I never thought I would use the words ‘BMW’ and ‘bargain’ together in a sentence, but here we go … the BMW M135i is a performance bargain!
The standard M135i can be yours for £29,995. That’s a lot of money, not cheap at all, but in exchange for almost £30k of your hard earned cash you get a rear-wheel drive hot hatch that packs an almighty 320hp punch. Powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine it can hit 62mph in 4.9 seconds, 100mph in under 12 seconds and reach a limited top speed of 155mph. It’s closest competitor is the 336bhp RS3 and for that Audi expect you to pay £39,950. Or how about the £37,589 Porsche Boxster with ‘only’ 265bhp? Now do you start to see what I mean when I say ‘bargain’?
Despite the badge this is not a proper ‘M’ car. The M135i hasn’t been fettled by BMW’s Motorsport division in the same way as the 1M (now sold out) and M3 but it does receive some of BMW’s choicest hardware. The engine is a glorious piece of engineering with a spine-chilling six-cylinder howl. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is a masterpiece, performing such rapid gear changes I was fooled into thinking it was a dual-clutch box when it’s actually a single clutch ZF unit. It may add a hefty £1,600 to the price but you should seriously consider adding it if you want an M135i, not least because it makes the M135i more economical and knocks two-tenths from the manual’s 0-62mph time.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but I challenge anyone to leap to the defense of the latest 1-series. The old model was far from pretty but this new model was given a thorough beating with the ugly stick during its development. Fortunately the M135i sits low on its 18-inch wheels and the sills and beefy bumpers give it a purposeful stance that just about makes up for the gawky looks.
At least the interior is an improvement. It’s clearly made of top quality materials, even if the aesthetics leave a lot to be desire. The dash itself is simple with few controls and a large LED display but that simplicity comes at a price – most of the car’s functions are stashed away inside the overly complex i-Drive system. Fortunately the driving position is absolutely spot on, with the leather seat and chunky wheel adjusting in all sorts of directions that should allow any driver to find their perfect driving position.
The engine starts with a purposeful rumble but as you pull away the baby Beemer feels relaxed, shuffling up through the gears to improve economy. Comfort is the default of the four drive modes and does exactly what it says – your chiropractor would approve of the ride quality. Sport stiffens the suspension a little, sharpens the throttle and adds some artificial weight to the steering while Sport+ takes that a step further and loosens the grip of the traction control. At the other end of the scale is Eco Pro mode, in which the six-cylinder engine suddenly turns into an economical cruiser that can return an official 37.7 mpg.
Push the throttle hard and the auto-box immediately drops down a couple of cogs, the engine erupts with a wonderful howl and before you know it you’re travelling at speeds that Captain Kirk would approve of but would have Scotty fretting. Waking that engine is great fun and you’ll want to do it again and again, but there’s always that feeling that the M135i is being held back by the constraints of public roads. Where’s a track when you want one?
The steering initially feels a little numb but with only 2 turns lock-to-lock it is quick and the nose responds eagerly, while the rear handles the job of spreading all of that power and torque over the tarmac. Even with the traction control switched in full Big Brother mode you can still find yourself needing to correct the twitching rear if you get too carried away with the throttle, but for the most part the M135i just gets on with the job of propelling you at warp speed.
Having spent only an hour with the M135i I know I barely scratched the surface of its abilities. There are the different suspension, steering and gearbox settings to play with and I’d love the opportunity to see how playful that chassis really is.Then there’s Eco Pro mode – can the stop/start technology and auto-gearbox really make this 3.0-litre super hatch as economical as claimed?
For now though, the BMW M135i seems like it could be one of the fastest and most exciting hot hatches on sale right now. Just steer clear of the expensive options and grab yourself a performance bargain while you can.
BMW M135i Specification
|Engine:||2,979cc 6-cylinder Turbo|
|0-62mph:||4.9 seconds (auto), 5.1 seconds (manual)|
|Top Speed:||155 mph (electronically limited)|
|CO2 Emissions:||175g/km (Band H)|
*Price taken from BMW website, October 2012