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BMW M135i review (2012 onwards)
What: BMW M135i
Where: Munich, Germany
Date: July 2012
Price: £29,995 (three-door), £30,525 (five-door)
Available: September 2012
Key rivals: Audi RS3, Ford Focus ST, Renaultsport Megane 265, Vauxhall Astra VXR, Volkswagen Golf R
Summary: BMW's baby storms the hot-hatch sector with a stonking 320hp six-cylinder turbo motor. Awesome performance, great refinement, surprisingly cheap price. What more do you want?
We like: performance, six-cylinder noise, efficiency, price
We don't like: looks will divide opinion
If you mourn the passing of BMW's six-cylinder engines, replaced by a new crop of turbocharged four-cylinders that now power the majority of 1, 3 and 5 Series, the M135i is your type of car.
Just like its more lowly brethren, the M135i will divide opinion in the styling department, but here beauty is more than skin deep. This 1er isn't simply just a bodykit, big wheels and a few interior details - it's the first petrol-powered "M Performance" model from BMW's new semi-M car range.
It takes all the usability of the standard baby Bee-em and blends it with the rip-snorting pace of the limited production run 1M Coupé - with 320hp on tap the M135i is a mere 20hp down on that squat little coupé, and matches its 332lb ft of torque.
That means enough grunt to overhaul a Porsche Cayman S, but on paper, all the flexibility to pootle down to the shops as if it were a diesel. The question is, does the hot new 1 Series master both, or fall short on each point?
Those numbers suggest the former. Combined with the optional eight-speed automatic transmission, the M135i is as quick to 62mph from stationary as it's more powerful 1M elder brother - 4.9 seconds if you're asking.
It's not just pedal-to-the-plastic speed that the M135i excels at, though. With 332lb ft of torque available from 1,300rpm to 4,500rpm, overtaking and mid-speed wafting is effortless. Any of the car's upper five gears will do, the low to mid-range shove is that strong.
But the turbocharged six will rev out with a great streak of urgency and a howl to raise neck hairs at 40 paces, too. Only in the engine's last 500rpm does acceleration abate, but change up a little early and you'll be right back in the power band.
At low rpm and high throttle openings there is a hint of turbo lag - it feels more like soft throttle response - noticeable as a slight pause before the blower does its thing. Keep it spinning, though, and the motor is always ready.
the M135i is easy to drive slowly as well as if your hair is on fire
Once you settle down to more sensible driving, you realise just how good the engine and transmission are. It's quiet at a motorway cruise and smooth and refined around town, the gearbox shuffling between ratios with the reserved presence of a well-trained butler.
Drop it into Eco mode and you'll see the mpg rise. It's not a Jekyll and Hyde car, the M135i, but it definitely has two distinct sides. Instead of a split personality, it marries its two character traits smoothly and with great ease. It makes sense however you drive it.
Ride and handling
This is reflected in the chassis set-up, too. If you're feeling adventurous, the car responds. It's firmly set up, but even with 18-inch wheels and 40/35-profile tyres front and rear, it's not back-breakingly harsh.
There's plenty of grip and in Sport mode the steering is reassuringly meaty in its weight. Feedback levels are decent, although it lacks the last minuscule fragments of information through the wheel.
That's due in part to the compromise it strikes for everyday usability. Softening that hard-edged hyper-alert character of the 1M Coupé means the M135i is easy to drive slowly as well as if your hair is on fire.
Leave it in Comfort mode and it'll cruise along - shifting up early to improve efficiency - with a relaxed ride thanks to the softened electrically adjustable dampers and throttle response. It is quite an amazing feat BMW has pulled off to shove 95% of the 1M's character into a three-door 1 Series, with 95% of the usability of the standard car.
Inside the M135i it's broadly familiar 1 Series, save for a few bespoke touches. That means it's a nice place to sit, with some interesting design and a distinctly driver-focused feel.
There's a pair of fabric and Alcantara sports seats - which are easy to manipulate into the driving position you want - with grippy side bolsters and squabs for when you need some support.
The M Sport blue interior accents work well too, and lift the otherwise almost overwhelmingly black cabin. Far from being garish, they're actually quite reserved and add a nice touch.
Space in the front is good, in the rear less so. The new 1 Series three-door is available in four- or five-seat guise and is perfectly comfortable enough for middle distance journeys. It's just that with low, sporty front seats, foot and legroom is limited in the back.
There's all the equipment in here that you'd expect from a modern BMW, as well as the option to use in-car internet for Facebook and Twitter. But you won't be using those. You'll want to immerse yourself in the driving, it's that good.
Economy and safety
For a car that'll dole out 320hp and cannon you to 62mph from rest in 4.9 seconds, the M135i boasts remarkable efficiency - 37.7mpg combined with 175g/km CO2 emissions to be precise.
The optional eight-speed automatic 'box makes it more economical than the standard six-speed manual - that sees economy drop to 35.3 combined with emissions up at 188g/km CO2 - but it's still impressive.
The 2012 1 Series is a top performer in EuroNCAP's crash tests and it gets a full five stars for its safety.
The MSN Cars verdict
The M135i combines the performance of the hardcore 1M Coupé with the refinement and usability of a standard 1 Series. Its looks won't be to everyone's tastes, but the intoxicating blend of performance, refinement and a superbly capable and balanced chassis make it hard to ignore.
Factor in how it's £9,955 cheaper than an Audi RS3, and undercuts the VW Golf R by £3,715 - not to mention its 50hp advantage - and the M135i starts to look like a massive performance bargain. A brilliant example of BMW at its very best.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo|
|Engines, diesel||diesel N/A|
|Torque, lb ft||332lb ft|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.9 secs (automatic), 5.1 secs (manual)|
|Top speed, mph||155mph (electronically limited)|
|Mpg combined||37.7 combined (automatic), 35.3 combined (manual)|
|CO2, tax||175g/km (automatic), 188g/km (manual)|
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