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BMW M135i review: First drive

The Good

  • Properly fast
  • Lovely interior
  • Practical

The Bad

  • M235i is prettier
4.5

Our review of the BMW M135i reveals a potent hot hatch that’s fabulous fun to drive.

The BMW 1 Series may be aimed primarily at those looking for a sensible yet upmarket family hatch, but the car has a naughty side, particularly in M135i form. This version of the car is a hot hatch in every sense of the term, offering blistering performance that allows it to outpace many purpose-built sports cars. We headed to some of our favourite roads in the Cotswolds to see whether the third generation of BMW’s baby bruiser still makes the cut.

Design

“It’s not as pretty as the M235i, and nor would we say it’s particularly sporty-looking, but it’s an improvement over past cars.”The basic BMW 1 Series isn’t the easiest car on the eye, but this latest version does sport improvements over the two previous iterations. Its front grille in particular is far more appealing, with more sculpted lights and slightly tweaked details in the ‘kidney’ grille, while the rear benefits from L-shaped tail lights sat above new reflectors and an exhaust that’s 5mm larger than before.

It’s not as pretty as the M235i, and nor would we say it’s particularly sporty-looking, but it’s an improvement over past cars and may appeal to buyers who want a hot hatch that blends into its surroundings without shouting ‘look at me, I’m fast.”

Inside, the new 1 Series is pretty much indistinguishable from any other BMW model, aside from some new glossy black flourishes. It’s a lovely interior, with logically-arranged buttons and switches, and a premium feel that will instil a sense of pride for your purchase.

Practicality

“Don’t bother with the three-door car if you regularly use back seats, as getting in and out can be awkward.”The BMW M135i comes in both three- and five-door guises. Don’t bother with the three-door car if you regularly use back seats, as getting in and out can be awkward. Both versions have more than adequate rear leg and headroom, with the car able to accommodate four six-footers. The middle seat at the rear is best suited to kids only, or adults who draw the short straw.

The rear door pockets are tiny, but you do at least get cupholders in the fold-down centre compartment. The front door pockets are a more useful size, while you get a large centre console with a dedicated space for your mobile phone, along with USB and auxiliary ports, as well as a decent-sized glove box.

Boot space is up 30 litres over the old car, now totalling 360, rising to 1,200 litres with the 40-20-40 split rear seat backs folded flat. The boot also features cargo nets to stop loose objects flying about during spirited driving.

Performance & handling

“Catch a Porsche 911 driver off guard and you could leave him or her feeling suitably embarrassed at the lights.”This thing is rapid. Its turbocharged six-cylinder engine makes a very healthy 326bhp, which is good for a 0-62mph time of just 4.9 seconds. Catch a Porsche 911 driver off guard and you could leave him or her feeling suitably embarrassed at the lights.

Acceleration is generally savage, regardless of how fast you’re going or what gear you’re in. Torque is a massive 450Nm, and despite its engine being turbocharged, the surge it provides seems to last an age through the rev range. Plant the throttle and it doesn’t so much deliver a kick in the back, rather a prolonged tsunami-like surge.

The newly revised eight-speed transmission is a joy to use, too. Leave it in auto mode and it’ll do its thing with aplomb. The system is now linked to the car’s navigation system, meaning it can predict what gear it needs to select based on the road conditions ahead. Approach a corner, for example, and it’ll shift down a cog or two to give you the most appropriate gearing, rather than reactively changing down mid-bend based on speed alone. Get close to a reduced speed limit zone and it’ll change up in the assumption that you’ll be taking it easy for the duration of that particular stretch.

“The engine note is aggressive enough to complement the bonkers acceleration on offer.”The gearbox has a manual mode too. Slide the centre stick to the leftmost position and you’ll be in total control. Hooligans can stubbornly stay in first gear, for example, bouncing off the rev limiter, mid-donut, and the car won’t ruin your fun by upshifting. More usefully, it allows you to select the gear you think is best for a particular corner. It really is a joy to use; punchy, fast and arguably more fun than a manual – sacrilegious, we know.

Ride and handling are both first rate. The car has taut, sporty suspension, but never crashes over rough surfaces. Body roll is minimal and grip tenacious. It’s an agile car, particularly in the most aggressive Sport + setting, which tweaks the throttle response and steering weight to their sportiest extremes.

The engine noise is satisfying, too. We wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s raucous, but it’s aggressive enough to complement the bonkers acceleration on offer.

Economy & environment

With a very heavy foot, you can expect fuel economy somewhere around the 20mpg mark, but that’s reasonably impressive given the performance on tap. With more careful acceleration, BMW claims the M135i will return 35.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 188g/km.

Equipment & value

The BMW 135i starts at £31,530, which is extremely reasonable given the speed of the thing. Like all 1 Series cars, it comes with navigation, remote central locking, push-button engine start, automatic air conditioning, rain-sensing, CD player, DAB radio and Bluetooth with audio streaming, plus BMW’s iDrive interface.

Being an M model, the car also benefits from 18-inch wheels, aluminium interior trim, M Sport suspension, alcantara upholstery, and LED headlights.

Safety

The previous BMW 1 Series scored an impressive five stars in Euro NCAP testing. We’d suggest this new car is safer still, as it comes with a host of high tech safety features that could get its occupants out of serious scrapes. All cars will tell you what speed limit you’re supposed to be doing, lane departure warning, collision warning and attention assistant. All cars also include accelerometers and a SIM card, enabling them to detect when an accident has occurred before calling for help on your behalf.

Verdict

We can’t recommend the BMW M135i highly enough. Sure, we’re not the biggest fans of the way it looks, but it’s a fabulous hot hatch. If you’re after a car that offers truly blistering performance, reasonable running costs and great practicality, with the added hooliganism intrinsic to rear-wheel-drive cars, then it’s an absolute must have. Epic.

Specification

Engine3.0-litre turbocharged six cylinder
Power326bhp
Torque450Nm
Acceleration0-62mph in 4.9 seconds
Emissions188g/km
Economy35.3mpg
Price£31,730

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