Performance first: the M135 is manically quick, subjectively, even quicker than the the 4.9sec 0-62mph figure, which matches the 1M’s (the manual M135i arrives two tenths later). Although down on power compared with the 1M, the 1425kg M135i is 70kg lighter, so posts an almost identical 222bhp per tonne power to weight ratio. There’s no big wait for the power to arrive, the turbo is spooled up by 2500rpm, tugging your neck first, then wrenching it when the revs pass 4000rpm. Grab a paddle to engage the next gear and as drive is re-engaged, your head snaps back again as that torque does it’s thing. It revs out, too, although really there’s nothing much to be gained from chasing the last 1000rpm to the 7k limiter.
Even the soundtrack is great, a proper hard-edged BMW six snarl, 90% of which is real, say BMW’s engineers. The last 10% is synthetic, added to make up for the silencing effect of the turbo, though it’s so convicincing, you’d never know otherwise.
The electric power steering is nicely weighted, if perhaps less communicative than the muscle-it-round 1M’s, and not everyone will warm to its variable gearing which makes switchbacks a wrist-flick affair, but occasionally seems a little overgeared. But the M135i feels taut, agile and easy to place. And massively grippy. Maybe too grippy. Even with its open diff, the fastest 1 has no problem putting its power down, meaning it’s perhaps not quite the lairy beast you imagined.
The M135i is a different creature to the old 1M. It’s more cultured, not so extrovert in the way it looks or drives. But it’s massively cheaper and a seriously fun little hatch. It might not look as sexy as a Scirroco, or feel quite so single-minded as a Megane RS, but the BMW is faster, better built and just feels more special than any of them. We can’t think of a more desirable, more exciting top-drawer hot hatch on the planet than this M135i, and even the slighty dull styling can’t stop us reaching for that rarely used fifth star.
Last edited by mdt; 07-12-2012 at 06:40 AM.
Most entertaining car in the entire BMW range.
Either way, this new three-door 1 Series is eagerly, muscularly and excitingly quick with the potential, you may think, to become a flailing handful if you dare to meddle with the ESP button. But the first bold dive into a rain-sheened bend uncovers grip reserves far deeper than expected – deep enough that when that DSC button is prodded for partial disengagement, it takes some lead-foot ambition to get the rear axle’s wider 245/35 R18s to get a skate on, the slide part-managed by a brake-deploying virtual limited slip diff.
So it’s pretty neat, controllable and reassuring, the more so because this rear-driver is quite a finely balanced tool, as proved by a too-fast arrival into a tight, low speed turn that fails to bring on any plough-on understeer. That said, you can expect to see plenty of the orange light that confirms an active ESP system, which is no surprise given all this energy and rear-wheel drive.
Perversely, it’s best to experience all this in the ‘comfort’ setting of the £515 Adaptive M Sport suspension, an essential option. It softens off the electronic dampers and lightens the steering effort to produce a satisfyingly communicative, more absorbent chassis and best of all, usefully more feelsome steering. Of course, tripping the ‘Comfort’ mode slows the shift times and the ‘box’s willingness to hold a gear, but that’s easily undone by sliding the gearlever to leftwards to ‘Sport’, which gets you a more eager gearbox.
The result is a an excitingly rapid drive that sits just the right side of hectic, the excitement of the six’s keen blare built on by the ‘box’s light thumps in sport, the ra-ta-tat of the exhaust’s over-run, the lightly clasping support of the seats and an excellent driving position. While some may desire the more uncompromising character of the 1M Coupe, the fact is that this M135i’s ride is less maskingly firm, its steering more delicate and its character easier to live with. And it’s also a whole lot cheaper, being almost £10k less.
Of course, you do without the some of the 1M’s alloy suspension hardware and massive brake rotors – although the 135i’s enlarged blue-calipered disks are entirely effective - but remember that the M135i rides on the latest 1 Series platform besides benefiting from bespoke suspension geometry and its own springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and bushes.
Much of the M135is’s considerable entertainment repertoire is provided by the straight six. This Twinpower motor features a twin-scroll variable geometry turbocharger, variable timing of both inlet and exhaust cams, variable valve timing and direct injection, these features managing to almost eliminate turbo lag. Indeed, you must actively search it out to find any, by shifting manually and having the revs build from 1000rpm to the 7500rom limit in second, say. Then you’ll uncover a slower-moving tacho needle to 1300rpm. From this point the six has already reached its 320lb ft torque peak, this figure impressively maintained through to 4500rpm, although the revs don’t rush at you until this peak has passed, the tacho needle performing a lightning flit to the limiter.
Throttle response is not as instant as you’ll find in a normally aspirated M3, but it’s sharp enough for most circumstances. Couple the six’s breadth of urge to that eight-speeder, and you have a car that powers near seamlessly from a dawdle to its easily struck – and restricted - 155mph maximum.
Motorsport has tuned the 135i’s exhaust to provide a smoothly busy sound-track that makes paddling your way through eight ratios an absorbing business, even if the noise can turn slightly wearing. Happily it quietens off at a motorway cruise. And we suspect the same may be true of the ride, which showed signs of choppiness on Germany’s mostly smooth roads.
None of this seriously diminishes the appeal of this car, which has to be one of the most entertaining in the entire BMW range, offers truly memorable go for the money and a highly capable and entertaining chassis besides. It’s a shame that the 1 Series, three door or not, doesn’t make a more appealing eyeful, like an Astra GTC. Maybe the next-gen 1 Series coupe will fix that.
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Economy: 37.7mpg combined; CO2: 175g/km
Engine: 6-cyls, in-line, 2979cc, petrol turbo; Installation: Longitudinal Power: 316bhp at 5800rpm
Torque: 332lb ft at 1300-4500rpm (with overboost)
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Last edited by mdt; 07-12-2012 at 06:41 AM.
"More fun than the AMG Mercedes."
“The M Coupe was a race car that had been tamed slightly, whereas the M135i takes the road car as a starting point and takes it to the limit,” Dr Friedrich Nitschke. BMW’s M boss, told us.
Under the skin, this is a very different car to the M Coupe. Firstly the six-cylinder engine has a single, rather than twin turbos, there’s no limited slip differential, it uses adaptive dampers instead of rock-hard fixed-rate suspension and the M135i comes with the option of an eight-speed auto, unlike the manual-only M Coupe.
But don’t imagine for a second this car is soft. The engine’s performance in thrilling, although it never feels too ballistic for the road, and it sounds fantastic too – the raspy engine note fills the car and there’s muffled pops and bangs from the exhaust on the overrun.
What sets this sensational powertrain apart though is its smoothness, even as you scream towards the 7,200rpm redline, which is partly thanks to the superb eight-speed auto gearbox. The six-speed manual will still be the purists choice, but there’s now no shame in ordering the auto.
The standard M Sport adaptive suspension sits 10mm lower to the road, but leave it in Comfort mode and it’s easily forgiving enough for everyday use. Crank it up through the driving modes though - which also tweak throttle response, gear change speed and steering weight – and it gets significantly firmer. Sport+ is best reserved for driving on track, but even so it’s not as bone-shaking as the M Coupe.
Our only gripe was with the variable-ratio steering, which is sharp and accurate but too light for a car this fast. Hit a bump mid-corner causes the wheel to wriggle in your hands, which can upsets the car’s balance. That aside the grip levels are impressive, throttle response is immediate and when you want to act like a hooligan turning the traction control off in the rear-wheel drive M135i is far more fun than with the four-wheel drive Audi RS3 or forthcoming Mercedes A45 AMG.
BMW M135i: driven
Doesn't contain the full fat of a 'real' M car, but wonderful nonetheless. Paul Horrell.
This isn't actually an M car, but don't let that bother you. You can feel the magic.
In the engine, for a start. It's not the twin-turbo 3.0 of the old 1-series M coupe, but the new-generation single turbo. But it's very nearly as powerful, at 320bhp. And with some M modifications to improve response and sound, it's all rather scintillating.
There's masses of pick-up right through the mid-revs, and it chases towards the 7000rpm red-line with a vim and a voice that hark back to why we loved the BMW straight-six in the first place.
Even when you don't change gear much, this is a really fast car. But believe me you will keep changing, because you'll want the sound of it.
The M folks also burrowed deep into the steering and suspension, changing the rack and the geometry at the front, and stiffening all the springs and dampers. Plus there are special brakes, and unique tyres, differently sized front to rear. No messing.
So you catapult down the road grinning like a loon. And then, wey-hey, a corner explodes towards you. The M135i has absolutely got the smarts to cope. The steering is super-direct but so well weighted and progressive that it's never twitchy. Grip is nearly unshakeable, and equally tight at both ends of the car. You won't break the back tyres' traction by accident, but if you want to do it deliberately, 320bhp will be there to help.
It might not be as hard-edged a car as the 1-series M Coupe, but it's close. And give it a break - the old car was £40,000, and this one is £30k. A real bargain. Especially as it's got a more modern, roomy and amenable interior.
This is the first of the new three-door 1-series, but soon you'll be able to get the three-door with all the engines. The M Sport body pack worn by the M135i will be an option on several of the smaller engines too, but you can tell the full M135i by its twin tailpipes and unique wheels.
So if it's not an M car, what is it? An M Performance Automobile. A mouthful, and even BMW M executives can't be bothered with it - they say MPA. An MPA is a car that sits between regular BMW cars and full-on M cars. The people at M aren't solely responsible, but they have an input.
And their input is, obviously, good.
In fact the M135i is better than I'd expected because the last M car I drove was the new M6, and that didn't have the simplicity and connection that I want from an M car. This not-M car does.
The other thing about an MPA is that it can use layouts that M cars are denied. For instance, MPA can be diesel, or they can be 4WD. So the first MPA car was the M550d xDrive, which is both diesel and 4WD. [OK pedants, the X6M and X5M are ‘proper' M cars in that they're made by M, and yes they're 4WD, but the base vehicles were 4WD too so they were never going to be RWD. And I don't think they actually fall within the spirit of what an M car is. C'mon, do you?]
So because the M135i is an MPA and not an M, it will also be available with xDrive by the end of the year. And as a five-door. Cars to give the next-generation Audi S3 some real hurry-up, we'd guess.
Last edited by mdt; 07-12-2012 at 07:10 AM.
Point the 1M at a curve and see if this new baby keeps up, M diff, widened track, and 265's should help. It's those in an M3 that would be more embarrassed given that they are more than twice the price of a M135 and only fractionally quicker than a 1M (a standard 1M that is ).
So what will the new M2 be like? That has potential, nose aside of course.
It changes often
I mean the engine set up in the broader sense including its exhaust tuning. It's probably that feature of the car I find most appealing. Getting a car that sounds sporty while not droning on the highway is no small achievement.
Cayman would be nice, but I keep thinking about that dark blue Targa 4S from Prahran markets two or three weeks ago. Out of my price range, sadly.