- Bill Antonitis
The Ultimate Commuting Machine?
I grew up in a formerly blue-collar town in southeastern Massachusetts. I knew nothing about cars. Wheels were meant to get you from Point A to Point B, and that was about it. What my not-so-well-off friends and family all assuredly knew was that driving a BMW meant something. If you (or your parents) owned a machine shop, worked three jobs, or knew people in “the family”, you might be lucky enough to get one. I remember liking the old Z3, but I knew it would be forever unattainable. I did want to become a teacher, after all. Before doing that, my boss, who owned a truck dealership, used to show off by tearing around in his E46 M3. But he would never let me into the driver’s seat.
Times have changed. Thanks to today’s cycle of leasing, depreciation, and CPO sales, BMWs are now commonplace. And their drivers are different as well. Formerly, one could expect them to enjoy speeding as much as spending. Now, if you get stuck behind one on a twisty bit of road, you might as well take a nap. This is less to criticize modern BMW drivers but, instead, most modern BMWs; their automotive DNA has evolved to please those interested in status and comfort--not acceleration or corner carving.
Which, finally, brings us to this review.
If you think of the BMW M240i as a grown-up Subaru BRZ, you get it. It is certainly not an X-Series. It's definitely not the rocket ship that is the new M5. It’s not an entry-level luxury sedan like the 3-Series–too spartan and driver focused. It’s not quite an M2–too soft, too much body roll. And that's okay. The best way to see the M240i is as an upgrade over the fun, practical car you would normally drive. (An undiscovered BMW niche for people like me?) It is still tight and punchy through corners and the rev-range. It rotates like a BMW should despite its standard-equipped open differential. Manual mode restores satisfying control over the commonly spec’d automatic transmission. In short, this car is a blast in spite of itself.
It has been discussed many times on the podcast that the M240i makes an excellent track tool. But how well does it handle an actual commute? In a word, well. The straight six and small-car dynamics that make it good to drive spiritedly also allow smooth cruising and passing on the highway. The seats are very comfortable for a car that rides so low. Apple Carplay can be added to the iDrive system which can be trained to stay out of your way. Unlike the manual or the M2’s dual clutch, the ZF 8-speed is smooth through all types of traffic. I don’t love the shifter or the signal stalks, but that’s subjective. As for practical concerns… it can get over 30 mpg. Adults can actually fit in the back seat. It has a surprisingly usable trunk for a sports coupe. You can get X-Drive for New England winters. Consumer Reports even calls it reliable!
Professional commuters prefer appliances like a Prius or a CR-V. Why drop a lot of money on something you will drive into the ground? In this case, the answer is to consider a used M240i. Sure, you can buy one brand new. But spending over $50k defeats the purpose: it has neither the performance nor prestige to warrant a monthly payment of that caliber. Spending around $30k, though, gets you a vehicle that enjoyed regular maintenance throughout what was likely a very boring existence. That price puts this Bimmer closer to the range of classic commuters like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Sure, you can buy one of those brand new. But what’s a budget-minded enthusiast with a long drive to do?
The M240i, unlike many other offerings from BMW, is not too big, fast, finicky, or expensive to make it an excellent daily driver--especially when hauling it to work. Given its ability to balance mechanical and financial performance, I hereby proclaim it The Ultimate Commuting Machine. Did I steer you wrong? What other cars are contenders? I look forward to reading your comments.
Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.