Car reviews - BMW - 1 Series - M140i
Brutish but refined six-cylinder, rear-drive giggles, four doors
Room for improvement
Handling compromised on bumpy roads, confined quarters in the rear
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29 Sep 2017
By TIM ROBSON
AS THE spectre of front-wheel drive looms in its future, the long-lived BMW 1 Series range revels in the fact that it’s essentially the only player in the game that offers a front-engined, rear-drive combination in such a small form factor.
The second-generation car has been around in largely the same form since 2011, and its finest form – in five-door F20 guise, at least – is the M140i.
Powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six and sending 250kW and 500Nm to the rear wheels, it’s unlike anything else in the premium light car space.
With a solid price drop and a minor makeover for 2018, BMW is unabashedly targeting punters who are shopping for a non-premium branded sportscar with around sixty grand in their pockets.
BMW has maintained a rear-drive-is-best ethos for as long as we can remember, and certainly much of its current fleet of sedans and hatches abide by this trait. However, rumours are rife that the 1 Series will move to a front-wheel-drive platform for its third generation, which – economically, at least – makes a lot of sense.
If that is the case, expect the 1 Series’ six-cylinder engine to go the way of the dodo as well, as a longitudinally mounted motor doesn’t play well with a front-drive layout.
So could the M140i be the last of the big-engined, rear drive hot hatches? Quite possibly…The M140i, of course, used to be known as the M135i, but a switch to the newer B58 engine in 2016 heralded a name change.
BMW hasn’t done much of anything to the range-topping M140i for this so-called ‘life cycle impulse’, aside from adding a touchscreen version of its multimedia set-up and new 18-inch rims.
It has dropped the price significantly, though, down $5000 to $59,900 before on-road costs, putting it in the wheelhouse of cars like Volkswagen’s Golf R, and significantly below competitors like the Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi RS3.
Inside, it’s a mix of standard BMW fare that’s occasionally compromised by the car’s price point and lack of size, but – for front seat passengers, at least – it’s still a comfortable place to spend a couple of hours behind the wheel.
The new iDrive6 multimedia system uses a combo of touchscreen, buttons and the familiar push-dial to operate – and while it works well for the majority of the time, it still can be hoisted on its own petard of confusing instructions and unclear routes to particular functions.
Back seat passengers need not apply if they’re overly tall or long of limb the 1 Series isn’t a huge car by any stretch. A deep boot well is helpful when stashing bags, and the rear seats flip down to reveal a reasonably sized cargo space.
This is a car, though, that’s almost totally defined by its powerplant. Hefty mid-range torque and healthy urge high in the rev range transform an otherwise innocuous five-door luxury mini into something a lot more.
Linked via an excellent ZF eight-speed auto to the rear wheels, the M140i offers a genuinely good drivetrain, regardless of price point. It’s smooth and tractable at any point in the rev range, and it delivers the bulk of its prodigious wedge of torque from tickover to 4500rpm.
The gearbox is a willing companion, too, responding quickly and accurately to inputs from either the steering wheel paddles or from the M140i’s own computers.
However, the power delivery can be hindered by a suspension tune that largely favours smooth tarmac over broken blacktop – unless you’re prepared to push harder than you might be comfortable with.
Over typically tough Tasmanian roads with plenty of broken edges and changing surfaces, the M140i initially refuses to find a groove, with an overly stiff suspension set-up not playing well with BMW’s insistence on run-flat tyres. It feels downright nervy at times, in fact, and prods us to turn the adaptive shocks to their softest setting by default.
There is, however, a hidden layer of ability beneath this facade. Take a deep breath and grab the M140i by its scruff, and you’re rewarded with a depth of grip and poise that works with you to keep things moving forward. It’s hindered by the lack of a standard-fit limited slip diff, but the M140i can be made to deliver, if you want to work for it.
Around town, the firm ride is noticeable, but adaptive shocks allow at least a modicum of comfort – we’d bet your significant other will still notice it, though.
The M140i is being aimed squarely at buyers who might be looking at cars like Volkswagen’s Golf R range – and it makes for an interesting choice. The Bimmer is still more expensive, and the car itself is an older proposition than the Mk 7.5 Golf R, but the M140i offers a unique drivetrain proposition that’s more than likely not long for the automotive world.
If you’ve ever had a hankering for a rear-driver, now is the time to act. The M140i offers plenty of mumbo for the money, and you might just miss out if you wait for the next generation.
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