2018 BMW M240i Review: By BMW Standards, a Performance Bargain
Sure, the M2 is great. But the M240i is one of the best driver's cars in the BMW lineup, and it costs at least $9,000 less.
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People who buy cars first and foremost because they’re fun tend to have a distinct thought process. Where the average shopper will wonder if the optional panoramic sunroof is worth the money, the enthusiast has already mentally nixed it, because the roof just adds needless weight. That enthusiast just wants the most performance that he or she can afford—and is usually willing to make sacrifices in other areas to get it.
Those decisions get tricky when you’re looking at a stepladder of fun-first models and deciding which rung you should stop at. Take the Ford Mustang GT vs. the Shelby GT350. Or the Subaru WRX and WRX STI. Or, today’s subject, the BMW M240i, versus the M2. Yes, the M2 is not only the epitome of the 2 Series lineup, but perhaps the most stereotypically “BMW” model in today’s BMW showroom. That is, a relatively small, traditional-bodied car—as opposed to a hopped-up Sports Activity Coupe—that offers a manual transmission and doesn’t cost six figures like an i8 or a new M5. The M2’s wallet-sizzling dealer mark-ups have cooled since its debut, but this l’il Bimmer still starts at $55,495 in 2018.
And the price is about to jump along with the performance. The 2019 M2 Competition, which starts production this month and replaces the previous M2, brings a 405-horsepower version of the larger M4’s twin-turbo inline six, along with a host of upgrades. Sounds awesome, but the M2 Competition’s $59,895 price represents a $4,400 jump over the 2018 M2. It will cost $1,600 more than a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, and $3,300 more than a Corvette Stingray. Of course, only the world’s most open-minded individual is cross-shopping a BMW coupe with V8 ‘Stangs and 'Vettes, so that’s the last I’ll mention it. Point is, the M2 and M2 Competition, though fairly priced in BMW terms, are still quite expensive for a two-door compact.
So if you’re already correcting me and saying “too expensive,” then consider the M240i. Starting from $46,445, the M240i will rock a road nearly as well as its big-bore M2 stablemate, but without wiping out a bank account.
Really, every ingredient you need is baked into this fun-sized M240i, beginning with a direct-injection, 3.0-liter inline six with a twin-scroll turbocharger and variable valve timing and camshaft lift. Its 365 horsepower is 30 fewer than the 2018 M2, but the M240i counters with 26 additional pound-feet of torque, at 369 pound-feet. That lofty torque peak is fully on tap anywhere between 1,520 and 4,500 rpm. Choose the six-speed manual transmission (a no-cost option), and the M240i scampers from 0-60 mph in BMW’s conservatively-estimated 4.6 seconds.
That drops to 4.4 seconds with the eight-speed paddle-shiftable automatic, and to a scorching 4.2 seconds if you spend $2,000 for xDrive AWD. You can’t get AWD on the M2, and members of the rear-drive cult might blanch at the thought. But an owner in Maine or Michigan could well see the upside—as opposed to his BMW’s downside, after it winds up flipped in a ditch—of a 2 Series with four-season capability. With BMW pegging the M2’s acceleration at 4.3 seconds with its optional (and quicker) dual-clutch automatic, that M240i xDrive is officially 0.1 seconds faster to 60 mph. Compare apples-to-apples, rear-drive automatic models, and the M240i trails the vaunted M2, but only by the same tenth of a second. Bottom line, this M240i is seriously fast—and its performance specs don’t begin to describe how enjoyable it is to drive on real roads.
At the curb, the M240i looks appealingly small and sprightly, like a pup that can’t wait for his daily romp. The M2 still looks like the Rottweiler of this particular litter, with its muscular bodywork and sharp-toothed attitude. But the M240i comes off as more approachable than its track-oriented stablemate, an everyday BMW that’s less likely to invite a stop from law enforcement. Not surprisingly, it also feels a bit less amped-up.
As with any 2 Series, that petite footprint is a simultaneous blessing and curse. If you’re nostalgic for BMW 2002s or other vintage small cars, you’ll find it the perfect size: You’ll never get shanghaied into driving other people’s kids or helping them haul things. But there may be times when you need to ask for help from friends with roomier vehicles. Still, the 2 Series's back seat will still accept most grown-up passengers, as long as people up front are willing to slide forward a bit. And trunk space is outstanding for a car of this size, with 13.8 cubic feet.
Simplicity rules the interior, with a three-spoke steering wheel and a classic analog speedo and tach that amplify the BMW’s driver-first vibe. Yet at these prices, the M240i feels honestly high-rent. The specs include the excellent iDrive 6.0 infotainment system and BMW’s latest, optional 8.8-inch touchscreen with expanded voice controls.
Engineered by M Performance, the BMW’s inline six revs so freely and smoothly that mechanical friction becomes an almost abstract concept. Its 7,000-rpm redline—and thrilling surge toward that redline—stands in winning contrast to engines that run out of turbine-boosted breath at 6,000 rpm or below. Switched to Sport Plus mode, the M240i proves quite the little ass-kicker on roads north of NYC. In this heightened performance state, Dynamic Traction Control discreetly dialed back wheelspin management, allowing this pert coupe to zing and carve through the countryside. The variable electric steering feels limber and precise, if lacking in feedback. M Compound brakes ably counter the generous thrust, with outstanding pedal feel. Yep, it’s all here: the giddy connection and purity of purpose that characterize the best BMWs.
Granted, the M2 is purer still, with sharper steering, more grip from bigger 19-inch wheels, an even-stiffer suspension, and beefier brakes. The M240i’s conventional eight-speed automatic (my car didn’t have the manual) served up fast and unobtrusive gear changes, but it’s not as snappy as the M2’s dual-clutch affair. Yet the M240i brings its own impressively strong handshake with the road, including mixed-size tires—225/40s in front, wider 245/35s at the rear—shod with Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires, with all-seasons optional. (There's none of that run-flat crap found on too many BMWs.) Weight balance is a near-ideal 50/50, though every 2 Series carries more poundage than you’d expect, including just over 3,500 pounds for this model.
The list of M240i options isn’t excessive, and my test model was especially judicious: A $1,700 navigation system, $500 heated front seats, and $800 for Park Distance Control, and my M240i tallied $49,245. (Personally, I might spend $1,450 for Dakota leather seats, in oyster, cognac or red, which definitely kick up interior luxury a notch). But as anyone who’s been in a BMW showroom lately might agree, this is a lot of BMW for less than $50,000.
That bang-for-the-buck seems almost explosive in comparison with the M2, especially now that it’s shooting upmarket in M2 Competition form. Whether manual or automatic, the M240i undercuts a stick-shift, 2018 M2 by about $9,000. But the M2’s dual-clutch automatic is a $2,900 upcharge, so committed paddlers will pay an extra $11,900. This all assumes that you’re ready to buy soon, and can still find a 2018 M2 on showroom floors. Its replacement, the 2019 M2 Competition, will begin to arrive in showrooms in mere weeks. Its $59,895 base price is a $13,400 premium over an M240i, rising to $16,300 if you choose that dual-clutch automatic. (The M240i will surely see its own price jump for 2019, but presumably only a few hundred dollars).
Hey, you can always spend more, right? And therein lies the problem with performance cars: At some point, you really can’t spend more. Most of us have to square our fantasies with financial reality. I would never talk anyone out of an M2, a brilliant car and a breath of fresh air in the BMW lineup. And I can’t wait to test the M2 Competition. But my own money would be spent on the M240i. With a stick, of course.
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.