The original BMW 1-series was the subject of a lot of criticism when it was first launched. It wasn’t pretty – it looked like something you left on a sofa which got sat on by an absent-minded aunt. Most of the cars sold were 116 diesels with cramped back seats and not really enough room for luggage, especially on an airport run. But it was the only hatchback you could have with a longitudinally-mounted straight-six engine and of course, rear-wheel-drive. The later range topping M140i has become some what of an icon and its looks have matured over time and become a fond favourite to many of us. The M140i, and even the former M135i, will always have a special place in a lot of our hearts, despite the time it tried to kill Jeremy Clarkson and a few more of us I’m sure!
The all new BMW 1-Series, the 1, has changed considerably. It has a transverse engine and is namely a front-wheel-drive car, things will never be the same again. They do offer a couple of models with X-Drive, including of course the new M135i which we are looking at today. While it does send power to all wheels, it will only ever send up to 50% of the engine’s power to the rear. Then there’s the engine, no longer do we see that glorious B58 3.0 6 cylinder turbocharged animal we have all grown to love. Instead it houses the two-litre four-cylinder equipped with a turbocharger (the B48). That’s why this car doesn’t inherit the 40i name. It comes with a deficit of 40 hp and 100 Nm, and that shows in the 0-60 mph time, which is four-tenths of a second less than the previous flagship 1-series hatch. It also lacks a lot of the noise and drama a lot of us petrol heads really loved.
Another area which has come under fire is in its looks. Now styling is always going to be subjective and we all have our own idea as to what looks good, not just cars but anything. For me, when the car was first revealed I was a little disappointed. Not so much that it was ugly, but more that it was very safe. You can notice some similarities with a number of other cars on the market. What’s more, when we first turned up to the event I honestly thought initially the 118i was the M135i and vice versa on first glance. I’m not sure if that is a dig at the M135i or a compliment to the 118i but either way, I don’t dislike the styling, but I am not blown away either. The rear of the car is certainly its best angle though, it really does show off its wider stance.
The car gives you enough reason to cry foul and bemoan the reformations in this hatch. However, and it took me a while to get this, the new M135i is not a replacement to the outgoing M140i. In fact it is such a different car and the M140i is not what it is competing with. The M140i was always a mad little car with bags of character, so much so I bought one myself and it was without doubt one of the best all round cars I have ever owned. But the facts are, I sit in a minority camp. The market has moved to the all wheel drive sector, which suits more people who are on the roads and subsequently buy the cars. Some of the favourites being the Focus RS, the Golf R, the AMG A35 and the list goes on. As such we should look at the M135i against these models, only then does it start to make a little more sense.
The M135i has the same steering set up as many other BMWs, but in the M135i it feels different – precise, tough, solid. The whole car feels solid in actual fact. The exhaust is certainly somewhat restricted as you would expect with tighter regulations, but you get a little bit of audio from it and the occasional pop and bang. The AMG A35 seems to emit more sound than the M135i but I am sure with a little magic from someone like Remus, we could see a lot more potential. The X-Drive really does help get the car off the line, hence the 0-60 time not being too dissimilar from the M140i, every launch is vigorous and repeatable. It revs out smoothly and gives you a pretty decent kick throughout the rev range.
The car really does hold the road well, we had the typical British weather for our time with the car and the grip was really quite surprising. You could give it a boot full and the car picked up and went. No drama. While we were somewhat limited by the conditions, the corning ability was good and you had to push quite hard through a wet roundabout to get the front to let go slightly. At no point did we experience the rear of the car try to let go however. It would be great to get the car on track to fully explore the limits.
Because of the new chasis and setup, the back seat has usable room for adults, and the boot is bigger by 20 litres as well. Despite the sloping roofline, I am 6ft 1 and I was quite comfortable in the back. Open the boot (which now features the electric open and close) and you find that it now has an under-floor storage compartment as well, giving a total capacity of 380 litres.
As an M140i replacement, there is no question, I was disappointed. However when I had some time to reflect, as a car the M135i is truly impressive. It is an easy car to live with and really quite practical. You can expect a very reasonable 37mpg, you have lots of space for 4 adults, the the cockpit is just such a great place to be with its new seats and the latest BMW operating system 7, and the new X-Drive system is going to keep you in check whatever the British climate chucks at you. But where the car shines most is in its price. It’s not that much more than the price of the straight and sensible Golf R, yet in my opinion, the new M135i offers so much more.