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Tony O'Kane | Oct 30, 2012 | 23 Comments

2013 BMW 1 SERIES REVIEW

Vehicle style: High performance hatchback
Price: $64,800
Engine: 3.0 litre turbocharged direct-injected inline six
Power: 235kW/450Nm
Fuel use listed: 8.0 l/100km (man), 7.5 l/100km (auto)

The 1 Series M Coupe may be no more, but stepping into its place as the most affordable M-badged BMW is this: the M135i.

And there it is, a big ol’ “M” on its tailgate.

But it’s not quite the unique machine the 1 M was. Where that beast had a bespoke suspension layout, much of it borrowed from the E92 M3, the M135i features the same suspension geometry used by every other F20 1 Series hatchback.

That could have you thinking the M135i isn’t special; isn’t quite the full performance bottle. But you’d be mistaken. It most definitely is, and the difference between it and the more prosaic four-cylinder variants of the 1 Series range is stark.

In automatic guise, it’s every bit as fast as the 1 M in a straight line. And it’s more than capable of carving up corners.

To show us just how good the new M135i is, BMW invited TMR to test out it out on the challenging and sinuous roads around Victoria’s picturesque Yarra Valley.

We came away very impressed. In our opinion, this is the finest hot hatch we’ve ever driven.

 

THE INTERIOR

It’s mostly familiar F20 1 Series gear in here, with the exception of the heavily-bolstered front seats, blue dashboard accent and heavily-textured aluminium trim.

The seats are great, with fantastic lateral support and a wide range of adjustment. They aren’t powered though, which may irk some.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position. The steering wheel can be adjusted for both tilt and reach, and the level of reach adjustment allows the wheel to be placed much closer to the driver - perfect for enthusiastic driving.

bmw m135i australia official 06

Leather upholstery is standard on the M135i, and so is a nicely sculpted leather steering wheel taken from the M parts-bin.

The rear seat isn’t overwhelmingly roomy, and is well behind competitors like the Audi A3 for spaciousness.

Still, there’s enough room to take a couple of regular-sized adults on shortish jaunts - as long as they’re not too leggy.

Standard features include a 6.5 inch colour multifunction display, an AM/FM radio with in-dash CD player and USB audio input, bi-xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, Bluetooth telephony, dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and a trip computer.

Disappointingly, luxury car staples like front parking-sensors, Bluetooth audio integration and sat-nav are cost options on the M135i.

 

ON THE ROAD

The centrepiece of the M135i experience is without doubt its direct-injected, turbocharged inline six. It’s the same single-turbo N55 unit that sees service in the 335i and 535i, but tuned to produce 235kW of power and 450Nm of torque.

That’s an increase of 10kW and 50Nm over the N55 used by BMW’s execu-sedans. That last number in particular is a massive boost.

In the M135i, the N55 displays typical BMW straight-six virtues.

It’s astonishingly smooth right up to its 7000rpm redline, sings a sonorous note and has a wonderfully flexible powerband.

Power peaks at 5800rpm, and peak torque is available from 1250rpm right up to 5000rpm. As a result, it’s a missile in virtually any gear, at any speed.

We didn’t get the opportunity to sample the six-speed manual at the M135i’s local launch, however the eight-speed automatic that we drove is surely the one to get - even at a $4000 premium.

It is blindingly quick through the gears yet incredibly smooth while lugging through urban congestion.

Standing-start performance is effortlessly smooth, and, compared to many twin-clutch gearboxes, the BMW’s eight-speed auto is more refined over a wider range of driving conditions.

With the eight-speeder, BMW says the M135i will hit 100km/h from standstill in just 4.9 seconds - the same as the manual-only 1 M.

It’s fractionally slower with the manual, with BMW quoting a 0-100km/h time of 5.1 seconds. Top speed for both is an electronically limited 250km/h.

But the powertrain and drivetrain are only half of the story.

The M135i is unique in the hot hatch segment due to its RWD layout, and this makes it more enjoyable than the average FWD or AWD hot hatch.

Suspended on MacPherson struts at the front and a five-link independent set up at the rear, the M135i’s suspension features a bespoke damper tune and unique spring-rates, as well as a 10mm lower ride height.

It’s supple around town, with only a slight edge to its initial bump response on harsh potholes and expansion gaps. Considering its performance slant, the M135i’s suspension is actually quite comfortable around town.

It really comes into its own on a winding road.

The steering is equipped with BMW’s variable-ratio geometry as standard, married to an electric assistance motor. While it’s not as rich in feedback as a hydraulic system, the M135’s steering is beautifully crisp and responsive.

Up in the hills around Healesville, the M135i displayed tremendous cornering grip and near-perfect balance.

This is a car that can be steered on the throttle if you so chose, but, such is the grip, you’ll need a lot of aggression to get the rear tyres to break away.

With an on-road footprint as tiny as the 1 Series’, the M135i is the perfect match for a tight, twisting mountain road.

It darts from apex to apex with incredible agility, and with big bursts of power from its turbo six on the straights, it’s incredibly quick point-to-point.

Put it hard and deep into a corner, feed in the throttle before the apex and shoot out the other side at full power. The M135i relishes such treatment; try repeating the same trick in a front-drive hot hatch and understeer will be your constant companion.

However, one weak point is the M135i’s brakes.

They’re sizable enough - 340mm and four-piston calipers up front, 345mm and two-piston calipers at the rear - but the initial engagement is a little too soft and we found they were susceptible to fade on hard downhill runs.

Otherwise, it’s incredibly hard to fault the M135i.

 

FIRST DRIVE VERDICT

We’re not embellishing things when we say the M135i is the best hot hatch we’ve ever experienced - it’s the ultimate pocket rocket.

It turns, goes and stops like a sports car, but has the practicality of a hot hatch. It’s got huge cornering grip, but is comfortable enough for the daily commute.

And, with a starting price of just $68,400, it’s also a very compelling financial proposition.

Yes, the similarly-priced Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or Subaru WRX STI may be slightly more hardcore, but neither have a prestigious European badge on their bonnets, and interior quality is well below that of the BMW.

The VW Golf R is over $18k cheaper, but it’s much, much less fun (and much less powerful) than the RWD M135i.

Audi S3? More expensive than the BMW, and virtually identical to the Golf R under the skin.

In fact, we may be waiting for the arrival of the Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG for a true rival to the M135i to appear. With 245kW, a seven-speed dual-clutch auto and AWD, the A45 should cause a stir when it arrives.

But until then, the M135i takes the crown as the king of hot hatches.

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