The BMW M235i Gran Coupe Takes on Its German 4-Door Rivals

Despite having ‘coupe’ in its name, the BMW 2-Series Gran Coupe is still a German 4-door sedan. One that has both a sportier trim—the BMW M235i Gran Coupe—and several rivals. But between the M235i, Audi S3, and Mercedes CLA 35 AMG, which is the better stylish, fast sedan? YouTube team Throttle House wanted to find out.

2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe vs. the competition: specs

Blue 2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe parked on top of a city parking garage
2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe | BMW

Technically, the $45,500 BMW M235i Gran Coupe is also not really a 2-Series. Instead, it rides on the same platform as the Mini Cooper Countryman. But it does back up that M Performance badge, at least.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 301 hp and 332 lb-ft. It’s officially the most powerful four-cylinder BMW offers, Motor Trend reports. Paired with an 8-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive, it can go 0-60 in 4.6 seconds. Though that’s with launch control and the optional M Performance Package, The Drive reports.

Front seats, driver gauges, and center console of the 2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe, in black leather
2020 BMW M235i Gran Coupe interior | BMW

The BMW M235i does come standard with a limited-slip rear differential, though, and offers bolstered sport seats as an option. It also has sports suspension, additional subframe bracing, a strut tower brace, and sharper steering.

Like the BMW, the $43,000 2020 Audi S3 also uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The S3, though, is rated at 288 hp and 280 lb-ft, same as its Golf R platform-mate. But, with a 7-speed automatic and standard AWD, the Audi S3 still matches the BMW M235i’s 0-60 time, Car and Driver reports. And, like the M235i, it has sportier suspension than its base model.

Yellow 2020 Mercedes CLA 35 AMG in front of a modernist building
2020 Mercedes CLA 35 AMG | Mercedes-Benz

Similarly, the $46,900 2020 Mercedes CLA 35 AMG comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and AWD. It falls in-between the more-powerful CLA 45 AMG and the base CLA 250, MT reports, not just in horsepower but acceleration. With 302 hp and 295 lb-ft and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, it also hits 60 in 4.6 seconds, Car and Driver reports. The AMG trim also adds retuned suspension with adaptive dampers, which can be upgraded even further.

M235i vs. Audi S3 vs. Mercedes CLA 35 AMG: driving

All 3 of these cars offer similar performance. However, in terms of how fun they are to drive, Throttle House found they’re somewhat different.

The problem with the BMW M235i Gran Coupe isn’t with its speed. Nor with its interior, which The Drive, MT, and Roadshow all found comfortable. Even with the optional sport seats. And handling-wise, it keeps up with the Audi S3 and Mercedes CLA 35 AMG.

White-and-red-striped 2020 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works driving through a forest
2020 Mini Countryman John Cooper Works | Mini

But the JCW Countryman is mechanically-identical, Car and Driver reports, and cheaper. Yet, it’s somehow more fun to drive. Not to mention actually with a slightly faster 0-60 and ¼-mile time.

The Mercedes CLA 35 AMG, on the other hand, does feel special. Its transmission isn’t quite as smooth, and MT reports the interior is a bit noisier. However, the CLA 35 AMG can ride well in Comfort Mode, but deliver excellent handling in Sport Mode. Its dual digital displays are also sharper than those in the BMW. Plus, it has slightly more rear headroom. But it’s entirely possible to option the Mercedes to over $60,000. That’s not only more than the CLA 45, it’s almost in C63 AMG territory.

Grey-and-black 2020 Audi S3 interior
2020 Audi S3 interior | Audi

The Audi S3, meanwhile, is the smallest of the 3. But that also makes it the nimblest. It’s not quite as exciting as the Mercedes CLA, true. And its interior is a bit dated compared to the BMW M23i’s, The Drive reports. But it still has communicative steering and good handling without delivering a harsh ride.

Which is the one to get?

In terms of equipment, all 3 sedans offer similar levels of tech. All 3 have standard Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and automatic emergency braking. The BMW M235i Gran Coupe, though, is the only one to come standard with navigation, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot monitoring.

However, Audi is updating the A3 lineup for the 2021 model year, Car and Driver reports. This means the 2021 Audi S3 may gain not only more standard features but an updated interior and infotainment system. And the MSRP will likely stay about the same.

Ultimately, the best way to pick between these 3 German sedans is to drive them for yourself and determine what you prefer. If you’re after a quick, comfortable way to commute, the BMW M235i is a better deal than the Mercedes CLA 35 AMG. If you want something more exciting, and you can restrain from adding too many options, the Mercedes has the edge. The Audi S3, meanwhile, is the bargain pick of the bunch.

2020 Volkswagen Golf R
2020 Volkswagen Golf R | Volkswagen

BMW Put Its Most Powerful 6-Cylinder in a Crossover

Or, if you really want fun and comfort without spending a lot, just get the Golf R.

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