BMW M135i Review
BMW M135i: Back to basics for this hot hatch
The last time BMW put '1' and 'M' together, the result had the ability to make grown men go pale. The 1M Coupe is a mega car, but its combination of turbo torque, edgy balance and a hunger for oversteer mean that driving it hard tends to be a sweaty-palmed experience.
Now the badge is on another One, in the reverse order. The M135i marks the first time BMW has shoe-horned a turbocharged six into a 1-Series hatchback, and the more practical bodyshell speaks volumes about what this upmarket entry in the hot-hatch market - think Audi S3 or Golf R - is like to drive. While the performance is similar to its two-door coupe stablemate, accessing that speed no longer requires a prescription of brave pills.
But first, the name. The M135i isn't a proper M-car, but rather the first conventional car released under BMW's new 'M-Performance' banner. Technically, the X6 M50d we covered two issues back was the first M-Performance product launched Down Under, but a triple-turbo diesel coupe-SUV isn't really a car, nor is it conventional. Crucially, the M engineers still have a big say in these quasi-M cars, and in the case of the M135i, the result might be one of the best cars BMW makes.
Installed in the nose is a 235kW/450Nm 3.0-litre turbo six. Although the new car's outputs are near-lineball with the 1M's (250kW/450Nm), it's a completely different engine with one turbo, not two. Despite losing a snail, the new donk is actually a more linear, more responsive unit and it sounds fantastic. Only above 6500rpm does the power being to peter out. Until then, it feels like an impossibly strong atmo engine.
Purists will no doubt stick with the standard six-speed manual, but the brilliance of the ZF eight-speed auto will seal the deal for most. Smoother and lighter than a dual-clutch 'box, the closely-stacked ratios mean the self-shifter's 0-100km/h claim is two-tenths quicker than the manual's (4.9 vs 5.1sec). The only slight hiccup is that it'll occasionally deny a downshift when approaching a corner, only to then deliver the lower gear at the apex.
Thankfully, even when this occurs the chassis remains unperturbed. There's brilliant balance and so much grip that finding the limits takes real commitment, while the M engineers have managed to create a firm yet absorbent ride without resorting to adaptive dampers, though they remain an option. As 'proper' M-cars get increasingly tech-heavy, this back-to-basics approach is a breath of fresh air.
The baby Beemer's rear-wheel drive layout compromises the M135i's practicality by reducing passenger and boot space, but what it takes away with one hand it more than gives back with the other through increased driver involvement. At $68,400 (manual), the M135i is not a cheap hot-hatch, but it's an excellent one.
ENGINE: 2979cc 6cyl, DOHC, 24v, turbocharger
POWER: 235kW @ 5800rpm
TORQUE: 450Nm @ 1250-5000rpm
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.8sec (tested)*
TOP SPEED: 250km/h (limited)
* tested MOTOR magazine
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