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The new BMW M135i is a powerful, dynamically capable and highly forgiving hot hatch capable of being both sensible and swell.

19 Mar 2020


I last drove the previous generation BMW M135i in 2015, and I remember that car vividly.

Not necessarily fondly, mind you. That car had more power than the chassis knew what to do with, the ride was bone crushingly hard, and there was a level of manic uncertainty about the way the car handled that made every full throttle adventure a dance with mortality.

The new BMW M135i enters a highly competitive hot hatch segment
The car had other issues, too. The boot wasn't very big, interior space quite cramp, it was too noisy too much of the time, and it's just not a car you could live with every day.

But, there's no denying that those memories have stayed with me even five years on. Vividly...

This, then, is the brand new M135i. How does it fare? 

Visual desire

This car you see here is the Speed Edition, and that comes with some additional exterior adornments - a High Gloss Black front grille, an M Performance aero flick, M performance sill attachment and M Performance set tailpipe trims in titanium/carbon.

The cabin of the M135i is certainly classy and high-tech 
These extra bits, together with the M Aerodynamics package and M rear spoiler, help to slightly disguise the fact that the new 1 Series isn't the prettiest-looking car in the world.  

Thankfully, the inside of the car is really quite a classy and luxurious affair. The interior is typical 1 Series fare, which means to say that it's great. You get the latest BMW Operating System 7.0, a fully digital dashboard, a head-up display, and BMW Connected Package Professional. It's pretty comprehensive for a 1 Series model. I also quite like the blatant boldness of the Magma Red interior. 

Sensual pleasure

With 302bhp and 450Nm of torque sent to all four wheels, 0-100km/h takes just 4.8 seconds
The old M135i was an absolute handful to drive - lairy, somewhat intimidating, and always on the verge of wheel spin. This new car is a totally different beast. It's powered by a 2.0-litre engine that pumps out 302bhp and 450Nm of torque, and power is sent to all four wheels through BMW's xDrive system.

This new car certainly knows what to do with all that power - namely, put it down onto the road with absolutely no wastage. Power is delivered promptly, and traction is nigh unbreakable, even with remarkably callous driving. As a result, the car delivers a sense of confidence and assuredness you could never find previously.

Massive front brakes deliver astute stopping power
It also handles well - the steering feels a little artificial, but there's no denying the accuracy that it delivers, allowing you to attack corners with easy confidence. The car is also quite aggressively tuned - on hard throttling, gearshifts are delivered with a distinctive kick in the back.

However, it's not just all rowdy, shouty performance. Put the car in Comfort or even Eco mode and it settles down well. It's forgiving and easy to drive, while still delivering that kick of pace you need when overtaking slow moving cars on the highway. Thankfully, the adaptive suspension also allows you to go from a firm but forgiving ride in Comfort to a stiffer setup in Sport for tackling corners.

All in all, it's a highly dynamically capable hot hatch that calms down when you need it to.  

Tough measure

The M Sport seats do a great job of holding you in place as you aggressively attack corners
As far as a hot hatch goes, there's no denying that this is a really good car. It's quick, handles incredibly confidently, usable daily, and does enough of the practical hatchback things to make it an everyday car. It's a thoroughly well-executed package that you'll struggle to really find fault with, at least mechanically.

There is a big problem, though. This newest iteration of the M135i has too much competition. The previous model's 3.0-litre straight-six engine and rear-wheel drive combination was absolutely unique in its class (on both counts). Buying that car gave you absolute bragging rights, even though that car demanded some compromises on your part.  

While undeniably a good car, the pricey M135i will likely struggle to set itself apart amidst a highly competitive hot hatch segment
This new car's 2.0-litre engine, all-wheel drive setup puts it squarely in the same conversation as other hot hatches like the Mercedes-AMG A35 and the Volkswagen Golf R. And for $239,888 (as of 7 March 2020), I'm not quite sure it makes sense because you can buy a top-spec 3 Series 330i M Sport for the same money. Our test car, with the Speed Edition accessories and Storm Bay metallic paint, clocks in at a whopping $252,458.

It's too expensive, without being exclusive or niche enough. A Golf R has comparable performance and costs 40 grand less. And handling? I'd take the Renault Megane RS - it's arguably more fun to drive, and costs $76,000 less. And, if you really wanted an M car, you could have a two-year old M2 for the same money (or less).

Don't get me wrong - the BMW M135i is an objectively good car. But, it's just not special enough to reasonably justify its pricetag. And, five years from now, I'm not too sure if I will remember it very much.

Car Information

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BMW M Series M135i 2.0 xDrive (A)
Rate it

Price

: $236,888

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1998cc

Horsepower

:

225kW (302 bhp) / 6250 rpm

Torque

:

450 Nm / 4500 rpm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A) Steptronic

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

4.8sec

Top Speed

:

250km/h

Fuel consumption

:

13.3 km/L

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