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BMW M135i (2015) review

Published:18 March 2015

But it's the 3.0-litre twin-turbo under the bonnet that really makes the difference
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

► Updated 1-series range means there's a new M135i
► A twin-turbo straight-six still provides the power
► Now churns out 322bhp - same as the M235i coupe

Ooh, would you look at that: the second-generation BMW 1-series has been under the mid-life knife. It’s got new lights, new bumpers, the interior’s been given a chrome-look tickle and there’s a whole new range of ‘modular’ engines beneath that chiselled bonnet. All of which are so efficient Greenpeace has practically shut up shop and gone home. Job done.

*cough*

Oh? This? You want to know what this is? You surely wouldn’t be interested in this 1-series. It’s not one of the efficient ones, you know – it’s got something old fashioned called a 3.0-litre straight-six under the bonnet. Yes, it is quite surprising that such a thing still exists. And that it fits. 

No idea why they’ve painted it such a ridiculous shade of orange. Seems to clash slightly with the blue colour of brake calipers. Nice M-badges, though. Paint aside it would almost be subtle – if it wasn’t for the vents in the front bumper, which are even bigger here than they are on the regular M Sport trim package.

What is ‘here’, exactly? Well, it’s the new version of the M135i. Obviously.

Oh, thank God. What’s new about the revised-for-2015 M135i? 

Aside from all the overall nipping and tucking, the big news for the 2015 M135i is that it’s no longer the poor relation to the M235i – meaning that the hatchback now gets the full 322bhp of the coupé (and newly introduced convertible). That’s 7hp more than before.

BMW has also shortened the action of the six-speed manual gearbox, so although the eight-speed auto option works very well with this engine, it was good to give stick-shift a go. Noticeably reduced notchiness is definitely a bonus, while the abridged movement makes it easier to keep that engine singing. Not that it needs much encouragement in this regard.

What’ll she do, mister?

While the Mercedes A45 AMG and forthcoming Audi RS3 offer more outright firepower, nobody else is even close to squeezing such a big engine into such a small car these days. 3.0-litres, six cylinders and two turbochargers make for an awful lot of muscle – utterly defining the M135i experience. Third gear is mighty, capable of taking the car from an uphill trickle to a full-bore overtake, seemingly without pausing for breath. 332lb ft from just 1300rpm will do that.

Sounds magic every step of the way, too, each extra 1000rpm apparently adding another layer of sonic complexity; lungs, this car has certainly got ‘em. The raw figures are 0-62mph in 5.1sec – an xDrive auto version in other markets will do the same sprint in 4.7 – and the usual electronically restrained 155mph top speed. You won’t need much of a demonstration to be convinced that’s a maximum it is easily capable of meeting with plenty of effort to spare.

Should I just send BMW my money now?

That engine is enough to turn many an otherwise sensible head, but of course you’re going to want to know the full picture. Yes, there was rear-wheel drive, and lo, it was good. But bloody hell, BMW, did you have to remove all of the steering feel? Blame the variable ratio rack, and the super-fat squishy rim to the ‘special’ M135i steering wheel. Give us a solid, thin-rimmed Audi wheel any day.

The optional M Adaptive Suspension works well, though; soft enough for comfort on the motorway, firmer but not back-breaking for better body control in Sport. And traction from the open diff rear end is excellent – maybe too much so if you’re an oversteer extrovert, but reassuring for the rest of us mere mortals.

What else is new for the 2015 1-series update?

 The eight-speed auto can now pre-emptively select gear ratios based on GPS and mapping information – how far out, man, is that? Meanwhile, updates to said mapping information is now undertaken wirelessly via the BMW’s in-built 4G sim card. This also enables an automatic emergency call and response system, should you incapacitate yourself in one of those regretful ‘watch this!’ kind of moments.

Coincidentally, safety kit is comprehensive, but that’s not to say it can’t be topped up with optional extras such as Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function, ideal for when you really can’t be bothered to pay attention in traffic. Speaking of not being bothered, the self-parking system can now cope with transverse parking spaces, should you need it to.

As before, the M135i gets plenty of logos on the inside, unique wheels and tyres, Ferric Grey door mirrors, and a bespoke standard suspension set-up. This we were unable to try, but most customers opt for the fancy adaptive stuff anyway.

Verdict

Mega engine defines the M135i, as it always has done, while the improved manual gearbox makes interacting with that engine a more personal joy. The chassis is well-balanced, there’s stacks of grip and although the steering is numb this is a fun fun fun car to drive. This will almost certainly be the last big-bore rear-wheel BMW hot hatchback, so if it appeals you should buy it while you can.

Specs

Price when new: £31,725
On sale in the UK: 28 March 2015
Engine: 2979cc six-cylinder 24v twin-turbo, 322bhp 5800-6000rpm, 332lb ft @ 1300-4500rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 5.1sec 0-62mph, 155mph (electronically limited), 35.3mpg, 188g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1505kg / steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4324 / 1765 / 1411

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • A renewed 1-series range means an updated BMW M135i too. Yay!
  • CAR's review of the 2015 update to the BMW M135i
  • All new 1-series now feature new lights and bumpers front and rear
  • M135i gets bespoke bodykit, wheels and tyres
  • The result is a BMW hatchback capable of 0-62mph in 5.1sec
  • The M135i is limited to 155mph. Spoil sports
  • Balance chassis has loads of grip
  • Optional M Adaptive Suspension keeps the M135i predictably flat in the turns
  • However, M135i's fat-rimmed steering wheel and variable ratio rack don't help with feel
  • Cabin is dark. Spooky. Sorry, sporty
  • Rear leg-room is tight, three-door bodyshell doesn't help with access
  • Heart of the beast: M135i's twin-turbo straight-six engine
  • M135i logos are everywhere...
  • Standard six-speed manual now has shorter shift action. Nice
  • The 2015 BMW M135i goes on sale 28 March, priced from £31,725

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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