BMW M135i – BMWs latest hot hatch
BMW has a form with building sporty cars that appeal to the masses. With a tagline, “the Ultimate Driving Machine” being used by BMW for years, many buyers immediately go to BMW for all their sporty driving needs. Be it a sporty executive saloon, a racetrack-ready coupe, or an SUV that can go around the Kyalami quickly, BMW had the answer to all your sporty requirements. And from 2006, BMW was also able to answer to your hot hatch questions. From the 130i with a 3,0 straight six and rear wheel drive, which then became the M135i (and M140i) with turbos added, the hot hatch from BMW stood out from the crowd. But now, things have changed. Has it been for the better?
The BMW 1 series has been replaced and has controversially ditched the old rear wheel drive platform in favour of a new front wheel drive (and all-wheel drive in the M135i) platform which is shared with the Mini Cooper and 2-Series Active Tourer. This switch was made by BMW to improve the car’s rear leg room as well as luggage capacity while retaining the driving dynamics BMW have become famous for. Many 1-Series buyers didn’t even notice the added dynamics afforded by the rear wheel drive platform in the outgoing 1-Series, and thus the switch made sense. Unless of course, you bought the M135i.
In terms of styling, the long nose, short rear design of previous generations has been ditched for a more practical, and more balanced hatchback design. The front of the M135i features larger, and now connected kidney grill similar to the new 3-Series, which also house radar detectors in models equipped with active safety and semi-autonomous driving systems such as adaptive cruise control. Slanted headlights, which can be optioned with LED daytime running lights and main beams, flank the grille. The front also features a smiley face style air intake, which is flanked by brake coolers on either side which have chrome trim.
Moving down the side we find chrome wing mirrors as is typical of an M-Sport model. The sides are clean with minimal creases, although you are able to see the longer wheelbase and passenger compartment, which should improve practicality. The rear of the M135i features BMWs new slim L-shaped taillights, which are LED. Below that we find air vents flanking a rear diffuser with twin wheelbarrow tailpipes, indicating the M135i’s sporty intent. The rear is finished off with a nice spoiler perched on top of the less steeply raked rear decklid of the new 1-Series.
Moving on to the interior, we find the BMW have given their new 1-Series a complete rehaul. It shares a similar design with its larger 3-Series sibling. The dash is trimmed in soft-touch materials and aluminium, while many of the buttons and switchgear use aluminium or premium feeling plastic. The steering wheel and shift paddles are shared with the 3 Series, and feature controls for the optional digital display as well as for media controls. Speaking of the digital display, it is shared with the 3 Series. It features the speedometer and rev counter (which goes in the opposite direction like old Aston Martins) on the outer edges, and the middle can be customised to display media, drive modes or satellite navigation.
Next to that we find the main infotainment screen which can be optioned to be up to 10,25 inches in size, and feature the latest iDrive 7.0, which can be controlled via the iDrive controller, the touch screen or by simply saying “Hey BMW” (that feature sounds awfully familiar just by the way). The rest of the interior is plush, with leather-trimmed sport seats in the front, and the rear offering much more head, leg, shoulder and elbow room than the outgoing 1-Series. The boot is now 20 litres larger, at 380 litres, which can grow to a capacity of 1200 litres with the seats folded flat. While the numbers aren’t class leading, the growth is surely welcome to 1-Series drivers.
Now, onto the elephant in the room. BMW has ditched the glorious 3,0 litre B58 turbocharged straight-six from the outgoing M140i, which sent 250kW and 500NM to the rear wheels only, and have instead replaced it with the new B48 engine, which is a 2,0 litre turbocharged 4-pot which does duty in the X2 M35i and new 330i. It produces 225kW and 450NM of torque, sent through an 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox to all 4 wheels. The power split is front biased, with the M135i only using the rear wheels when traction is limited. The numbers are very similar to those produced by the AMG A35, Golf R and Audi S3. And with a 0-100 time of 4,8 seconds (down from 4,5 in the old M140i), it shares a similar sprint time too. The previous M140i was distinctive, being the only hot hatch that was rear wheel drive (read drift capable), and the only hot hatch with a straight six. It featured power and performance closer to an M2, RS3 and A45, but now it has gone down a segment to the very competitive “Golf R” class.
However, this does not mean the M135i is not capable. Although the car will only land on SA shores in Q3, we do have the engine and gearbox in the 330i and X2 M35i (which shares the xdrive system of the M135i). And it is a peach of an engine. It is punchy all through the rev range and sounds good to boot. (yes, it does indeed vrrrr and phaaaa) The lighter M135i should also then be a fun car to drive, with the added traction of the xDrive system meaning fun isn’t limited to dry conditions too and with a strong aftermarket existing for BMW, should you want more sporty performance from your M135i, you will be able to get it with ease. Although, you might void your warranty in the process.
In summary, the M135i may have ditched its roots, but it certainly hasn’t gone soft. A worthy competitor for the Golf R, S3 and A35, the M135i should give each a run for their money. And with an upgraded interior, which is not only more practical but also more luxurious, it should surely be the hot hatch to have if you don’t want something too boy-racer, but that will show up many sports cars at the lights. Pricing and specification will be released in Q3, although we suggest get your orders in ASAP if you want the new M135i.