Three different approaches to the rear-drive coupe concept. With around $70,000 in your back pocket, which is the one to have?
Wherever you care to look, the automotive industry seems to be converging on the same technical solutions. Hypercars must have some form of hybridisation, hot hatches are powered by four-cylinder turbo engines, supersedans run twin-turbo V8s. Variety and novelty are being wrung out of almost every sector, but in the case of the $60,000-80,000 four-seat performance coupe the picture could hardly be more different.
Just a few months ago the sector more or less didn’t exist – only BMW would sell you a proper, performance-orientated two-door with four seats in this price bracket – but with the arrival of the Ford Mustang 5.0 V8 GT there is now at least a little more choice. Does the Lexus RC200t F Sport also qualify as a proper, performance-oriented coupe? We’re about to find out.
The BMW M235i, with us since 2014, uses a turbocharged six-cylinder, its body is small and compact and you can choose to have three pedals or two (we’ve got the former here). Despite sharing so much with the new Mustang on paper the two cars are actually profoundly different in execution. The Ford has a normally aspirated engine with eight cylinders displacing five litres, and at more than a foot longer than the BMW, its dimensions belong to another league. Like the BMW, it offers a choice of transmissions. The Lexus, meanwhile, splits the two for size and uses a four-cylinder turbo engine driving through an automatic transmission only. In engineering terms these three cars differ massively, then, but it’s actually the differences in their characters and in the way they drive that separates them even more.
The M235i is no stranger to these pages and for very good reason: it’s an entertaining little coupe with masses of performance at an accessible price. Along with its M135i relative and the VW Golf R, the M235i has established itself as one of the real-world heroes of the last few years. It’s a car we’re rather fond of, but it’s far from perfect.
The turbo straight-six displaces 2979cc and develops 240kW and 450Nm. Fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox – which has a slightly notchy and rubbery shift – it’ll reach 100km/h in five seconds, topping out at a limited 250km/h. It starts at $77,215 and is due to be superseded by the more powerful M240i.
The exterior shape is pert and quite handsome but it has started to look a little anaemic since the arrival of the athletic, pumped-up M2. All of a sudden it’s the bookish, bedroom-bound sibling. The cabin is still attractive and the quality is pretty good, too, but while there is space in the rear for adults, they’re unlikely to thank you for the lift.