Car reviews - BMW - 1 Series - M140i
Feels like a bona-fide sportscar when you want it to but also comfy and easy-going for your daily commute, excellent big-car tech, supple ride in Comfort mode, future classic potential amazing value for money except for…
Room for improvement
The barefaced gouging of charging $623 for Apple CarPlay, rear passengers don’t get much love
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12 Apr 2018
CERTAIN to go down in history as one of the best-executed automotive anomalies, the BMW M140i is like one of those unlikely recipes dreamt up by experimental chef Heston Blumenthal.
Let’s just recap: this is a rear-drive small hatchback powered by a turbocharged straight-six petrol engine with eight-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is a no-cost option).
Against a backdrop of the looming rumoured switch to front-drive for the next-generation 1 Series, the above is arguably sufficient to earn the M140i future classic status.
Yes, it’s cramped and practicality suffers due to the packaging of its rear-drive layout, but the M140i feels blissfully uncompromised when simply trundling round town – especially given how downright brilliant it is at blasting along a challenging back road.
Price and equipment
BMW charges $59,990 plus on-road costs for the M140i flagship of its rear-drive 1 Series hatch range.
It’s a substantial $10,090 leap over the next-highest variant, the 125i, but the M140i does pack rather a lot of extra bang for your buck. For example, the single-turbo 3.0-litre six pounding out 250kW and 500Nm, compared with the relatively puny 165kW/310Nm put out by the blown 2.0-litre four-pot in the 125i.
The M140i gets a visual overhaul, too, making it look a bit more purposeful than a regular 1 Series. In particular, the bespoke 18-inch wheels and more aggressive front-end styling help it stand out. Only trainspotters or BMW aficionados are likely to pick up the Ferric Grey mirror caps – especially on our Mineral Grey test car – or the Black Chrome exhaust tips.
Standard equipment on the cheaper 125i isn’t exactly shabby, including BMW’s 8.8-inch touchscreen ‘Professional’ navigation system, dual-zone climate, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and multiple airbags.
The M140i takes things a step further, however, again helping to justify its premium. Besides the feisty straight-six motor, it also gets adaptive LED headlights with automatic adaptive dimming – which avoids blinding oncoming drivers – leather trim, electric front seat adjustment with memory for the driver’s side, keyless entry and a punchy 360W, 12-speaker Harman/Kardon surround-sound system. There are also M140i-branded sill plates.
As tested, our M140i weighed in at $64,373 plus on-road costs. Options fitted included an electric glass sunroof ($2000), electric lumbar support adjustment for the front seats ($310), fine wood trim ($260) and Apple CarPlay ($623).
That’s right, CarPlay, which comes as standard in numerous much cheaper cars, costs more than a low-end iPhone when installed to a BMW.
Our car also had $1190 worth of metallic paint, with Alpine White being the only non-metallic colour on offer. So, if that’s not a shade of choice, you are stuck with the $1190 charge for one of the other finishes. At least the palette of five metallic colours includes some bright choices – such as Sunset Orange and Estoril Blue – instead of just being several shades of grey.
Other useful options worth considering are sun protective glazing, which tints the rear and rear side windows to cut cabin heating from sunlight – as well as improving security a little, by obscuring the view of what’s in the back.
Some will be disappointed that adaptive cruise control is not offered on the M140i as it is on other 1 Series variants. However, those who prefer rowing their own gears can ditch the standard eight-speed ZF automatic if desired and go for a six-speed manual as a no-cost option.
The current F20 generation 1 Series is ripe for replacement, but running changes made since it arrived in 2011 have resulted in this latest M140i version being pretty nice inside – at least for those sitting up front.
Gone is the built-down-to-a-price feel, aided by the addition of BMW’s latest iDrive6 multimedia system and a freshened instrument binnacle that help bring this little hatch closer into line with larger, more expensive models.
It’s nice to get big-car tech in such a compact package, especially considering how much you get for your $60K plus on-roads (apart from the unforgivable cost of adding Apple CarPlay).
Materials and textures now better align with the prestigious BMW badge, but those in the back are treated as second-class citizens with scratchy hard plastics all over the place, minimal storage and a generally cramped, gloomy environment.
But treat this as a sportscar with the bonus of occasional-use rear seating and a reasonably big boot (at 360 litres it’s barely bigger than the latest VW Polo) and the practicality compromises are far from deal-breaking.
If you carry a couple of children who have graduated from booster seats but are not yet adult-sized, they will fit in the back just fine. And hard-wearing surfaces are probably for the best with kids of that age anyway.
Isofix child seat anchor points are supplied, but don’t bother unless you can sit with your chest pressed against the dashboard to provide clearance for rear-facing capsules or kicking legs too short to fold over the cushion.
Back in front, where the grown-ups sit, are really big door bins and a generous glove box. Cupholders are well-designed and there’s a good storage area under the central armrest plus a tray for smartphones tucked up the front of the centre console.
The leather upholstery is tough rather than supple, but the front seats are comfortable and the adjustable bolsters – that automatically give you a little hug around the torso when one of the two Sport driving modes are selected – are a nice touch.
Having used iDrive6 in the latest 5 Series and X3, we’re early converts. The image quality, functionality and ease-of use make this system a joy to operate.
Pairing a phone using Bluetooth is breathtakingly simple and the optional CarPlay connectivity is seamlessly integrated.
The hybrid digital/analogue instruments are a paragon of clarity, too, with plenty of information available and the cruise control system keeps the car so rock-steady at the selected speed that it makes a mockery of the fact so many manufacturers get this apparently simple bit of technology miserably wrong.
Reminding occupants this it the hot M Performance variant is M140i branding on the instrument panel and sill plates, a typically chubby and squishy M-Sport leather steering wheel and some natty blue contrast trim around the metallic dashboard finisher.
Engine and transmission
Under the M140i’s long bonnet is a 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged engine that creates 250kW at 5500 rpm and 500Nm all the way from 1520rpm to 4500rpm.
Hooked up to the eight-speed ZF automatic as our car was, it can sprint from rest to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds.
In Comfort mode, the infuriating delay between stabbing the throttle and anything happening feels like 4.6 seconds, but either Sport mode eliminates this. Thankfully BMW has provided an Individual driving mode, which we used to set the steering and suspension to Comfort while enjoying the throttle response of Sport in urban driving.
We digress. Push the starter button and the big six erupts with a guttural throat-clearing sound, but that’s about as dramatic as things get. In the two Sport modes you get a bit of blurting from the pair of black tailpipes and a little bluster or crackle on the over-run, neither of which are particularly audible from inside the cabin but do let bystanders know this is no ordinary hatchback.
You can’t argue with 500Nm of torque, across such a broad rev-range, in a car weighing 1475kg. This thing seriously flies. And, as you’d expect from an engine that is also fitted to some much, much more expensive cars, it is super smooth and refined.
Perhaps it is a bit too free of drama, because while there is an M badge on the rump of this car, those M Division boffins have clearly kept some powder dry for the related but altogether more hardcore M2 coupe.
Regardless, what an engine. And although there is little point swinging the tacho past the 5500rpm power peak, there is plenty of pleasure in doing so as the straight-six eagerly and freely obliges with a characterful zingy crescendo.
Typical of an eight-speed ZF, automatic shifts in comfort mode are soft and seamless while Sport or Sport+ mode brings a crisper, more immediate feel to cog-swaps. Take matters into your own hands via the paddles and not only is there full manual control with no kick-down and an ability to meet the rev-limiter, but each full-bore upshift is accompanied by a mechanical slamming sensation mimicking that of a racing sequential gearbox.
And true to BMW’s Efficient Dynamics slogan, that big engine is evidently not working all that hard to move this little hatchback along. We got fuel consumption of just 8.2 litres per 100 kilometres (the official combined figure is a barely believable 7.1L/100km). On the motorway we saw 6.3L/100km (official: 5.8L/100km).
Ride and handling
If the drivetrain is the M140i’s defining piece de resistance, the chassis comes a close second. On a challenging road it feels for all the world like a bona-fide sportscar. It’s brilliant.
What’s more, the ride quality is so good in Comfort mode that you could easily forget this is a performance car. It’s just so magnificently supple and controlled. We might go so far as to rate the M140i as best-riding 1 Series variant.
Turn up the wick to Sport or Sport+ and things get progressively jiggly and firm enough to make the M140i a bit unmanageable on typically pockmarked and rippled Australian roads.
Luckily there is good old Individual mode, where everything can be set to one of the Sport modes except suspension. Given the ability to soak up, rather than ride over road imperfections the M140i is one hell of a weapon.
After several weeks testing dreary SUVs the heightened responses of the M140i took a little acclimatisation, as did the level of feel, feedback and interaction provided through the steering and chassis.
Just like a good sportscar, the M140i rewards finesse and encourages you to drive better and better. In the two Sport modes its sharp steering and touchy throttle response demand a delicate touch, although the added steering effort required in Sport+ helps resist heavy-handed inputs.
It’s refreshing for a car with this level of straight-line performance to be truly spirited and engaging at legal speeds. In this sense it’s one of the best cars you can buy for less than six figures.
We had to contend with some wet and slippery conditions during our test, but the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres – 225/40/18 at the front and wider 245/35/18 at the rear – provided excellent levels of control and predictability, helped by the M140i’s sublime agility and balance.
Front-end grip is truly mighty and there is clearly more than enough grunt to overcome traction at the rear tyres, but unless in the liberal Sport+ mode that allows the rear to step out momentarily when provoked, the M140i’s electronics keep any tail-end twitching firmly in check.
Were we not constrained for time, and had the weather not been rapidly deteriorating, we would have lapped our dynamic test route repeatedly in this car.
And that is a deep compliment we pay to previous few vehicles, least of all those with a relatively affordable price point.
Safety and servicing
The BMW 1 Series racked up a five-star ANCAP crash-test score when it was tested in 2011, scoring 36.33 points out of 37.
As you’d expect, a whole battery of safety tech is fitted – including multiple airbags, BMW’s dynamic stability control, lane departure warning, semi-autonomous emergency city braking system, driver attention monitoring and automatic anti-dazzle rear view mirrors.
A host of servicing deals are offered, with the standard being a five-year/80,000km pack that costs $1395. This covers all annual checks, filters, plugs, fluids and labour costs required in that period.
The standard warranty otherwise lasts three years and has no kilometre restrictions, unless you’re in the unlikely situation where you’re using an M140i for driving instruction, limousine or taxi duties – in which case it only lasts for 150,000km.
BMW also throws in three years’ worth of roadside assistance and paint cover.
The anti-corrosion warranty lasts 12 years.
At just under $60K before on-road costs, the BMW M140i shames some much more expensive metal and is well worth exploring even if you’re in the market for one of the more expensive mainstream brand hyper hatches such as the Volkswagen Golf R or even a Honda Civic Type R.
From that point of view, it also makes the Audi S3 look overpriced.
But the M140i really stands alone in that the aforementioned rivals cannot help but feel like souped-up shopping cars while the BMW feels like a sportscar disguised as a hatchback.
That’s largely because its straight-six engine and rear-drive layout are unique, and something to be celebrated in our increasingly homogenised motoring world.
Add to that the very real prospect that the M140i tested here is among the last of its breed – well equipped with some impressive on-board technologies courtesy of the latest update – and we have a strong candidate for future classic status on our hands.
While you wait for your M140i to reach the other side of its depreciation curve, you can revel in the fact this hair-raising performance car can also do a great job of daily driving duties.
So it’s really two cars in one – and that makes the M140i even more of a bargain.
Audi S3 Sportback S tronic: $63,900 plus on-road costsThere’s a lot to be said for Audi’s take on the Golf R, particularly if you prefer the way an all-wheel drive hatch performs. It’ll set you back a fair bit more, mind, but the slick interior goes some way to justifying the price.
Honda Civic Type R: $50,990 plus on-road costsIf you want to make a statement, this is one way of going about it. Supremely quick but also comfortable and practical. Covers ground at a terrific rate just a shame it sounds a bit dull while doing so.
Volkswagen Golf R DSG: $55,990 plus on-road costsHard to overlook if you’re shopping for a top-flight hatch, given its impressive performance-to-value ratio. Well put together, too, and makes for an excellent daily driver. Many will be tempted by the BMW badge and an extra two cylinders for just $4000 extra, and VW knows it, hence the new and less expensive Grid variant.
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