REVIEW | 2020 BMW M135i is fast but doesn’t evoke legends of the past
To the uninitiated, perhaps when the BMW 1 Series first arrived in 2004 it was the same as any other hatch in those days but the cooking ingredients couldn’t be more different.
It was rear-wheel driven, as well as very fast, drifty and melodious when fitted with a 3.0l straight-six engine.
Fast forward a few years to 2011 and there was a turbo spliced to the hot engines.
Crucially, it was still a six-cylinder and rear-wheel drive in there and the badge on the rump morphed from 130i to 135i, and on to M140i.
Wind the tape some more, this time to 2019, and we are back at M135i with a dramatic change to the recipe. A turbo four-cylinder now powers the flagship, and it’s also four-wheel driven. What’s happened?
Cost saving, parts sharing and the need to appease strict emissions regulations, that’s what.
The engine develops 225kW and 450Nm, which is enough to challenge the VW Golf R and Audi S3 Sportback and it’s a rev-happy engine, but with little turbo lag.
But I’m not accustomed to four-cylinder muscle for a BMW performance hatch, and perhaps this is the contentious part among fanatics.
But, credit where credit is due, this new M135i is ferociously quick off the line. An eight-speed automatic keeps the engine in a perfect boil, with auto upshifts set at ideal peak points to enable the sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 250km/h.
The engine has a green side too thanks to an Eco Pro driving mode and a mild hybrid system. Also, if conditions are right the transmission decouples from the engine for a coasting effect thereby reducing fuel consumption.
Nevertheless, a four-potter with that much power is still highly strung and with the heavy xDrive AWD system in the mix, it’s no wonder it devoured a relatively thirsty 9.9l/100km. On the few occasions where I let rip this figure rose to 15l/100km.
I’ll admit that I’m the first to mourn the loss of rear-wheel drive cars and the specific style a driver needs to participate with them but if we are being honest, thoughts of nearby oversteer always thwart any spirited engagement with RWD, especially when the roads are wet or littered with sharp bends.
The higher levels of grip brought upon by xDrive bring peace of mind and useful traction on any surface, in any weather conditions.
BMW suspension trickery has also made the nose keener to follow steering commands while the rear axle dutifully follows. This is probably the best handling BMW 1 Series hatch by far, but I enjoyed it more when cruising.
Thumb in comfort mode and it’ll erase all thoughts of racing lunacy. Strange, but true, these days it’s all about digital savviness, safety, style and wafting at BMW.
It’s now 33mm longer in the rear, with 19mm of extra headroom and better elbowroom. If you are old enough to recall, these were major drawbacks in earlier RWD models with a transmission tunnel running through the cabin.
The load compartment capacity of 380l swallows a lot, and it comes with an electric tailgate.
You can look to the new range-topper as an absolute yawn because of a missing six-cylinder heart and being fitted with drift-robbing xDrive, or you can view it as a triumph in executive and efficient hot hatchery, which truly is provided you dig deeper in your pocket for the niceties.
Either way, you and I have never experienced a BMW 1 Series flagship quite like it.
BMW M135i xDrive
WE LIKE: Sporty looks, spacious cabin, performance, AWD handling
WE DISLIKE: Very little kit as standard
VERDICT: Rapid, but I miss the straight-six
Motor News star rating
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Performance * * * * *
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Audi S3 Sportback quattro, 228kW/400Nm — R679,189
Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic, 225kW/400Nm — R755,199
Volkswagen Golf R, 228kW/400Nm — R684,400
Type: Four-cylinder turbo
Type: Eight-speed auto
Type: Permanent 4WD
Top speed: 250km/h
0-100km/h: 4.8 sec (as claimed)
Fuel Consumption: 7.5l/100km (as claimed), 9.9l (as tested)
Partial cloth + artificial leather seats, climate control, cruise control, auto on/off lights, daytime driving running lights, navigation, central locking, multifunction steering wheel controls, rain sensor wipers, Bluetooth, six airbags, engine auto start/stop, ABS brakes, stability control.
Warranty: Two years/unlimited km
Lease*: R15,210 per month
*at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit