We take the opportunity of BMW's Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) facelift of the M240i Coupe to revisit this gem in the compact sports car's line-up and come away asking ourselves whether you really need to spend the best part of an extra 20 grand on the BMW M2.
In the Metal:
BMW has tidied up the whole of the 2 Series Coupe and Convertible family as part of this 2017 LCI and the work carried out includes LED lights front and rear, larger front air intakes in the bumper, reshaped kidney grilles, new designs of alloy wheels, minor interior upgrades for trim and upholsteries, the latest iDrive 6 infotainment software (now controllable via an 8.8-inch touchscreen mounted on the dash in the highest-spec cars) and three new colours for the exterior. However, only one of these is available on this model, the M240i, range-topper of the 'regular' line-up that sits below the full-on M2; and that colour is Sunset Orange. We're not driving a car finished in that, though, instead being given a Mineral Grey example to test drive.
Much of the M240i's exterior detailing is normally finished in Ferric Grey, but here the car's sporting silver mirrors and a set of optional black alloy wheels. This particular colour combination only highlights (lowlights?) the inconspicuous nature of the M240i; it's all about subtle visual clues as to its performance potential, like the twin-spaced exhausts at the rear, whereas the thunderous M2 comes hulking into view with its bulky shoulders thrust out, looking like it is spoiling for an ugly, violent rumble in a back alley somewhere. If you like a bit of discretion with your speedy chariot, the suave and handsome M240i is the vehicle to pick.
The M240i loses half a mark for the steering. And that's it. Seriously, this thing is good enough to deserve a bona fide, proper 'M' badge, never mind M Performance status. It's the drivetrain that first sears itself into your memory, because the switch from M235i to M240i badging in 2016 saw a completely different engine installed under the bonnet. Gone was the old twin-turbo straight-six 3.0-litre and in its place came this single twin-scroll turbo iteration. Swept capacity was the same, power was only up marginally (+14hp) and torque grew 50Nm.
But, boy, it feels like the M240i is in another league for pace, compared to the not-slow M235i. Don't, not even for a second, be fooled by that peak power output arriving at 5,500rpm; there have been few BMW straight-sixes in history that are as rev-hungry as this little jewel. It'll spin right round to 7,000rpm with no dramas at all and there doesn't seem to be a noticeable tailing-off of the power as you sweep past 5,500rpm and on beyond 6k.
Go chasing that redline and you will soon wonder why you'd possibly need any more grunt than this on the road. The M240i has pace to burn, it's as simple as that. It also sounds great, the single blower not muting the snarling induction notes and BMW deeming it unnecessary to make the exhausts do the full 'pop and bang' histrionics on the overrun/downshifts. The most you get from the M240i's tailpipes is some underlying burbling as you back off the throttle at higher revs, but that doesn't mean this car has a poor soundtrack; far from it.
Once you've got over the way this modest-looking BMW coupe violently fires you at the horizon time and time again, you start to pick up on other details. Like the progressive and strong brakes. Or the seamlessness of that eight-speed Steptronic Sport auto, with its useful paddle shifts and its sequential gate on the gear lever set up in the correct fashion (back for up a gear, forward for down). Or the magnificent blend of body control to ride comfort. The M240i does not have switchable dampers, so these springs and shocks have to cope with weight transfer when the Two is being driven rapidly through corners, as much as they must provide a cosseting ride when the Beemer is loping along a motorway on a trailing throttle. And the shock absorbers ace both disciplines, because the M240i has unshakeable composure that means it feels just as happy and loveable when cruising sedately in eighth as it is chewing through second, third and fourth at full throttle on a bumpy back road. This is a car that excels everywhere.
Which just leaves us with that steering gripe. It's very, very good; nicely weighted, possessed of some meaningful feel, accurate in its responses at all times, but - like so many electric power steering systems - it is bamboozled if you make two quick, counter-acting inputs. That is to say, if you have to jink through a fast left-right combination, the overly fat-rimmed steering wheel suddenly feels slack in your hands and there's a crucial moment of disconnection from the BMW's wonderful chassis. It's a momentary thing and you might never, ever encounter it in normal road driving, but it's there nonetheless and it's the only thing that lets the M240i's dynamic performance down. Otherwise, this compact coupe is a full-on motoring delight.
What you get for your Money:
While the M240i has the most comprehensive specification of any 2 Series (it's the only one that comes with leather upholstery and climate control as standard, for instance), you have to pay a fair old wedge for it. Even in manual guise, it's a good ten grand (and more) expensive than the next two models down the tree, the 225d and 230i, and it's getting on for double what you'd pay to sit in a 218i SE, itself a pleasant little car. The M240i also emits a good deal more CO2 from its pipes than other variants, meaning it's pricey for motor tax - and, on that note, you'll really need to stump up for the optional eight-speed auto as tested here, as the manual version is another tax band higher, meaning you'll be forking out an additional €180 per annum just to keep your six-speed M240i on the road.
We adore the BMW M2; it's one of the greatest current performance machines available at any price point and it's almost certainly, in the hallowed pantheon of every BMW M car ever built, in the top five in terms of its sheer breadth of ability, petrolhead appeal and outright road-holding composure. It's a five-star vehicle, no doubt about it. So, to be sitting here writing a 'but you don't strictly need to bother with it' verdict is testament to the wonder of the M240i. To have one blinding compact coupe in your arsenal is enough to make most other manufacturers feel jealous; to have two, both living in the same model line-up, just looks like BMW beckoning the rest of the world to 'come and have a go if they think they're hard enough'.
Sure, the steering on the 'lesser' coupe isn't quite at the same exalted standard as the M2's and it lacks for much of the bombast the 370hp flagship brings to the party, but for some people the M240i's understated character will be of infinitely more appeal than the bulging wheel arches of the M2. And, fans as we are of the 'real thing', we can fully understand the subversive lure of stepping one level down from the top and bagging an M240i as your pick of the 2 Series family, because it's a cracking motor that deserves to have all the superlatives in the world heaped upon it.