Car reviews - BMW - 1 Series - M135i
Performance, grip, body control, ride comfort, hatchback practicality, body kit
Room for improvement
Steering lacks feedback, fun only starts when speeds soar, pricey options including $4K auto
26 Oct 2012
BMW has never really nailed the hot hatch thing, but why should the Bavarians bother? Between them, Volkswagen and Renault pretty much own that market now, with Ford and soon Opel playing important and convincing supporting roles.
So out comes the M135i – a sort of hot hatch in the scorching performance sense of the word, but BMW-fied with the claimed benefits of its Ultimate Driving Machine engineering and Efficient Dynamics eco caring and sharing virtuosity.
And you know what? We are mightily impressed with our first outing – albeit in rather steeply priced $80K automatic versions – across some of the loveliest driving roads Victoria has to offer on a perfect spring day.
Yet the weather and geography weren’t the only things to align perfectly that day.
From the moment the starter button is pressed, BMW’s twin-scroll turbo in-line six-cylinder engine instantly elevates the M135i above the at-times raucous and rambunctious four-pot screamers of its admittedly cheaper rivals.
Mellifluous, muscular and intoxicatingly eager to race up the rev range, the blown 3.0-litre six soars, taking your with it senses – and, look out, maybe your driver’s licence as well.
And the eight-speed ZF auto seems almost supernaturally intuitive in the way it sorts out the ratios so utterly swiftly, clearing the path for viceless upshifts and perfectly timed downshifts.
Slipping into the auto’s manual mode, with a handy set of paddle-shifts right there behind the wheel, the punchy turbo-six growls and snarls as it rips up the road, making a convincing case for forgoing the $4000-cheaper manual. BMW didn’t even bother bringing one to the launch.
A silky smooth slingshot BMW six is hardly new, but what surprised was just how controlled and supple the ride is with the M135i’s combination of sophisticated suspension/damping and regular (not run-flat) tyres.
More superlatives come with the brilliant handling, superb roadholding and exceptional body control, making the M135i a definitive baby grand tourer.
Being based on an F20 1 Series, there’s heaps of space up front, sufficient room in the rear and as much cargo space as you could expect of a shallow-booted rear-drive hatch.
But there are downsides of the M135i, starting with the steering.
Now that the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ twins have a towering benchmark in terms of feedback and fun, this BMW’s electric power steering systems just doesn’t manage it.
In fact, if we’re to be harsh, we’d say the M135i fails Hot Hatch 101 in not offering synaptic steering feel, or low-speed fun. Blame the massive wheel/tyre package and the incredible grip it provides, but you have to be going quite fast to feel the thrills here.
Then there’s the pricing. With the awesome auto, a sunroof and GPS, you’re looking at around $80K for this junior pocket rocket. And even then the cabin far from exudes the sort of exquisite quality luxury that VW (let alone Audi) vehicles do so effortlessly.
Expensive option prices are a long-time BMW bugbear, but one that customers seem willing to overlook. Oh well, at least it pays for the development of fantastic cars like the M135i.
It may not by definition be a GTI rival and certainly isn’t priced like one – and thankfully BMW isn’t calling it one – but the combination of incredible engine performance, dynamic ability and GT refinement make this our favourite current-shape F20 1 Series to date.
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