Living small largely defines me.

I mean, it's as obvious as purple paint that I got downsized a few decades back — and I'm OK with that.

Granted, I struggle to reach for the stars, can't flick flies off a ceiling fan and rarely attract many long, tall, willowy women.

But I fit fine in a dinky, slightly haunted 60-year-old house and can still squeeze into the back seat of a Fiat 500, ready to ride with Little Feat.

Heck, my fantasies even play out on small screens these days.

So my perspective might be just right for a vehicle such as the 2014 BMW M235i coupe, a nine-tenths-size 3-series Bimmer that delivers a lot of wallop in BMW's smallest envelope.

As you may have heard, the Germans decided a while back to have some fun with us American gomers.

All the Bimmers that were 1-series cars a couple of years ago now wear badges proclaiming them as 2s. Three-series BMWs are 3s or 4s, depending on whether they are coupes, convertibles or sedans.

Maybe they figured we digitally addled Americans would proclaim, "Golly, Andy, this must be something all-new from BMW."

Essentially, though, the 2 is just a 1 that's a bit more full of itself — as if it had just downed a small shot of Tito's.

From the front bumper to the doors, the red 235 I had recently looked mostly like a 3-series BMW emerging from a tunnel.

But from the doors to the rear, the shrink-wrapped 235 is nearly a foot shorter, giving it a thicker, stubbier appearance than the graceful 3-series car.

Overlook it, particularly in the case of the M235. Those numbers on the trunk mean the rear-wheel-drive coupe comes equipped with BMW's superb turbocharged 3-liter six. The M prefix announces that you also get a performance-tuned suspension and brakes, giving the coupe more agility and grip than conventional 2-series cars.

It's not obvious at first glance.

My 235 sported a long, flat hood and BMW's familiar upright kidney-bean grilles, standing warily several inches away from glaring projector headlamps. As in the 3-series, a deep character line cut through the door handles, running hard to the taillamps.

From some angles, the 235 looked like a polished brick forced onto 18-inch 225/40 tires up front and big-boy 245/35s in back.

But follow me around back and let me show you two of the car's most compelling features: dual 3-inch diameter exhausts tied to that snarling, swelling, deep-breathing six.

Consider this: The M235i was the only BMW named to Car and Driver's prestigious 10Best list this year. And with good reason, I say. The 320-horsepower turbo six — which twists out 330 pound-feet of torque at a low 1,300 rpm — can easily propel 5,000-pound crossovers.

When that engine gets dropped into a 3,500-pound coupe and bolted to a slick, fast-shifting, eight-speed automatic, the drives get shorter.

How can they not when the M235 rips off 0-to-60 runs in a very fleet 4.3 seconds — which, as Car and Driver noted, matches the sprint time of the last M3 BMW with a 414-horsepower V-8?

(Just for the record, the M3 starts at $60,100 while my well-equipped M235 carried a still-heavy $46,025 window sticker. That may be as close as you can get to value in a BMW.)

With all that great low-end torque, the six had V-8 snap from a stop, spinning those meaty back tires if I got a bit too Western and shoving me into the seat with big-six gusto.

It hurt so good.

Stay on the 235 hard, and its rich growl turns into a hoarse, hot-steel howl as it approaches its 7,000-rpm red line.

Maybe most surprising of all, though, the car was rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway — if anyone cares in these sub-$3 gas days.

Enjoy the drive. The ride may tax you a bit.

In sport mode, the 235 is resoundingly firm, stepping lightly over every tar strip and imperfection in the road and telegraphing them to the interior.

On smooth pavement, the 235 settled into a fairly smooth state, but it always fidgeted in slight vertical motions.

I didn't really mind because the stiff springs and dampers gave the coupe great body control, enabling it to attack corners with the kind of aggressive glee that 3-series sedans did a decade ago. Moreover, its steering was quick and tight, ripping into corners about as quickly as I could think about them.

The car never seemed to lean, either, exuding balance even if I stabbed the throttle midway through a turn.

Unfortunately, you won't be able to impress many passengers with the little coupe's muscular agility. Two small adults could barely fit in back, and they would surely take you off their Christmas card list for making them do it.

They probably wouldn't be all that impressed with the 235's interior anyway.

Not that there is anything objectionable about it. But the black interior in the 235 I had had a lot of plastic and hard surfaces for a car with 50 large in its sights.

An attractive, mostly flat dashboard curved over the instrument panel, where a traditional BMW black-faced tachometer and speedometer resided.

Pleasant shapes mostly marked the center stack as well, with sleek horizontal control panels for the climate and audio systems.

But I never came to appreciate the display screen atop the center stack, which looked like an iPad that some no-count Gen-Yer had propped on the dashboard.

Meanwhile, a broad black plastic console staked out the space between the car's rather coarse looking leather seats, which were sectioned and stitched on the edges.

Likewise, black-plastic door panels offered slightly padded centers and armrests. Think of the plastic as a badge of honor for the fleet M235.

Why spend money on luxury bloat when it can be devoted to go-fast goodies?

Speed succeeds, I say, no matter how you do it.


2014 BMW M235i coupe

Type of vehicle: Two-door, four-passenger, rear-wheel-drive coupe

Price as tested: $46,025

Fuel economy: 22 miles per gallon city, 32 highway

Weight: 3,525 pounds

Engine: Turbocharged, direct-injected 3-liter, in-line six with 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds

—SOURCES: BMW of North America; Car and Driver



Terry Box writes for the Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at tbox@dallasnews.com.


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