AUSTRALIA will have a new king of the hot hatches in October when BMW introduces its stonking new M135i, priced from $68,400 (plus on-road costs) and $72,400 for the auto.
Powered by a potent 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the new M135i will comfortably see off all hot-hatch competition, accelerating from 0-100km/h in just 4.9 seconds in eight-speed auto form – almost as fast as the mighty M3 Coupe – and 5.1 seconds with the six-speed manual.
This makes the M135i seven-tenths of a second faster than the current hot-hatch king, Audi’s S3 Sportback, and the related Volkswagen Golf R, both in auto form and powered by 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbos driving all four wheels.
The rear-drive BMW undercuts the price of the Audi S3 by $3300, but the $4000 premium for the acclaimed fast-shifting eight-speed semi-automatic transmission makes it $700 more expensive than its most direct rival.
Interestingly, BMW Australia expects the manual take-up rate to be higher than usual because of the nature of potential M135 buyers, even though the auto performs much better.
VW’s Golf R five-door arguably remains the performance-for-money hot-hatch champion with a price of $52,490 for the five-door auto, undercutting the new BMW by almost $20,000.
Slower still, but considerably cheaper, are the 2.3-litre turbo-four Mazda3 MPS ($39,490 and 6.1 seconds), the 2.0-litre turbo-four Renault Megane RS250 Cup ($41,990 and 6.1 seconds), the 1.6-litre turbo-four Mini Cooper JCW ($49,200 and 6.5 seconds) and the 2.5-litre turbo-five Volvo C30 R-Design ($41,990 and 6.7 seconds).
Coming at about the same time as the BMW in October is Ford’s latest hot-hatch contender, the Focus ST priced from $38,290 and powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-four said to propel the manual-only car from 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds.
BMW’s mighty turbo straight-six engine – which is also fitted to most of BMW’s other models – produces 235kW of power at 5800rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1250-5000rpm in the M135i, putting it way ahead of its nearest hot-hatch output rival, the 190kW/380Nm front-drive Mazda3 MPS.
The new M135i is the first petrol-powered member of BMW’s new M Performance Automobiles sub-brand that also includes the triple-turbo diesel X5 M50d and X6 M50d SUVs, but they are not to be confused with full M division performance models such as the M3 and M5 and 1 Series M Coupe.
Nevertheless, the performance of the new 1 Series flagship should not be underestimated as it not only matches the acceleration of the 1 Series M coupe but falls just 0.1 seconds short of the legendary M3 coupe, which has a 4.0-litre V8 and is priced at $155,000.
The M135i was revealed at the Geneva motor show in March. BMW Australia – along with a number of its customers – immediately put its hand up for the new 1 Series range-topper.
BMW Group Australia managing director Phil Horton said the M135i is a car for true performance enthusiasts and would turn the hot hatch segment “on its head”.
“Since being unveiled, the M135i has drawn huge interest both here and overseas and eager Australian customers have already snapped up almost a quarter of our first production allocation,” he said.
“Combining M character and performance with everyday usability gives our BMW M Performance vehicles their own unique place in the market.”
Of course, potential buyers will be more interested in performance than economy, but the M135i is nevertheless well-credentialed with average combined fuel consumption of 8.0 litre per 100km and emissions of 188 grams per kilometre for the manual-equipped models, and an even better 7.5L/100km and 175g/km for the auto.
M Performance features of the M135i include a customised cooling system, dry sump lubrication for the manual transmission, M-specific suspension tuning, an M Sport Brake System (with four-piston fixed callipers at the front and two-piston units at the rear, all in dark blue metallic paint bearing the distinctive M logo) and model-specific 18-inch M double-spoke alloy wheels with tyres specifically designed for this model.
Exterior and interior enhancements include a body kit, anthracite roof lining, M-designated door sills, Dakota leather upholstery, sports seats and a leather-bound steering wheel.
Additional standard features include bi-Xenon headlights, an interior lighting package, extended connectivity of Bluetooth devices including voice control and BMW’s HiFi speaker system.