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We seem to still be in the thick of the Great Used Car Highway Robbery of 2021. Anyone with the inkling of picking up a fast, enthusiast-targeted sports car, sport compact, sport sedan, sport coupe, or all of the above is especially feeling the fiscal strain. Especially when said sport platform has a BMW roundel on the front of its hood, such as the 135i.

We’ve discussed the 135i and its naturally-aspirated sibling the 128i at length here at Car Bibles. We wrote a whole Car Bible about them!

But these days the 135i seems to be fetching way too much money for what it is. You might as well either look for a clean, stick-shift 128i (which is a rare bird, unfortunately), or pony up slightly more scratch for a glorious M235i. What made me whip up this blog? I’ve had my eye on them myself. I might not buy one today, or tomorrow, but possibly someday.

The ‘M-Lite’ 2er Has a Lot To Offer

In 2014, the M235i was the hot version of BMW’s then-latest, smallest chassis, the F22 2 Series. It wasn’t as firey as the M2 which came a year later but it featured a host of high-performance tuning that elevated it significantly from the base car. Plus, it sold for far less money than the M2 when they were on sale at the same time; $44,000 as opposed to the M2’s lofty $52,695.

Notably, the M235i came with bigger brakes than the bog-standard 228i, better wheels, sportier M Performance bodywork, optional M Performance adaptive damper suspension, and the beloved-by-enthusiasts, single-turbo N55B30O0 3.0-liter inline-six. The N55 claims 322 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, which one can bump up a shit-ton via the aftermarket. It wasn’t as high-power-capable as the twin-turbo N54, but had fewer reliability and maintenance concerns. It could also be optioned with either an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox or 6-speed manual, the latter being, unfortunately, more rare on the used market. They’ll jump to 60 MPH in the mid-fours… not bad at all.

Oh, and rear-wheel drive or xDrive all-wheel drive — the market was well-covered by this little 2-door contender.

When BMW 135i Prices Look Too High You Might Find an M235i Is a Better Buy
Image: BMW

It also encompassed a lot of small BMW energy that enthusiasts pined, and have been pining for. It’s the spiritual successor to a hopped-up BMW 2002, or heck, even an E30 M3 (each with six cylinders instead of four).

Jeff Sabatini had very nice things to say of it for Car and Driver when it debuted back in 2014:

“Shod with staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, the M235i has an abundance of lateral grip, yet it’s still simple enough to rotate the car with the throttle. It turns in quickly with a light and precise feel to the steering. The electric power-steering system communicates more about the road surface than in the 4-series, which itself marked an improvement over the latest 3-series. More impressive is the M235i’s balance, and the way it delivers just the right amount of body motion to let you know how hard it can be pushed. This is important because you sit upright in the M235i and there’s plenty of suspension travel. With its lower belt line and cowl, it feels less like contemporary BMWs than it does models past.”

All of this sounds like an ideal small sports coupe to me.

Pricing Ain’t That Bad, and Will Hopefully Continue To Decrease

It’s hard for me to say “this is why you should buy an M235i over a 135i”. They’re both excellent cars. The M will have slightly more modern amenities over a later-in-the-gen 1er, and I’m willing to bet it’d out-handle and out-accelerate the 1er stock-for-stock, too. But if someone is in the market for a fast, tune-able, modern-enough budget Bimmer, they ought to look at both as pricing isn’t that far apart.

A quick search on AutoTempest.com revealed the following. I kept the variables tight by searching siz-speed manual examples and USA-wide. Not just for real scientific research, but just because that’s been the query I’ve been using lately.

Actually, USA-wide would really mess with the whole limiting variables thing… well anyway, you’ll get the idea:

When BMW 135i Prices Look Too High You Might Find an M235i Is a Better Buy
Image: AutoTempest.com Screenshot

Now, some lesser-expensive 135is with manual transmissions, albeit with higher miles:

When BMW 135i Prices Look Too High You Might Find an M235i Is a Better Buy
Image: AutoTempest.com Screenshot

And finally, some lower-mileage 135i examples:

When BMW 135i Prices Look Too High You Might Find an M235i Is a Better Buy
Image: AutoTempest.com Screenshot

Sure, there are more variables to consider, but generally, decent-shape 135is and M235is seem to be within a few grand of each other. Personally, if an ideal example of each is within 2,000-3,000 grand of each other, I’d opt for the M235i.

The M235i and its newer version the M240i were around longer, the aftermarket seems larger, BMW’s Lego-like part numbers ensure that at least some M2 (or even M2 CS) goodies can swap over, it’s more modern, and I’m one of those weirdos who likes that generation’s iDrive system. I also fit in the 2er just a tad better at 6’3″.

Plus, there seems to be way more of an enthusiast tax on the 1er; any price over $17,000 (even in today’s miserable market), for even a clean, decent-mileage example just seems, well, excessive.

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