So, is this the ‘One’ that everyone has been waiting for?
Very good. The thought of a small, highly focused BMW, with the full M Sport works, powered by one of the finest engines on sale has certainly had us salivating. Shoehorned into the 135i’s engine bay is the same 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight six found in the 335i. It develops 306bhp at 5800rpm and a blistering 295lb ft at 1300rpm – good for a 5.3 second sprint to 62mph and an effortless 155mph before the electronic limiter steps in. You’ll pay for that power though - the 135i arrives in showrooms next month wearing a hefty £29,745 pricetag. Depending on which way you look at it, that’s a bankrupting amount of money for a car whose lower minions jostle with Golfs for sales, or it’s a bargain because you’re effectively getting a pint-sized M3.
Bargain or not, I’m still not sure about those looks
Join the club. At the launch BMW was keen to play up the links between the 135i and the 2002 saloon of the 1960s and '70s. Sure, they have two doors (and even a blown engine) in common but, while the 2002 is beautifully proportioned and neatly detailed, the 135i is not. Although the long bonnet, hump-backed roofline and stubby boot look good in isolation, join them all up and it somehow goes wrong. It looks best in dark metallics, and in the metal there’s a pleasingly squat chunkiness to the Bimmer’s lines.
It’s brisk enough to outrun the aesthetics police, I take it?
Yes, the 135i is searingly quick. That biturbo engine is an absolute gem – incredibly muscular, rev-happy and flexible with such a crisp throttle response, you’d never guess it was blown. It utterly dominates the driving experience, feeling like there’s an effortlessly torquey 5.0-litre V8 under the bonnet, rocketing the car forward with the smallest squeeze of the accelerator. Of course, it would be an awful lot quicker if it wasn’t so heavy – it may look small but all the additional chassis reinforcements needed to handle the power means the 135i weighs 1560kg – just 40kg lighter than the full-blown 335i coupe. Strange, but true.
Does the extra heft detract from the driving experience?
Well, yes and no. Out on the road, the combination of that incredibly refined direct-injection powertrain, firm and well damped ride (a bit of a surprise given how stiff and unforgiving the ride is on most M Sport cars), hushed cabin and the 135’s overall air of sophistication makes it feel more like a mini grand tourer than a junior M3. But then unleash it on a track and it really bares its sharp teeth with brilliant front-end bite, a disciplined tail and a chassis that thrives on fast changes in direction. The surprisingly heavy steering looses its heft, allowing you to scythe the 135i through corners and that mighty engine seems to have an endless supply of neck-straining torque. So almost two cars for the price of one ugly one.
How much room is there inside?
It may have grand touring pretensions but dreams of fast trips to exotic locations will be dashed the moment you pop the boot – or try and coerce some passengers into the rear. Once you’ve sacrificed all personal decorum getting into the rear seats, there's some decent headroom but legroom is not great. The boot is not that small, admittedly, and you can squeeze in a set of golf clubs, but its shallow and narrow shape means it's soft bags rather than Samsonites. Think of it as a 2+2 car for couples or young families.
Is it just the twin turbo petrol engine on offer?
No. The 1-series coupe range kicks off with two four-cylinder diesel models – the 177bhp 120d, priced from £21,585 to £24,705, followed by the enticing 204bhp twin-turbo 123d (yours from £24,855 to £26, 290). The 135i may steal the performance headlines but it’s the 123d that most private buyers in this market will look at. The biturbo unit - the most powerful four-cylinder diesel on the market - delivers the same 295lb ft of torque as the 135i for a seven second sprint to 60mph, a 148mph top speed and effortless mid-range acceleration. It also returns just 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and posts a tax-friendly CO2 rating of 138g/km. The 1-series also comes with BMW’s Efficient Dynamics package to assuage your green conscience even further.
In a rational world, the 135i just wouldn't sell. It’s too expensive, its packaging is too compromised and it turns heads for the wrong reasons. That it has no direct rivals means either BMW knows something other manufacturers don't, or vice versa. But cars – and fast BMWs in particular – rarely have anything to do with rational purchasing decisions. Which is why we think the 135i is cracking car, one that’s somehow all the more intriguing for its shortcomings.