. The differences are more subtle at the rear, with redesigned tail light clusters the only significant change. While the basic silhouette remains familiar, the overall impression is more aggressive, underlined here by the M240i’s lowered sport suspension and bigger, black-finished alloy wheels. It certainly looks the athletic, go-faster part. Anyone spending upwards of R775,000 on a compact two-door coupé has every right to expect a comfort-driven, fully-fitted interior, and the M240i mostly delivers on that expectation. It’s very much a driver-focused space in the best BMW tradition, with switchgear and control systems arranged for intuitive use. In this latest, updated iteration, smarter materials and finishes create a more sophisticated ambience, while there’s a closer focus on technology, thanks to a larger, improved colour display for the infotainment system. Tick the navigation box on the added-cost options list (yes, even at this level you still pay extra for satnav) and the display becomes a touchscreen that augments the iDrive controller. Not that I’m a fan of touchscreens: they smudge, and are distracting to use on the move. BMW’s commitment to on-line connectivity is also expressed in this latest M240i, including wireless Apple CarPlay integration (most cars requires a USB connection) and a host of useful apps. Like other Twos, the M240i is still more of a 2+2 coupé than a true four-seater. The doors open wide to ease access, but getting in and out remains awkward for rear occupants, and accommodation at the back is best described as cosy. But heck, the M240i is really all about performance, starting with the turbocharged straight six shoehorned into the engine bay. The 3.0-litre unit pumps out a wholesome 250kW of maximum muscle, linked to an equally meaty 500Nm of torque. This isn’t a high-revving screamer of an engine: the action all happens below 5,500rpm and with the full might of twist sustained in a fat band from 1,520 to 5,500rpm, the delivery is more about brutal shove than red line-chasing finesse. There’s a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed Steptronic Sport auto, but the latter is by far the most popular transmission choice. The Steptronic Sport gearbox is the perfect foil for the engine’s urge: its eight ratios are nicely spread to allow for hard-chasing acceleration in the lower gears, and more relaxed cruising in the higher ones. The cog swops are quick and slick by definition, but switch to Sport or Sport Plus driving modes, and the changes become satisfyingly percussive. You’re welcome to leave the transmission to its own devices when cruising or commuting, but opting for shift paddle-controlled manual mode makes for a far more engaging experience –especially when driving with intent. Rapid is an apt adjective to describe the M240i’s dynamic character. And again, you really need to dial in Sport or even Sport Plus mode to unlock the Beemer’s M-inspired character. The big six’s war cry becomes throatier and more urgent as the revs rise. The throttle feels more eager, too, and the steering acts with greater resolve. The straight-line stats confirm that the M240i’s capabilities are very much in the sports car league. A 4.6sec zero to 100km/h sprint time will get even jaded pulses racing, and that 250km/h limit always seems within easy reach. Indeed, it’s easy to misjudge just how quickly the M240i gathers speed, and to underestimate how fast you end up travelling as a result. Under full throttle, the stream of urge is relentless, while the chassis’ composure never feels under threat. Point to point, this is a very quick car, covering kilometre after kilometre with a sure-footed assurance that shrinks long distances and makes extended journeys enjoyable. While firm, the ride offers sufficient compliance to cope with quieter (and bumpier) country roads, and the brakes deliver loads of stopping power when needed. However, tackling the twisties does show up some chinks in this BMW’s armour. The steering, while providing ample heft under load, isn’t quite able to translate the M240i’s behaviour with the directness and honesty you’d expect. It lacks the crispness and clarity required to thread the coupé through the twisties with real glee, and while the chassis provides plenty of feedback, that dialogue isn’t necessarily mirrored by the steering’s own messaging. That doesn’t mean the M240i isn’t adept at winding its way through curves and corners. The two-door’s attitude remains resolutely planted, and grip levels are higher than most drivers will want to explore on public roads. Still, I missed the intuitive rapport between car and driver that distinguishes the good from the great. Yes, the M240i is enjoyable, but it’s just not sharp enough to fully engage the driver. And that, I suppose, is the real difference between the M240i and the M2. The M240i is rapid and gratifying, but the M2 goes about its dynamic business with an undiluted, adrenaline-pumping intent that is as thrilling as it can be intimidating. The BMW M240i is not a wannabe M2, nor should it be considered as such. Instead, it’s a highly competent sports coupé with broad appeal – and an even broader skill set. Looking for something sharper in the range that isn’t as costly or as scarce as the M2? The 220i M Sport may surprise you … DM PROS Always quick, always composed. That straight-six engine sounds the part, too. CONS Lacks ultimate engagement. VITAL STATS

BMW M 240i Coupé Steptronic
Engine In-line six-cylinder, 2,998cc, turbo petrol
Power 250kW @ 5,500rpm
Torque 500Nm @ 1,520 – 5,500rpm
Power-to-weight ratio 167.79 kW/ton
Gearbox Eight-speed Steptronic Sport auto, RWD
Wheels/tyres 18-inch alloy, 225/40 (f) 245/35 (r) R18 tyres
0-100 km/h 4.6sec
Top speed 250km/h (limited)
Fuel tank capacity 52 litres
Fuel consumption (claimed) 7.1 litres/100km
Operating range (claimed) 732km
CO2 emissions 163 g/km
Retail price / as tested R779,500 / R804,902