2022 BMW M240i XDrive First Drive: Moving The Needle
BMW has become a bit of a wild card. From confusing naming conventions to controversial styling decisions, the Bavarian automaker has become no stranger to various forms of ridicule lately, particularly from the enthusiast set. With a rich performance history on and off of the track, the company has amassed a fervent fanbase that’s somehow both stuck in the past and impatient for the future.
They cite classics like the E30 M3 and E39 M5 with rose-tinted nostalgia and wonder why BMW can’t capture lightning in a bottle again – while also adding the performance, technology, safety, and comfort that they’ve come to expect, of course. And never mind the fact that the BMW Group reported record-breaking sales numbers in the first quarter of this year while largely ignoring the peanut gallery.
But in this seemingly desolate landscape of massive grilles and increasingly bloated platforms, the 2-Series has always felt like a bit of fan service. When the M235i originally debuted back in 2014 its manners drew comparisons to the 3-Series coupes of old, and when the M2 made landfall two years later, we heralded it as a legitimate return to form for the M Division.
The 2-Series has become a bit of a sacred cow for the BMW faithful since then, so it’s understandable that the introduction of the second-generation car comes with some trepidation on a number of different fronts. But after seat time both on and off the track, I’m happy to report that I can help ease some of those fears.
(Full disclosure: BMW provided me with an M3 Competition to drive from Los Angeles out to The Thermal Club, a private country club and race track in Coachella Valley, California. They also put me up in a nice hotel, fed me tacos and beer on the night that I got into town, and then provided me with all the track time that I could handle on the following day.)
Coming in 3.5-inches longer, 2.6-inches wider, 0.1-inch lower, and boasting front and rear tracks that are respectively 2.5-inches and 2.4-inches wider, the 2022 M240i xDrive is both larger and noticeably more aggressive-looking than the car it replaces. Prominent fender flares, a power dome hood, and an array of sharply-drawn angles make it clear that while this isn’t a full-blooded M car, performance is high on the list of priorities.
M Sport brakes and M Sport adaptive suspension are standard here, and thanks to the 3.0-liter, turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine under the hood, the M240i xDrive also has some muscle to back up the aesthetic. Although 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque aren’t going to set the world on fire in an era of 700 hp pickups and 1,100 hp EVs, it’s worth noting that this is not only 47 horsepower and one pound-foot of torque more than the outgoing M240i, it’s also 17 hp and 26 lb-ft more than the original M2.
The M240i is currently only available with the xDrive all-wheel-drive system, but a rear-drive variant is on the way. Regardless of which wheels the power is sent to, an eight-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available. The former is good for a 0-60 sprint in a legitimately-quick 4.1 seconds on its way to an electronically-limited top speed of 155 MPH.
The interior’s seen its fair share of requisite updates, but don’t expect too many curveballs here. iDrive 7 is on board to provide wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and the standard layout consists of an 8.8-inch touchscreen along with analog gauges and a 5.1-inch instrument display. Opt for Live Cockpit Professional as part of the $2,750 Premium Package – which also includes heated seats, a heated steering wheel, full LED lighting, and a heads-up display – and the analog gauges are ditched in favor of a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster while the infotainment-screen real estate expands to 10.25 inches.
My seat time in the M240i xDrive came as part of the Test Fest West event, an annual BMW program that brings out the automaker’s latest performance-oriented machines. I mention this because my first stint was a track session that came immediately after hot laps in the M3 Competition, M4 Competition xDrive, and M5 CS.
Regardless of conscious intent, the deck was stacked against the M240i xDrive right out of the gate when juxtaposed with those of top-spec M cars. But even though the brake pedal was softer, the suspension a bit more compliant, and the power not quite as potent, the 2-Series held its own on Thermal’s South Palm circuit. I was especially curious about xDrive, as I hadn’t driven an all-wheel-drive 2-Series on a track before and didn’t really know what to expect from the system in terms of at-limit behavior. Some all-wheel-drive cars like to push wide if you’re impatient with the throttle coming out of a slow corner, and I feared that might the case here as well.
The reality was subjectively worse, though. BMW had set all of the M240i cars to Sport mode for track use, but even in this performance-focused setting, I noticed that the car simply didn’t provide any additional forward thrust until the steering wheel was almost completely straightened out each time I got on the throttle while coming out of a corner. After replicating the behavior a few more times, I chalked it up to BMW engineers wanting to prevent the perception that they’d created an understeering pig. Fair enough. The car was competent on track in ostensibly every other way, and I felt like that boded well for the upcoming rear-drive iteration.
Out on public roads the car also fell directly in line with my expectations of M Performance variants, which are not to be confused with the more aggressively tuned M cars that occupy the top tier in the BMW performance hierarchy. Here the M240i provided a compliant ride and relaxed gearbox response in Comfort mode, while the aforementioned Sport mode, as expected, tensed up the suspension, transmission, and throttle response for the twistier bits, as I found out on Box Canyon Road. The (optional) tech is excellent, and well worth the additional coin it commands. Everything the M240i offered up was fine. Still, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I’d only gotten part of the story back at the track.
When I returned from the street drive, I noticed that the South Palm circuit was still open for lapping sessions, so I accosted a BMW representative and explained the situation. After getting approval from the powers that be, the organizers decided to let me have another go in the car with the electronic reins loosened a bit. The agreed upon setting was Sport mode with DTC (Dynamic Traction Control) enabled, which is more or less what the rest of the world knows as partial-off traction control.
That minor change proved to be transformative during the subsequent lapping session. Gone was the overly-concerned intervention that had prevented me from pushing hard out of corner exits. I have no doubt that there are veteran racers out there who would argue that the intervention I experienced previously probably wouldn’t have happened – or happened as often, at least – if my laps were cleaner, but this car is about having fun, not setting lap times. More importantly, I found that there were numerous corners that I was able to power out of with zero drama where the powertrain had decided to take a dive during the previous lapping session, which meant that these laps were likely quicker than the others.
When I did purposely tease the limits, I was happy to discover that xDrive is indeed rear-biased in exactly the way that you hope it will be. Although DTC will still intervene if it senses that the driver is really getting in over their head, it dials back the intervention enough to allow the M240i to let loose. Here that equates to rotation on demand rather than joy-killing understeer, along with an all-wheel-drive system that helps to clean things up if you’re willing to stay on the loud pedal while counter-steering. It’s basically foolproof and highly addictive.
As I was looking over the specs to write this story, I discovered that the 2022 M240i xDrive weights nearly 3,900 pounds. That figure seems absurd for a car this size. It’s roughly half a ton more than an E30 M3.
But you know what? It didn’t stop me from grinning like a knucklehead as I pulled back into the pits.
[Images © 2021 Bradley Iger/TTAC.com]
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