The Skinny: While BMW’s small-car future may be spelled out in front-wheel-drive, the M135i will help assuage the fears of BMW performance purists. The classic ‘big engine: small car’ formula works wonders with the 1 Series’ finely-tuned chassis.
Everything good about BMW is here: a straight-six engine, rear-wheel-drive, crisp handling. As a result the M135i is truly one of a kind in its class, and all the better for it.
Vehicle Style: Small premium hatch
Price: $62,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 240kW/450Nm 3.0 turbo six | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.5 l/100km | tested: 10.3 l/100km
Thanks to an update earlier this year, the 1 Series range now carries the kind of styling it should have always had.
New head and tail-lights erase the bulbous look of the previous model, something that’s particularly evident with the meaner looking M135i.
But looks aren’t the only thing going for it. The M135i packs a 3.0 litre turbo straight-six engine, backs it with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed auto, and sends that oomph to the rear wheels.
For BMW devotees and motoring enthusiasts at large, this car is one huge grin-factory.
On the inside, things are somewhat intimate but well specced, and yet again, perfectly set up for a spirited run. There’s also a decent swag of safety kit to keep the show on the road.
So, nothing for it then other than to hit the road and let you know exactly what BMW’s compact muscle car has to offer.
- Standard equipment: Dual zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, cruise control with speed limiter, heat insulating glass, M steering wheel, leather seat trim, sports seats, keyless entry and start
- Infotainment: 8.8-inch colour screen, iDrive controller, DVD drive, Professional navigation, seven speakers, 205W output, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB+ digital radio, USB and Aux in connection.
- Cargo volume: Minimum 360 litres, maximum 1200 litres
On the inside, the M135i carries the requisite sporting character. Settle into power-adjustable seats, squeeze the bolstering as tight as you need, and grab a hold of the chunky M steering wheel.
There’s not a huge difference between this and cooking model 1 Series cars though, trim highlights in patterned aluminium, with anodised blue accents are the biggest give-away.
Dash and door-trim plastics are sturdy and well-finished, but at over $60k we can’t help but think the leather trim could be a little more supple and inviting.
That small gripe aside, everything else is as it should be for a small hatch with sportscar aspirations.
You sit low in the driver’s seat, arms and legs forward - it feels more sports coupe than five-door. The sports seats up front feature grippy bolsters, and a great range of adjustability.
The clear tacho and speedo offer at-a-glance readability, and although the trip computer handles some functions, a few extra gauges (temp for starters) wouldn’t feel out of place
There are three belts across the rear, but if you’re a fair and charitable person you’ll limit rear seat occupancy to two. The rear wheel intrusion makes the rear seatback narrow, and the centre tunnel rules out the centre slot.
That said, there’s decent legroom, and enough room to slide your feet under the front seats - something that’s sorely missing from the A-class. Headroom is tight too, with the sunroof eating into the available space.
No such concerns with the 360 litre boot. Both deep and long, there’s plenty of room for a couple of suitcases with room to spare.
ON THE ROAD
- 3.0 litre, inline six-cylinder turbo petrol: 240kW/450Nm
- Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive
- MacPherson strut front suspension, five-link independent rear suspension
- Adaptive M suspension (controlled by Driving Experience Control)
- 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/40R18 front tyres, 245/35R18 rear tyres
- Ventilated disc brakes front and rear
- Variable electric power steering
Lovers of BMW’s straight-six wail will not be disappointed by the M135i. Right from the moment you thumb the starter button and the engine fires into life with a crackling rumble.
There’s plenty of aural accompaniment, from a strong midrange warble all the way to a howl at the top of the rev range. No other hot hatch can claim such a terrific aural range.
There’s no shortage of poke to go with the noise either.
Under the bonnet is a 3.0 litre straight-six engine with a twin-scroll turbo that punches out 240kW at 6000rpm with 450Nm on call from 1300rpm to 4500rpm.
With all that torque ready to jump in, there’s never a moment when the M135i is caught napping. It feels alert and assertive at all times.
Ask for more, and the power feeds in with a smooth linearity that makes the compact hatch feel demonically rapid, but with the eminent control and balance of a truly superior chassis.
On a winding road, the whole set-up comes to life. Delve into the responsive throttle and the rear simply bites into the tarmac and will have you bolting to the horizon.
In a team effort, part of that response relies on the clever stability control that doesn’t clamp down on your attempts at enjoying yourself behind the wheel. The rest is from a chassis that feels lively, but well buttoned-down.
There are four driving modes - Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus - each adjusting the chassis, engine and transmission mapping and the excitement factor with it. Sport might be best saved for out of town, while Sport Plus is just the ticket for the track.
A six-speed manual is available, but the vehicle tested here features BMW’s eight-speed auto. It shifts smoothly and rapidly, and is certainly free of compromise.
Find the right stretch of road to open the M135i up and flick through the gears manually and the eight speed box will obediently hold gears against the redline. A delight, particularly on more serpentine tarmac.
But, for all that performance prowess, the steering feels like it could be more engaging.
It’s hard to deny the pin-point accuracy of the wheel, but the system really feels a little too insulated from what’s going on below. More feedback would be welcomed.
If you use the M135i as intended, don’t expect a big touring range either. Keeping in mind the big gun of an engine up front, and its eagerness to respond to the whip, the 10.3 l/100km we recorded after a week of spirited driving wasn’t as horrific as expected.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.33 out of 37 possible points.
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.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The M135i is something of a unique beast - none of its competitors offer rear-wheel-drive. Audi’s S3 has a few less kilowatts but counters by offering AWD and Volkswagen’s mechanically similar Golf R does the same thing for even less.
Similarly swift, but not nearly as premium, is Subaru’s WRX STI. Alternatively for insane levels of power and grip in a small hatch, look upmarket to the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
There’s noise, there’s oversteer, there’s an almost telepathic transmission. This is driver involvement at its best.
BMW may not have the only big-gun hot hatch on the market, but it absolutely has one of the best.
The looks won’t be for everyone, the packaging either - all the more reason to like it. It’s thoroughly unique, and unabashedly so.
But if you really want to sell yourself on the idea, take it to a winding road. If the M135i’s machiavellian attitude doesn’t sway you, then nothing will.
For polite manners, or speed laced with comfort, consult your Audi dealer. But for a red-blooded, hairy-chested hot hatch, dial M for the magnificent M135i.