The all-new BMW M3 looks like a belter.
It’s the same for the M4 coupe.
If you can get past their giant cartoon-like double-kidney grilles, which look like a Marvel movie parody of the subtlety from previous generations, the M twins promise more of everything in 2021 with pricing from $144,900 as an M3.
There is another M-badged car, already in showrooms, which is much more subtle.
It’s a cute BMW compact, the M235i Gran Coupe, and the styling and specification sheet points to a tasty little treat.
But the promise is not delivered if you enjoy driving and are expecting something with the impact of a proper M-car. And that’s not just the upcoming M3-M4 double-punch, but the M2 which was a sellout when it first hit Australia and is still delivering thrills and chills.
The M235i is a good looker with a classy cabin and a reasonably punchy four-cylinder turbo engine with all-wheel drive for grip and go.
And yet, for me, it’s not good enough or memorable enough in a class with plenty of tastier treats including the Audi S3 and Mercedes-AMG A35.
If you have a real need, there are also the RS3 and A45 pocket battleships.
I came to the GC – it’s quicker to use shorthand for the newest of BMW’s style-forward four-door coupes – expecting something special after some impressive experiences with BMW’s all-new 3 Series and also the reinvigorated X3 SUV.
Then I remembered that the 2 Series is a really a Mini under the skin, and is also spun up alongside the front-wheel drive 1-Series hatch.
It’s a smart move by the BMW Group, since sharing the Mini platform with some of the lower-end BMW models saves cash and cuts development time.
The deal also works for people who only want a suburban runabout, not a weekend escape machine.
My disappointment with the 235 is mostly down to those other models in the latest BMW showroom line-up.
The 3 Series is back to its very best, after a couple of generations where the Mercedes-Benz C-Class was better, and the X3 is genuinely very good and a reminder of why the original X5 – yes, the X3 has grown a lot over the years – was such a landmark car.
Compared with the Three and X3, the GC drives like a style-over-substance car.
It has plenty of style, that’s for sure, and that will be enough for some buyers. But it has an M badge on the back, and that should stand for something.
Perhaps not a full M-division immersion, with all the go-faster gear starting at the engine, but with more than just some trendy wheels and lowered suspension.
The luxury in the 235 means a roomy cabin for a car this size, excellent design work, an impressive infotainment system – these currently vary depending on the BMW model because development of iDrive is going all the time – fantastic finishing work and top-drawer materials.
The pricing starts at $69,990 and, these days, that’s decent value for a car with so much of the essential luxury material. If you want to give up some of the tastiness, and a fair bunch of the performance, there are other 2-Series choices.
But, as a drive, the GC is disappointing. It’s fair, but only fair.
It has solid punch from its turbocharge engined and the eight-speed automatic is smooth and easily to tickle for more response through the flappy gear-change paddles.
But the chassis is nothing special, and not even those M-style wheels and brakes and suspension can save it.
Pushing it in corners exposes the front-wheel drive roots which make it more of a point-and-squirt car than something for your favourite twisty road. It is sharper than a Mini, but the response is still flat and dull.
And there is none of the raspy engine package of a true M-car, or the rewarding punch out of corners. At the other end, the brakes are good but not great.
Am I expecting too much from a car which is more M-style than M-go? Probably.
But I’ve been spoiled by the latest generation of BMW models, particularly the basic 3 Series that promises to become truly epic as an M3 next year.
Does the driving really matter? Not for some people, and probably the majority who will be hooked by the looks of the Gran Coupe, but a BMW M-car should be more than this.
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Position: style-first compact coupe
THE TICK: not for driving