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24 Sep 2019

What We Dislike
Unnecessary aggressive shifts in Sport mode

BMW's new M135i hot hatchback might do away with rear-wheel drive, but it is a powerful weapon that's sharper on the road than ever before.

The new BMW 1 Series is now front-wheel driven, with a four-wheel drive option.

Internet car purists are terribly offended by this fact. They're not wrong - a straight-six, rear-wheel driven BMW encompasses everything the brand's 'Sheer Driving Pleasure' tagline is about.

The BMW M135i looks the part of a hot hatch

But with changing business climates and customer sentiments, it seems BMW has rewritten the recipe that we've come to know so well with its new compact offering.

Easier to live with

The outgoing M140i might have been spectacular, largely due to its uniqueness compared to the four-wheel driven competition like the Volkswagen Golf R and the Mercedes-AMG A35. It looked different, with its long bonnet taking precedence that hid the car's large 3.0-litre longitudinally mounted engine.

With this iteration, it better represents the dimensions of a hot hatchback. The M135i now appears taller, shorter and sharper than before. M bits are not forgotten, most noticeably the large four-pot M Performance calipers shielded by even larger 18-inch wheels.

Large M Performance brakes are just some of the M bits that the M135i is adorned with

Inside, there is more practicality, with a boot that's 20 litres bigger. With no rear-wheel drive transmission tunnel, it works better for three passengers at the back than before, too.

A smaller footprint, but still a big heart

It sounds good then. But the improved practicality on offer is a direct result of omitting six-cylinders and rear-wheel drive from the 1 Series platform.

The M135i now has a transversely mounted 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder lump up front, putting down 302bhp and 450Nm of torque through BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system.

No straight-six here - in place is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that's good for 302bhp and 450Nm of torque

It makes 38bhp and 50Nm less than the outgoing M140i. Blasphemy? Not quite. It doesn't feel any less quick or responsive than before. In fact, in most areas, it feels quicker with more usable power - there is no fear of hearing the haunting squeal of the rear tyres breaking traction when you don't want it to.

The powerplant is punchy and sweet, and is more than happy to use up all the revs available. But the M135i's party trick isn't brute force, but how it puts all the power down.
Perfect execution

Despite being a front- based all-wheel drive system, the M135i dives into corners with a high level of precision. No amount of silly heavy-footedness can trick it either. The M135i just offers more grip instead, thanks to the car's torsen front axle lock system that pulls you into the corner.

The M135i has impressive corner carving abilities, thanks to its suspension and axle setup

The M135i's dampers are adaptive, but they are so well sorted that you never need to have it firmed up. It communicates well in any damping mode, without crashing and diving at the slightest hint of throttle or steering corrections.

The Aisin-derived eight-speed automatic tends to be dramatic with heavier, more aggressive shifting in Sport - perhaps engineered for more drama. Unlike true blue M cars, you can't change how burly you want the shifts to be. A little less of that would be good.

The eight-speed automatic is clearly a smooth operator, but it is unnaturally aggressive in Sport mode

While it might seem all to clinical and perfect, its brilliant fast road driving abilities still puts a smile on your face - whether it is you coming out unscathed after a corner is done too fast, or dropping a gear in a tunnel to hear pops and bangs through the exhaust.

A hot hatch for Singapore

The hot-blooded 1 Series has always been the odd-choice when it comes to hot hatches. It might have worked elsewhere, but back in Singapore, its 3.0-litre powerplant wasn't exactly road tax friendly.

With that in mind, it isn't a step backwards with the new M135i. It is excellent in every regard, and when it comes to your money on hot hatches, it finally is one that doesn't have a heavy annual road tax tag.

The BMW M135i is undoubtedly a well-endowed hot hatch

So if you're looking for a pretty competent hot hatch now, just hold out for the next few months. The M135i is coming to Singapore by the end of this year, with an indicative price of around $235,000 - right smack between the Golf R and the A35.

And on the point of a rear-wheel drive 1 Series? Well, after driving this, we don't miss it. Not one bit.

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