There’s always something entertaining about squeezing the most powerful engine possible into the smallest car available, and right now German automakers in particular are doing a cracking job of it.
BMW plays its part with the bonkers M2 coupe, but what if a coupe isn’t for you? If you need a more useful or accessible back seat there’s no fully-bonkers 1 Series equivalent, but at least there is the M140i packed full of turbocharged six-cylinder urge in a compact rear-wheel drive package.
As if that isn’t enough, BMW has a range of M-Performance upgrades available that allows you to tailor your M140i’s styling and handling, and to commemorate the brand has put together a batch of limited edition M140i Performance hatches that deliver guaranteed driving thrills.
Vehicle Style: Prestige small hatch
Price: $71,900 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 7.1 l/100km | Tested: 8.4 l/100km
The bad news, if you’re reading this right now, is that the M140i Performance was a sell-out success and a very limited offering with just 60 cars hitting Australian shores split between 45 eight-speed automatics (like the car tested here) and 15 six-speed manuals.
Some of the M Performance Parts include Orbit Grey bi-colour 19-inch alloy wheels, carbon fibre mirror caps, and an interior finished in open-pore carbon fibre (BMW’s name for it, not ours), an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, and a set of alloy sports pedals.
The performance hardware itself remains unchanged, but with a standard 250kW turbocharged six-cylinder engine under the bonnet there’s arguably little that needed to change.
A gloss black exterior pack adorns the grille, and rear spoiler for a more sinister look, while an M Performance exhaust system gives the soundtrack some more emotive appeal.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth and Alcantara trim, Alcantara steering wheel with red centre marker, open-pore carbon fibre trim highlights, heated front seats, dual zone climate control, keyless entry and start, cruise control with speed limiter, speed limit info, adaptive LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 8.8-inch infotainment display, satellite navigation, USB and Aux inputs, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, DVD drive, 20GB hard drive, Bluetooth connectivity, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio
- Cargo Volume: 360 litres to rear seats, 1200 litres to front seats
With the same fully-featured interior as a regular M140i, the Performance edition doesn’t go for a hardcore, stripped out boy-racer look. That said it's nice to see cloth trim in a performance car, with more grip than the available leather option might otherwise have.
Standard kit sees dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, satellite navigation, adaptive LED headlights, and premium 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio loaded in too.
Of course, with the 1 Series most definitely a small car interior space isn’t going to surprise and delight. Front seat occupants won’t find themselves lacking for space, but rear seat riders don't have much room to stretch out on longer runs.
Driver’s won’t mind at all - the driving position itself couldn’t be better - nestled in with legs stretched out ahead like a sportscar, but easy enough to get in and out of without having to clamber out of an impossibly low driver’s seat.
The chunky steering wheel takes some getting used to, with the fat meaty rim not feeling entirely natural at first grasp, but on a few twisty roads the grippy seats, small-diameter wheel and sporty driving position add up to make perfect sense.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder petrol, 250kW @5500rpm, 500Nm @1520-4500rpm
- Transmission: Eight speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, five-link independent rear with adaptive dampers
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes
- Steering: Electric power steering
The thing that makes the BMW M140i great is its turbocharged 3.0-litre engine. The straight six layout is iconically BMW, the sound and power delivery will stir any driving enthusiast, and the fact that the rear axle is tasked with putting power to the ground makes the 1 Series absolutely unique.
With 250kW of power the flagship 1 Series lacks the outright urge of cars like the Audi RS 3 and Mercedes-AMG A 45 but neither of those run silky-smooth six-cylinder engines, nor have the purity of rear wheel drive handling, so the BMW scores fanboy points for that.
It’s also sedate enough to meander around town without being aggresive or uncomfortable - something not every hot hatch can do as easily. The progressive power delivery and sensibly programmed (and buttery smooth) eight speed auto make the M140i a commuter’s dream.
As good as it might be in the daily grind, it’s the days you spend out of town that will be the most rewarding as the agile compact comes alive with an opportunity to stretch its legs.
Although the 500Nm torque peak arrives as early as 1520rpm, the engine feel progressive. Push the pedal harder at any point in the rev range and the M140i always feel like it has a little more to give.
As an added bonus the sweet-sounding inline six-cylinder engine really thrives with more revs showing in the tacho, encouraging you to pick up the pace where conditions permit to get the most out of the pushed-back-in-your-seat experience.
There’s more to the story than just the engine though with crisp, communicative steering combining accurate mid-corner agility allowing for precise adjustment with a steady on-centre feel free from the glugginess of some electric power steering systems.
With performance as a priority the suspension is appropriately buttoned down and the big 19-inch wheels can crash through some bigger road hazards, but if Euro-firm is a setting you’re happy with the M140i delivers.
The dampers are adaptive, meaning they can be softened or firmed at the flick of the switch (as too can the steering and throttle responsiveness) meaning that if you find that ideal country road that somehow managed to fall onto the local council maintenance list, you can opt for a more dedicated setting.
When the time comes to back off the pace a little and rejoin polite society, the M140i even does a nifty job of acting like a little grand tourer thanks to an impressive amount of noise suppression keeping wind and road noise to an acceptable level, with all the urge you could even need in reserve for a quick and easy overtaking manoeuvre.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the BMW 1 Series scored 36.33 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2011 by Euro NCAP, with test data interpreted for Australia. Officially this rating applies to now-superseded 1.6-litre petrol variants only.
Safety Features: Dual front, front side, and full-length curtain airbags, front pretensioning seatbelts with load limiters, stability and traction control, plus ABS brakes with brake assist.
Also included on M135i, BMW Driving Assistant which includes collision warning, lane departure warning, city-braking, attentiveness assist, and pedestrian warning. A rear view camera, and adaptive LED headlights are also standard.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: BMW’s range utilises condition-based servicing, meaning service intervals may vary depending on how the vehicle is used. BMW Service Inclusive pre-paid packages are available for up to five years or 80,000km starting from $1340 for a basic package, your BMW dealer can explain the full terms and conditions of the program.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Buyers on a budget will adore the Ford Focus RS and its ability to deliver cheap thrills (well, cheaper than a BMW M140i anyway). A hefty 257kW and all wheel drive grip, with an available drift mode, mean big fun, although interior comfort and class aren’t as impressive.
With more power and unstickable all-paw traction the AMG A 45 is an absolute menace on the road or track. Styling can be a little too youth-oriented for some, and Benz has copped some flack for not making the A 45 a little more prestigious inside.
Audi’s unique five-cylinder RS 3 Sportback hot hatch is on a break at the moment until the updated model arrives, but if you prefer four doors and a boot, the RS sedan has your name all over it, although it;s priced at an appreciable premium next to the M140i, but also packs in 294kW of power, a typically refined Audi interior, and a rather unique sense of style.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With the spirit, if not quite the ability of an M2 coupe, and the unchanged practicality of a regular hatch back, the M140i Performance Edition is an enticing package.
Unfortunately the almost $72,000 ask is a steep one - but as a factory-issued limited edition there’s at least a degree of exclusiveness to it. The better news perhaps (unless you’ve already bought one) is that BMW has lowered the price of the regular M140i to a more agreeable $59,990 plus on-road costs.
Value is a hard thing to quantify when you’re talking about a genuine rarity. No other car maker in the world build a hatch this small with rear wheel drive, and no other puts a six-cylinder engine under the bonnet (Audi comes close with five though).
Worse still, by the time the next-generation 1 Series arrive it too is likely to switch to a front-driven four-cylinder format marking the end of BMW’s unique preservation of unparalleled driver enjoyment.