The burgeoning hot hatch segment has a wealth of viable contenders for the crown. Most, however, are hobbled by the inherent limitations of a front-wheel-drive platform. Eagle-eyed BMW has identified an opportunity in the segment and released the long-awaited M135i — a high performance rear-drive hatch that, on paper, should run rings around its front-whee-drive counterparts.
The M135i is the first M Performance car for the compact segment and sits between M Sport and top of the ladder M variants. It will be also be available with the xDrive all-wheel-drive option and comes in five-door guise — perrfect for ski trips to the Swiss Alps then.
The M135i is the performance flagship of the new 1 Series range. As such, it features the most aggressive design with an M Aerodynamic body styling kit, including grey coloured blades and air inlets within the deep front bumper; grey wing mirror housings, a black rear diffuser and dual exhaust outlets. But it is also unassuming; in profile the car looks like it could be just another three-door hatch — all the better to fly under the radar.
Beauty is, however, in the eye of the beholder, and with three specific individualisation packages – Sport, Urban and M Sport — M135i can be tailored to suit a variety of tastes.
Inside, the cabin is driver focussed, with a central instrument panel canted towards the driver and matt blue or high-gloss black accents on the tiered dashboard. A high-resolution 6.5-inch monitor is also fitted should satellite navigation be specified. Interior space has also been enhanced to benefit rear seat passengers.
The second-generation 1 Series has grown 85mm longer, 17mm wider and has a 30mm longer wheelbase. The front and rear tracks have also been increased by 51mm and 71mm to improve its stance and roadholding.
The increased exterior dimensions havee improved cabin space. There is a 21mm more legroom at the rear (as well as a choice of two or three seats) and the luggage compartment has been grown by 30 litres to 360 litres. With the rear seats folded there is storage capacity of up to 1,200 litres. And for added practicality, the M135i can be fitted with an optional 40:20:40 split seat back (rather than the standard 60:40).
Performance & Handling
Make no mistake; the M135i is a real driver’s car. Its communicative chassis and characteristic rear-wheel-drive set up instil confidence at speeds even if your passengers swear the manoeuvres you’re pulling will result in certain death. With 316bhp and 450Nm of torque on tap it’s very easy to get to hit the electronically limited 155mph top speed without breaking a sweat.
The M135i is fitted with BMW’s quick ratio Variable Sports electric steering – it takes only two turns to full lock. Though it tracks well, it lacks some of the feel of a hydraulic steering system and is a bit lighter than we would expect at speed. Braking is accomplished via four piston callipers up front and two at the rear. Paired with enlarged discs, there is a progressive feel through the pedal.
The optional eight speed automatic gearbox fitted to our test car is simply brilliant. It not only outperforms its manual counterpart (the auto is two-tenths faster to 62mph than the standard six speed), the convenience of the automatic will ensure you won’t miss the clutch pedal in a congested commute. And with this many cogs available, you can hear the wonderful engine note more often as you strum through gear changes via steering wheel mounted paddles.
The icing on the M135i cake is its supreme power delivery. Smooth and linear, the six-cylinder powerplant sends seemingly unending thrust to the rear wheels, pushing you swiftly out of corners and quickly towards the horizon. If it weren’t for Germany’s derestricted autobahns, it could easily have gotten us into a lot of trouble.
Economy & Environment
Few who opt for M135i ownership will be concerned with these figures, but if you’re reading this you’ll be pleased to know that it features BMW’s EfficientDynamics. The system includes an automatic start/stop function, Eco Pro mode, brake energy regeneration, on-demand operation of ancillary units, map-regulated oil pump, an air flap control to reduce drag and tyres with reduced rolling resistance.
These efficiency technologies allow for a claimed 35.3mpg fuel economy rating and emissions of 188g/km of CO2 with the manual. Those figures increase to 37.7mpg and 175g/km when paired to the automatic, which fits into VED band H.
Equipment & Value
Over an above other models in the 1 Series range, the M135i features exclusive 18-inch M light alloys, an M Sport suspension that rides 10mm lower, M aerodynamic body styling, M135i designation aluminium doorsill covers, high-gloss Shadow Line trim, and an M Sport braking system.
Its standard sports seats are trimmed in Hexagon/Alcantara upholstery and the M leather steering wheel with blue accent stitching includes multifunction buttons. It also comes standard with keyless start, remote central locking and air conditioning. Overall it’s well specified.
The options list includes dual zone climate control, adaptive headlights with cornering lights, park distance control, rear-view camera, active cruise control with braking function, parking assistant, lane departure warning with rear-end collision warning, a glass sunroof and electrically adjustable and heated seats.
With a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP, the 1 Series is as safe as can be. It’s got front and side airbags; side head airbags for the front and the rear passengers; three-point inertia-reel seat belts, belt force limiters and belt tensioners in the front and crash sensors. The safety credentials are amplified by a host of technological acronyms as well: ABS, EBD, DSC and a TPMS.
With each passing year comes increasingly stringent emissions and safety legislation, challenging automakers to meet worldwide homologation standards to make their ventures more profitable – i.e. boring. But every once in a while a car comes along that truly impresses. The M135i is one of those cars.
While it isn’t an M car per se, BMW has built upon the qualities that made the hot hatch so desirable in the first place. With its well-engineered chassis, compliant and agile suspension, powerful engine and exhaust making all the right noises, the M135i is every bit a driver’s car. And its segment-unique rear-wheel-drive platform and eight-speed automatic gearbox just make it all the more rewarding from behind the wheel. If you’re in the market for an unassuming, premium hot hatch with high entertainment value, your search is over.
Model tested: BMW M135i
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Emissions: 175g/km CO2