Car reviews - BMW - 1 Series - M140i
Monstrous torque, manual availability, ride quality, rear-drive handling
Room for improvement
Muted cabin exhaust note, some plasticky interior trim
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20 Oct 2016
BMW’s cheeky 1 Series hatch range was given a refresh in June this year bringing all the usual styling, technology and spec tweaks you would expect from a mid-life update, but the car-maker has followed up with a petrol engine upgrade.
While the 2.0-litre 120i and 125i have been given relatively modest increases in performance and fuel efficiency, all eyes are on the flagship, which not only wears a boot badge never before seen on the BMW hatchback, but the $64,900 plus on-roads M140i now breaches the magic 500Nm mark.
Its 3.0-litre B58 turbocharged TwinPower inline six-cylinder now has an air-to-liquid chargecooler in place of the M135i’s less sophisticated intercooler which has liberated a little extra power but a whole 50Nm more torque.
While Audi and Mercedes continue to speak loudly about their dizzying power outputs, BMW has decided to take another approach, booting the Mercedes’ 475Nm and the Audi 465Nm torque figures into touch with 500Nm.
And that torque is immediately obvious after getting behind the wheel. While the all-paw pair respond best to a good hiding and revving out to the limiter, the M140i has a delicious smooth low rpm character.
We were also delighted to have a six-speed manual at our disposal which made managing the power and torque a more pleasurable and involving experience. It might not be the most mechanical or notchy feeling self-serve we have played with but BMW gets a big tick for offering a manual in such a driver-focused segment when its competitors don’t.
Cruising on undemanding roads did not reveal many aspects of the M140i to set it apart from its more sedate siblings. Its ride is surprisingly compliant despite rolling on 18-inch wheels with low-profile rubber, the Dakota leather sports seats are firm but cosy and cabin noise is low even in hammering rain.
For a small hatchback the BMW has a well screwed together cabin with top-quality materials and only a few hard plastic components such as the cheap-looking door pockets serving as a reminder of which segment the 1 Series competes in.
The BMW does hint at its potential when encountering an ascent with all 500Nm available from just 1520rpm. The M140i has a delightful laziness when cruising but that one-gear-for-every-occasion nature continues as the road turns twistier.
A climb into the Victorian Alps and some freshly dampened roads proved the perfect place to test how well the BMW gets a significant dollop of torque down through just two wheels.
Sheer cornering speed is impressively quick and the fresh rubber holds on in scary alpine conditions with confidence. Yes – four-wheel-drive systems allow the power to be applied earlier when exiting corners but let us not forget that when carrying speed through a bend with neutral throttle, all cars are effectively no-wheel drive.
On the limit, the BMW’s sensitive ESC cuts power smoothly without the irritating reduction in grunt that older systems intervened with, but flicking the drive mode into Sport+ allows a little rear wheel slip and a surprisingly playful character.
The silky six has a pleasing exhaust note, especially when working hard at low rpm, but we would have liked something a little more antisocial when in the sportier driving modes and when working the turbo harder.
Making progress on public roads is a breeze in the M140i but that same point-and-click pace is just as accessible on a track.
After a few laps of the Winton raceway in Victoria’s north and in much improved conditions, only the M140i’s brakes were showing signs that it was doing anything other that the school run with reduced pedal feel.
Brakes aside, the M140i could claw at the tight and challenging corners all day with its beautifully balanced chassis, flat body control and sharp steering.
We loved using the enormous grunt to exit corners with sensational pace and allowing the tail to squirm a little in the most playful Sport+ setting.
A slightly stubborn second gear was appeased with heel-and-toe, but the manual was a rare pleasure to manage on a circuit. For those wanting the fastest 0-100km/h performance of 4.6s (manual is 4.8s) and gear-changes should opt for the eight-speed auto which makes track time even more of a breeze.
The automatic allows the driver to keep their hands on the wheel with steering wheel paddles and also produces more theatrical sound effects when up-shifting, especially when observed from outside the car.
Higher-revving, more power-biased and twitchy vehicles would require a greater level of concentration to lap quickly on the same circuit, but the BMW’s beefy engine and predictable chassis make it one of the most effortless cars to go quickly, both on road and track.
There will be many drivers who prefer the more hardcore characteristics of the Mercedes and Audi, but the BMW proves that opting for the most relaxing hyper hatch doesn’t have to be at the cost of pace.
It is also the most affordable way into the exclusive club with the Mercedes-AMG A45 costing $78,315 and Audi asking $78,616 for the RS3 Sportback.
A flat-out closed-circuit race between the Mercedes, Audi and BMW at the hands of professional drivers would be a telling exercise indeed.
On the one hand you have a pair of four-wheel-drive offerings hell-bent on producing maximum power, and on the other you have a clear torque champ sending grunt to the ground through a purist’s rear-drive transmission.
The BMW is conclusive evidence that there is a big difference between cornering grip and straight-line traction and, while the A45 and RS3 may smash out dizzying 0-100km/h times, the BMW has the grip to stay with them in the real world – even in the wet.
But figures, lap times and tables mean little in the real world. Audi and Mercedes have taken the low road and BMW has taken the high road but with its new massive torque sledge hammer, whippy chassis and typical BMW day-to-day versatility, they have all ended up at the same summit.
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