We drive the BMW M-tweaked 135i, the hottest yet in BMW’s new 1–series range
So this is the replacement for the 1M, right?
Not quite, it’s actually the latest installment in the rollout of BMW’s new M Performance programme. Cars like the M135i, X5 M50d and X6 M50d, bridge the gap between BMW’s regular cars and the super-quick stuff coming from BMW’s motorsport division, like the M3 and M5.
The 1M was an M3 chassis dressed in 1-series clothes, the M135i is an uprated version of the standard, newly introduced three-door 1-series. So think of the M135i as a rival for Audi’s as yet unreleased S3, or Volkswagen’s Golf R. You can tell it from other 1-series models by the 18in double spoke wheels, aggressive bumper cutouts, shadow-line exterior trim and a smart set of four-pot alloy calipers.
So what’s this M135i got in the armoury?
Like the 1M, there’s a turbocharged 3.0 six under the bonnet, but the two are largely unrelated. The M135i’s engine uses a single twin scroll turbocharger to produce 316bhp and 332lb ft, compared with 335bhp and, well, 332lb ft, in the old 1M. Unlike the manual-only 1M, the M135i comes with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed auto, but makes do with a standard open differential in place of the 1M’s M3-derived limited slip M diff. Adaptive dampers are optional.
How close does it get on the road?
Performance first: the M135 is manically quick, subjectively, even quicker than the the 4.9sec 0-62mph figure, which matches the 1M’s (the manual M135i arrives two tenths later). Although down on power compared with the 1M, the 1425kg M135i is 70kg lighter, so posts an almost identical 222bhp per tonne power to weight ratio. There’s no big wait for the power to arrive, the turbo is spooled up by 2500rpm, tugging your neck first, then wrenching it when the revs pass 4000rpm. Grab a paddle to engage the next gear and as drive is re-engaged, your head snaps back again as that torque does it’s thing. It revs out, too, although really there’s nothing much to be gained from chasing the last 1000rpm to the 7k limiter.
Even the soundtrack is great, a proper hard-edged BMW six snarl, 90% of which is real, say BMW’s engineers. The last 10% is synthetic, added to make up for the silencing effect of the turbo, though it’s so convicincing, you’d never know otherwise.
The electric power steering is nicely weighted, if perhaps less communicative than the muscle-it-round 1M’s, and not everyone will warm to its variable gearing which makes switchbacks a wrist-flick affair, but occasionally seems a little overgeared. But the M135i feels taut, agile and easy to place. And massively grippy. Maybe too grippy. Even with its open diff, the fastest 1 has no problem putting its power down, meaning it’s perhaps not quite the lairy beast you imagined.
Anything else worth knowing?
The price? The 1M cost over £40k, but the M135i weighs in at £29,995. That’s only a £1500 more than a new Astra VXR with Vauxhall’s popular optional big wheels and wing pack. And while the BMW doesn’t look like a coupe, it does offer the other extreme: a five door option for an additional £530, though 75% of buyers are expected to stick with just three doors. Other concessions to practicality include 38mpg on the combined cycle for cars fitted with the eight-speed auto, great visibility and a useful 360 litre boot.
The M135i is a different creature to the old 1M. It’s more cultured, not so extrovert in the way it looks or drives. But it’s massively cheaper and a seriously fun little hatch. It might not look as sexy as a Scirroco, or feel quite so single-minded as a Megane RS, but the BMW is faster, better built and just feels more special than any of them. We can’t think of a more desirable, more exciting top-drawer hot hatch on the planet than this M135i, and even the slighty dull styling can’t stop us reaching for that rarely used fifth star.