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BMW 130i M Sport review (2006-2011)
Model: BMW 130i M Sport
Body style: 5-door hatchback
Engine: 3.0-litre straight-six petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel-drive
Date of Test: January 2006
What is it?
A rear-wheel-drive hatchback featuring BMW’s 3.0-litre straight-six engine and some suspension and styling revisions from the M Sport department. The styling alterations are fairly restrained - deeper air intakes, a chrome kidney grille, larger 18-inch M Sport alloy wheels and matt black window surrounds - so to the uninformed the 130i M Sport might look much like every other BMW 1 Series. They’d be mistaken though as the 130i M Sport has 265bhp, produced by the same excellent 3.0-litre straight-six that’s used extensively throughout the BMW model range. Here it allows the 130i to sprint to 62mph in 6.1 seconds and reach an electronically restricted 155mph maximum. That makes the 130i M Sport one of the most rapid hatchbacks you can currently buy.
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Where does it fit?
It heads the 1 Series range and competes against rivals like the Alfa 147 GTA, Audi A3 3.2 quattro Sport, VW Golf R32 and the Mercedes C350 C-Class Sport Coupe. This mixed bunch go about delivering their manic pace in different ways; the Mercedes is an automatic, the Alfa front-wheel-drive an the VW and Audi using four-wheel-drive. The BMW is the only car here to offer rear-wheel-drive combined with a manual gearbox so it’s arguably the purist’s choice. And, apart from the Mercedes it’s the most powerful, though you pay for that grunt with a fairly hefty list price – the cost of our test car adding up to over £31,000 with a few choice options.
Is it for you?
The 130i is never going to be a huge seller due to that list price, but if you can ignore the cost of it for a moment it’s a very tempting choice. It’s quick, it makes a lovely noise due to some clever acoustic tuning and it handles beautifully. Take the cost into account and it all begins to look a bit shaky though, smaller engine alternatives undoubtedly making more sense. That’s exacerbated when you consider that a larger 325i is roughly the same money or you could even stretch to a 330i for not a great deal more. However, if you want a ballistic rear-drive hatchback that’s nicely understated the 130i M Sport is well worth considering – as is its even more restrained looking SE alternative.
What does it do well?
Accelerate. Peak power is pretty high up the rev range at 6,600rpm but maximum torque of 315Nm muscles in at 2,750rpm making this hatchback very rapid indeed. Throttle response is instant, the gearshift from the six-speed manual ‘box is precise and the clutch well weighted. With BMW’s typical 50:50 weight distribution the 130i feels finely poised on the road, inputs to the chunky M Sport steering wheel faithfully translated to the road with a decent level of feedback. The suspension is very stiff meaning body roll is only very slight but the finely judged damping means the ride is rarely harsh. In short it’s a fine driver’s car, but for that ability you undoubtedly have to make a few sacrifices.
What doesn’t it do well?
As fast and fun as the 130i M Sport it has all the faults of the rest of the 1 Series range. That means small door openings, cramped rear passenger seats with little leg or foot room and a high-floored boot that’s not very spacious. Prams, golf clubs and the like will be a tight fit rather limiting the 1 Series’ usefulness as a family car. The optional sat nav is controlled via BMW’s iDrive controller and even with familiarity it remains pretty hopeless – rivals do it so much better. It’s not a cheap option either, pushing up the already hefty list price. As impressive as the engine is it’s certainly not the most frugal, particularly as the noise it makes when it’s worked hard means you rarely drive it with any consideration to economy. Its styling has yet to win over everybody, too.
What’s it like to live with?
The above complaints give good reason to suggest that life with the 130i M Sport wouldn’t be brilliant. But for all its shortcomings that engine and transmission combined with its poise make the 130i M Sport shine. So long as you understand you’re never going to get fantastic economy or be able to offer your taller friends a lift in the back then the 130i M Sport is a fitting flagship for the current 1 Series range and a involving, highly entertaining steer. It underlines just how good a proper M 1 Series could be if BMW ever makes it.
How green is it?
It’s difficult to justify such a large, powerful engine in a car the size of the 1 Series on environmental grounds, but they’ll not be sold in huge numbers and there are smaller, more efficient petrol and diesels alternative if you want a greener 1 Series. The official consumption figures suggest a 30.7mpg return on the combined cycle. In our possession though we rarely saw much more than 25mpg on the trip computer – and less if we were trying. For company car buyers it’s Euro 4 compliant with a Co2 figure of 221g/km. BMW was one of the first manufacturers to consider how recyclable its products are, the 1 Series certain to cause minimal impact at the end of its life.
Would we buy it?
Against its direct competition yes, as it’s the most involving and interesting of the big engine premium hatchbacks to drive. However it’s not cheap, which pitches it up against some interesting six-cylinder alternatives like Nissan’s 350Z. That may be a less practical coupe, but the 1 Series isn’t that sensible either with little rear passenger and luggage space – despite its five-door hatchback body. Its appeal lies in its understatement, the 130i M Sport a quick satisfying drive in a wrapper that doesn’t attract much attention. For that reason it’ll appeal to a small clientele, but they’ll undoubtedly be very happy with their choice.
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