What is it?
Ever since BMW launched its 1 Series in 2004, the trick this hatchback always had up its sleeve was the fact it was rear-wheel-drive – something that allowed it to be involving to drive next to all its sensible front-driven rivals.
That rear-wheel-drive setup lasted to the second generation (when it was, again, unique to the hatchback class), and it was the sportier M135i – or M140i as it was later named – that showed how perfect this setup was. Not least thanks to the 3.0-litre naturally-aspirated six-cylinder engine under its bonnet at a time when everything else had gone turbocharged.
But, BMW has now opted for a more sensible all-wheel-drive (AWD) and turbocharged engine setup. The purists are certainly not happy (but when are they?), so importantly, has the fun factor been lost in the wind on this new car?
So, as you might have guessed by now, the key change on this new third-generation 1 Series is underneath the surface. It’s now AWD (regular 1 Series models send their power to the front wheels) and utilises a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol unit. More on that later.
Elsewhere the design has changed quite dramatically, with the huge new grille being another point of contention, while these ‘M’ versions benefit from some questionable bronze accents. Improvements have also been made on the spaciousness front, as well as with technology – this new M135i is able to reverse itself down narrow streets and help you find parking spaces, for instance.
What’s under the bonnet?
The 322bhp 3.0-litre unit found in the old M140i was absolutely packed with character, so you can forgive people for mourning its loss.
Instead, this new M135i uses a four-cylinder 2.0-litre unit, which produces 302bhp and 450Nm of torque. While undoubtedly not as vocal or as interesting as its predecessor, the past is the past, and this new engine is a good suit. Power is sent to all wheels with BMW’s xDrive system, and a new eight-speed Steptronic Sport automatic transmission is utilised.
In terms of performance, 0-60mph comes in a flash – just 4.6 seconds, and it would keep going to 155mph. On the running costs front, BMW says it’ll return 35.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 180g/km.
What’s it like to drive?
First thing’s first, the M135i has lost a bit of sparkle – it’s no longer the hilarious hot hatch it was, but rather a safe and swift model.
Our driving was predominantly in the wet, which is where this shift to all-wheel-drive makes the most sense. It feels like you can utilise every single one of those horses, with sublime traction out of a corner or off the line. The grip is excellent, too, and there’s next to no body lean at all.
Despite its sporty stance, though, the M135i is also impressively easy to live with day-to-day. The ride, while a touch firm, gets the balance about right between performance and comfort, while on the motorway it settles down and becomes a good cruiser.
The eight-speed gearbox could be slightly more responsive though, as it really needs to be in ‘Sport’ to feel eager and ready to go.
What’s it like inside?
Just like always, BMW interiors continue to be right at the forefront of the class. Whether you’re looking for quality, ease of use or stylishness, the cabin of the M135i delivers.
You’re greeted by a thick sports steering wheel, impressive digital dials as well as buttons and the main infotainment system that are all angled towards the driver. The M135i also comes with a larger 10.25-inch touchscreen than the rest of the 1 Series line-up, which you can either touch to operate or use the rotary controller.
It also comes with BMW’s ‘Intelligent Personal Assistant’, which is really just an advanced voice control system. However, it works tremendously well and can respond to ‘take me to X address’, without having to fiddle through a sat-nav system.
What does it look like?
BMW’s design has turned divisive in recent years to say the least, and while not as controversial as other cars from the firm, the looks of the 1 Series will certainly split opinion more than before.
The grille is the biggest point of contention – it sticks out like a sore thumb on what is otherwise quite an appealing front end. The rear is a bit generic, too. Squint and hide the BMW badges and you could be looking at a multitude of family hatchbacks. It’s a bit of shame when the last model felt like it had a bit more of an identity, and was more easily identifiable as a BMW.
But styling will always divide opinion, and many will welcome this model’s more angular and imposing look – at least from the front anyway.
What’s the spec like?
Given the M135i sits at the top of the line-up, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by the levels of standard kit on offer.
In terms of the equipment itself, it’s not really much different from the M Sport – a model that gets heated sports seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and front and rear parking sensors as standard. But the step up to this hot hatch brings with it a sportier styling kit, along with the excellent 10.25-inch touchscreen.
Prices for the M135i start from £36,770, which makes it £1,000 cheaper than the Audi S3 and just about matches the price of the Mercedes-AMG A35.
That said, with this BMW, you’re likely to want to venture into the options pack – the M135i Plus Pack adds larger 19-inch alloy wheels and a Harmon/Kardon sound system, which are both worthwhile additions. The Tech Pack I also appeals – this brings a head-up display, adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera. Do this, and pick your colour and you’ll have a £40,000 hatchback, which is just a touch too steep.
If you’re an owner of the last M140i, you’re probably going to be a bit disappointed with this new M135i. It undoubtedly lacks the character of the old car, and it’s a shame that there is no longer a true rear-wheel-drive hot hatch on sale.
However, come to this car with fresh eyes and you’re likely to be very impressed. The traction, the stability and the pace of this new car is sublime, and if this is going to be your main car, you’ll probably appreciate its newfound all-weather ability despite the mild sacrifice on the fun factor.
The styling won’t appeal to everyone, but you can’t please every Joe and Mary. However, one thing that can’t be disputed is the quality and look of the cabin – something that makes it one of the best hot hatches around to live with on a daily basis.
Model as tested: BMW M135i xDrive
Price as tested: £36,770
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Max speed (mph): 155
0-60mph: 4.6 seconds
Emissions (g/km): 180g/km