I had the opportunity to drive a 2014 plate BMW M135i through the winding roads of Mulgoa and Orchard Hills giving it a bloody good squirt while staying within recommended speed limits during this double demerit period. Those of you who have been in my Evolution 8 MR with me know I never cross the line with the law (…).
So what are we driving here? A 3-litre straight six with a twin-scroll turbo producing 235kw of power and 450nm of torque. The body is a four door hot hatch shape with a long nose and short back end. It is a tune down from BMW’s 1M – I think mostly because BMW realised it was too bloody powerful and there was opportunity to fill in the gap between what was a quick hot hatch then and what it is now. This car wasn’t touched by the M department which is surprising because this car is the ducks nuts for the price ($30,000+ plus cheaper than the new M2).
I don’t think I could find much wrong with the car in terms of performance and practicality. Jeremy Clarkson many years ago ripped it to shreds comparing it to VW’s Golf GTI but the two are not even in the same class. There is not point comparing a Toyota Hilux to a Smart Car and calling the Smart Car impractical for not being able to store your golf clubs in the non-existent boot.
The straight-6 gives a lot of torque down low when the turbo is asleep and lets you zip around quickly without hitting boost coming out of every corner – although doing this isn’t a bad habit. The turbo kicks in at about 3500rpm and revs long and hard to redline at about 9000rpm. One of the fun things about this car is how revvy the engine is – it almost obliges you to hit redline on gears 1-5 every time. And that leads me to the best thing on the car, and the thing that clinches the advantage over AMGs A45, which is the ZF gearbox. It is smooth and quick and you get an awesome burble shifting at the high rev range. The nice kind of VW burble – not the mechanical sound AMG has been producing for the last few years.
Rear wheel drive lets you get the car playing around out of every corner when the boost kicks in until the traction control kicks your ass back into a straight line. This car has a better dynamic stability control system than the Golf R. The test was conducted in Sport mode. Sport Plus is race mode and after losing a lot of traction with this setting in the past I didn’t dare play with it this time. Switch it back to normal mode and you are back in a tame 3-series-like luxury car.
The interior makes me feel like a driver in the series 6 RX-7 as all the driver controls and feedback mechanisms are driver orientated. You sit in a very snug cockpit which makes you feel like you’re part of the chassis. The leather seats are very nice (likely the old M3 seats re-used) and there are no cheap plastic-like materials used on the dash.
As against the Golf R the M135i presents a wholesome premium product while the Golf R is still a Golf 4 cylinder at the low end. As against the A45 AMG, I think AMG would be a little bit embarrassed having produced the world’s fastest 4-cylinder with a gearbox fit for the T-Model. It shifts fast but nothing like Golf R’s DSG or M135i’s ZF. You get a bit of a lag in the A45 shift and feel like you’re never in total control of your rev range and it makes it hard to control if you’re racing a fast corner. The Golf R and A45 are also two-tiered in relation to power delivery. You either have laggy 4 cylinder nothing or you have full boost – the point being there is nothing in between. As mentioned above, the upperhand with the M135i is you get great torque down-low without turbo play.
I would say this car is quicker than the A45 around a circuit…but even if I am wrong, this car is a whole lot more fun. I think it is a much better package than anything else in its class and the new M140 would be even that much better.
I don’t know how to explain the feeling of being in an exciting car (it’s an exciting feeling?) but if you’re a car nut you know that feeling of being absorbed by the animation of the car at full throttle – the M135i/new M140i gives you exactly that. If you’re in the market for a hot hatch which are comparable to the A45, GTI, Golf R, or Megane RS, then you should consider getting the new M140i (the M135i is no longer in production).
Having driven both this car, the M140i and the M2, there is no reason why the the baby 1 series Ms should be overlooked (disclosure: I have an M2 on order due in September). I think I went for the M2 only for its badge and that wide body.