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With its fun 2-Series coupe, BMW goes back to its roots

In 2011-12, BMW produced a limited-edition 1 Series M Coupe that conjured memories of the company's early days in the compact sport segment.

That car thrilled fans, especially those old enough to remember its inspiration, the original BMW 2002.

The rear-wheel drive lM was lighter than the others in the M series, had a wider track, and featured a powerful turbocharged inline-six cylinder engine. The company planned to build just 2,700 but wound up selling 6,300 around the world before it vanished into the history books.

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It's been reincarnated in the M235i, next in the line of compact sport coupes initiated with the 2002, continued with the original 3 Series, segued to the 1 Series and now, moves to the 2. The car will be displayed at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, Feb. 14-23.

Addressing a weakness in the 1 Series Coupe, the 2 Series is longer and wider, increasing interior comfort with more rear-seat leg room, head room and trunk capacity.

Although six different versions of the 2 Series are being manufactured, only two are slated for Canada, the 228i (base price: $36,000) and the aforementioned M235i ($45,000), both scheduled to arrive at dealerships in March.

On a test drive outside Las Vegas, I was impressed by the car as a buttoned-down piece of engineering. The version I drove was fitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters; a six-speed manual is standard.

As with all new BMWs, the M235i features selectable driving modes – four in this case, ranging from the most eco-friendly to the most overtly aggressive. The automatic start/stop and an eco gauge help save fuel.

This car is all about the fun of the drive. Powered by the same engine as the 1M, the horsepower figure has diminished to 322 from 340 but the car is 40 kg lighter. Quick off the line, the sprint from a standing start to 100 km/h takes five seconds flat. The car's acceleration plateaus early, perfect for those who like driving excitement without running afoul of the law.

Its strength lies in the handling; the little coupe clings to the road and delivers no end of gratification. The key is a variable suspension system with electronically controlled dampers that respond to cornering forces, and an electronic locking rear differential that keeps the rear wheels churning at the same time.

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Full disclosure: My first car, an extensively pre-owned 2002, wasn't in great shape but I loved it until I could love it no more. The company's engineers have been struggling to restore that old feeling to the new electric power steering systems, but with the 235i they have succeeded.

While fun to drive, it's also comfortable and quiet. Switch to Eco Pro mode, turn off the fan and the audio system, and the loudest sound to be heard by a long stretch is the caress of the tires on the surface of the road. The wind barely registers as a whisper. Switch the BMW back to Sport Plus mode, the exhaust note deepens and the time for silent reflection is out the window. Fantastic. With more space, greater technology and less weight, BMW is going back to its roots.

Note: Corresponding to the new BMW naming standards, all two-door vehicles now have even numbers (2, 4, 6…) while all sedans continue with odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7...). What would have been called the new 1 Series Coupe is instead called the 2 Series.

Tech Specs

2015 BMW M235i Coupe

Type: Compact sport coupe

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Base price: $45,000

Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 322 hp/332 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic/six-speed manual

Drive: Rear-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): NA

Alternatives: Audi S3, Mercedes-Benz CLA 45 AMG

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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