The Hidden Genius of the 2022 M240i xDrive

·6 min read
Photo credit: A.J. Baime
Photo credit: A.J. Baime

Over 20 years of writing about cars, certain moments stand out. One was the day I first experienced the genius of a BMW M vehicle. It was early spring 2014, at Road America during a furious squall. I recall motoring out of pit lane in a new M4 provided by BMW, ready to piss my pants because I had no experience track driving in this much rain, and because Road America is the real deal. I feared breaking the car, or worse. I got sideways on cold tires in turn one. But then, I started lapping and building speed confidently, moving through high-velocity sweeping bends (turn 7, turn 11) with my foot down. The car made me so much better of a driver than I’d ever been before, on a track full of swimming-pool-sized puddles.

Since then, I’ve been a fan and have driven countless M cars. The only problem? I could never afford to own any of them. So it was with huge expectations when I recently climbed into a 2022 M240i for a week-long test drive. The M240i (two doors) and M235i (four doors) are the lowest-cost cars that carry the M-sport badge, with a base price under $49,000. In other words, cars that mere mortals might actually afford.

Photo credit: A.J. Baime
Photo credit: A.J. Baime

But was the M240i a real M vehicle? Or a 2-series with a few add-ons and a single letter that can jack up the price? On the high-speed roads of California’s Gold Country, I aimed to find out.

Before leaving my driveway, I could make some snap judgements. Styling is subjective, but for me, the vehicle presented a critical balance between attitude and understated panache. The Mineral White Metallic paint and Tacora Red Vernasca leather suited this vehicle. People often fail to mention, when speaking of BMW (or, for that matter, Mercedes and Audi) how much attention the designers and engineers pay to brand DNA, something American manufacturers have failed to do over the years.

I’m a fan of the Mustang Mach-E but to call an electric Ford SUV a Mustang is a bit ridiculous. A Cadillac of today will resemble nothing of a Cadillac from the 1960s or 70s or 80s. A glance at the M240i and you instantly see the design language that has run through these vehicles for generations. The kidney grille, for example—in some unmistakable form—has adorned nearly every BMW car going back to 1933—even the concept cars. A pair of healthy kidneys sit on the M240i’s nose.

Photo credit: A.J. Baime
Photo credit: A.J. Baime

Pop the hood and there it is again: attention to brand DNA. The M240i’s power unit is a 3.0-liter twin-turbo, 24-valve inline-six-cylinder. BMW has been perfecting the inline-six for generations. Recently I was flying around in a 1917 BMW IIIa airplane. Okay, that’s not true, but if I was, guess what engine layout would be powering that aircraft, built over a century ago? An inline-six. Same with the legendary 1936 BMW 328. Same with the old 3-Series that my mother used to drive, and countless thousands of other BMW vehicles. The Godfather of all BMW M cars is the 1972 3.0 liter CSL, which was powered by a 3.0-liter straight-six, similar to the M240i’s (albeit, without the turbochargers).

None of that, however, answers the question of whether this is a true affordable-ish M car. So off we go, ready to piss off the cops and the neighbors.

The numbers may not seem like a lot: 382 horsepower, 369 lb-ft, and a 4.1-second jaunt to sixty. But that’s significantly more oomph than the base 2 coupe (at 255 horsepower). Behind the wheel, the urgency is instantly noticeable, notably because the packaging is so svelte. The M240i Coupe, for me, is the perfect size for a daily driver—big enough for four people comfortably, small enough to feel like a pocket rocket. Specifically: 179.4 inches long, 72.4 inches wide, 55.3 inches tall, with a curb weight of 3,871 pounds. Writers often employ the cliché that a well-built and well-styled car feels like something you can wear, but in this case, it really does. Which, in the driver’s seat, translates to steering and throttle precision.

Photo credit: 2022 BMW M240i
Photo credit: 2022 BMW M240i

The M240i was a breeze to parallel park in city traffic. But at that same time, I snuck in one last day of spring skiing with this car; I could fit two pairs of skis, two humans, and a cooler full of frosty malted beverages inside the cabin and trunk.

Galloping up the western face of the Sierra Nevadas, the M240i provided adequate M-ness to make it feel like it deserved the badge. Switch from Comfort over to Sport mode and you instantly feel the engine remap through the vibration of the pedal. The same electronic performance adjustability you find in more expensive M models, you find here: the ability to configure your own steering, engine, and transmission settings. Paddle shifters? M Sport differential? Yep. Adaptive M Suspension, M sport brakes, M Steering wheel, slick 8-speed automatic with paddles? Yes, yes, yes, and you bet. All come standard on this model, while most of it is absent in the base 2-series.

The all-wheel drive provided sure-footedness and, for people like me, who drive a bunch in the snow, an actual necessity. Sure, I would love another couple hundred horsepower. But in reality, on public roads, do you need more speed and torque? And at what cost to your bank account?

Photo credit: A.J. Baime
Photo credit: A.J. Baime

Speaking of bank account, the thrill of driving the M240i becomes even more acute when you motor past corner gas stations flashing their neon price-per-gallon figures. I’ve been fortunate enough recently to put some amazing machinery to the test, like the M4 Competition and the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing. Those cars get 18 mpg combined and 15 mpg combined, respectively. The M240i doesn’t command the brute power of those vehicles, but it packs a punch and still gets a claimed 26 mpg combined (23 city, 32 highway). That number doesn’t translate only to money savings during a time when the price of fuel is making historic headlines; it should remind us that driving efficiency is an integral vector in performance engineering. Race cars don’t want to spend all their time in the pit fueling up, right? Same with performance road cars.

Conclusion? The M240i is not insanely fast, not over the top style-wise, not too big, not too small, not too thirsty, and not too far from its roots. Most importantly, it possesses real M magic without the M pricetag. If you’re going to pull the trigger on one of these cars, go for the $875 Harmon Kardon sound upgrade. For me, this Bimmer checks all the boxes for a fun ICE-powered daily driver.

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