The last time I got really lost in glitzy, gritty Dallas – and I’m a native – I ended up in downtown Fort Worth.
An accidental stranger in a strange new land, I suppose, still on Texas dirt but unsure how to navigate it.
I doubt that BMW and its no-nonsense engineers ever get quite that lost, but with the slightly odde, I had to wonder how it got here.
Are you sure you’re on the right road, BMW?
Actually, I understand what Bimmer seeks to do with the Gran Coupe, its new entry-level vehicle. The compact sedan just seems to have shed some of its special BMW cloak along the way.
The Gran Coupe, by the way, is a four-door sedan, not a coupe.
Moreover, the all-wheel-drive Coupe is not related directly to the excellent M235i coupe and convertible, which are rear-wheel-drive sportsters.
The new Gran Coupe – which starts at $45,500 – is built off the same platform beneath the X1 and X2 crossovers.
That architecture also supports the Mini Cooper, meaning the platform was designed to be front- or all-wheel drive, and imposes somewhat different proportions on the Gran Coupe.
Think of it as kind of the Timothy Dalton of the James Bond characters.
Not that my white Gran Coupe was the least bit unattractive. It just seemed a bit prosaic for a BMW, a sedan that my totally non-automotive sister dismissed as looking “like a Ford or Chevy” compact.
As a BMW, of course, it wore twin kidney-shaped grilles up front with familiar blue-and-white emblems.
Large, somewhat exaggerated headlamps swept back into short front fenders with minimal overhangs – both of which kind of murmured “front-wheel-drive.”
Meanwhile, a slightly raised hood topped mostly smooth sides tightened some by character lines above the door-handles and along the rocker panels.
High-mounted wrap-around taillamps more or less followed the BMW design formula, while the car settled tightly on good-looking 19-inch gray-and-alloy wheels shod with 235/35 tires.
While the new 235 contains the same basic elements as the rear-wheel-drive 235, it looks softer, slightly taller and less BMW-mean than the rear-wheel-drive car.
Also, unlike the best rear-wheel-drive 235s – which get BMW’s magical 3-liter 6 -- my 235 relied on BMW’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine, an excellent little 2-liter mill that twists out 301-horsepower.
With instant traction from its standard all-wheel-drive, the hot 2-liter rockets away without much – if any – turbo lag, winding up with a flat, insistent exhaust note.
Coupled to BMW’s polished 8-speed automatic, the little engine clicks off quick shifts to rival any of its big brothers.
It felt strong everywhere, ripping to 60 mph in an estimated 4.5 seconds.
The substantial 3,500-pound sedan also claims 26-mile-per-gallon fuel economy – not bad for a fleet mid-4 second sedan.
Naturally, being a modern BMW, the 235 suffered from thick, heavy steering that was at least quick and mostly precise, but just didn’t convey any sort of sporting feel.
Likewise, the little sedan tore aggressively into moderate-speed corners with little body lean and excellent traction.
Where the rear-wheel-drive 235 cuts into corners like a surgeon’s scalpel, the new 235 slices and dices with a polished hunting knife.
Leave the suspension in “comfort” mode and it moves like a BMW-sophisticate, absorbing bumps rather than stepping over them.
Put it in “sport” mode for those twisties on the way to Hot Springs, though, and the ride can get flinty and restless.
At least the red-and-black interior in the 235 did a reasonable job of softening some of the car’s sharp edges.
While attractive, it didn’t look much better than the interiors in high-end Mazda6s or Honda Accord EXs – a potential weakness in all of the new near-luxury sedans such as the Mercedes-Benz A-class and Audi A3.
It did offer plenty of BMW cues, however, with a stylish black dashboard in semi-pliable plastic that curved down to a clean mid-dash distinguished by a tablet-shaped 8.8-inch touchscreen.
Despite its near-luxury entry-level status, the 235 was equipped with the usual desirable safety features, including front-collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection and city-collision mitigation.
Although I mostly liked the Gran Coupe’s padded red door-panel centers and sculpted red sport seats, they looked kind of orangey in bright light.
In addition, leg- and head-room in back was kind of limited.
My 235 only had a few options, including the premium package with heated steering wheel and head-up display ($2,650); the 19-inch wheels ($600); and the M sport seats ($750).
Like most near-luxury compact sedans, the $50,000 Gran Coupe doesn’t make much of a case for value.
Still, it has BMW cachet -- more or less -- and really impressive performance, and that may be all it needs to stay ahead of the herd of near-luxury compacts.
2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe
- What I liked most: The Gran Coupe’s gutsy, highly responsive four-cylinder engine.
- What I would change: The car’s flat, forgettable styling.
- MSRP: Base price, $45,500; as equipped, $50,295.
- Official color: Alpine White
- Fuel economy: 23 miles per gallon in town, 32 on the highway and 26 mpg combined with filler on the right.
- Odometer reading when tested: 6,420 miles.
- Spare tire: None.
- Weight: 3,550 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 179 inches long/71 inches wide/56 inches tall
- Fuel-tank capacity: 13.2 gallons
- Towing capacity: About 1,500 pounds
- 2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe in a few words: Dull styling hides sizzling straight-line performance, but never quite feels like a real BMW.
- Warranty: Four-year, 50,000-mile overall protection
- Final assembly location: Leipzig, Germany
- Manufacturer’s website: www.bmwusa.com
- E-mail me at email@example.com