The difficult-to-place M135i isn't quite a thoroughbred BMW Motorsport car but it's certainly more than just a fancily trimmed version of the 1-Series hatchback.
But what the M135i lacks in clarity, it makes up for with a brilliant drive, pleasing price tag and everyday usability.
What is it?
Despite the M135i's M badging, it isn't built by the famous M division in Munich – instead, this model rolls off the same Leipzig production line as the humble 1-Series. Fans of BMW's M cars will remember the utterly brilliant 1M Coupe, a car that managed to pack so much ferocity into its little body it's a wonder it worked at all. The latest iteration is somewhere between a full-on racing machine and a practical, every day hatchback and it's all the better for it.
What's under the bonnet?
The 3-litre, 6-cylinder unit produces a truly incredible 320bhp and it emits an equally astonishing noise at it goes about its business. Other hot hatches just can't compete with the sheer power created by this engine but BMW engineers have done a stellar job making sure the grunt is useable. Official figures suggest a combined mpg figure of 35.3 and we'd happily admit the figure isn't far off. Even with some rather lead-footed driving and a variety of different road types, we still managed to return a healthy 26mpg.
Standard equipment is fairly decent and BMW Motorsport fans will be pleased to know that plenty of M-badging features throughout the cabin. 18-inch M wheels come as standard, so do the chrome tailpipes, the doorsill finishers and about every other external ornament that differentiates this from mere mortal 1-Series cars. Potential customers can still go crazy with the options list, though. Our car came loaded with BMW's £1,995 Media Package that includes satellite navigation, £515 metallic paintwork and various luggage stowage areas that wouldn't be missed.
Not really. The M135i offers an element of prestige that other hot hatches fail to provide. The Vauxhall Astra VXR is cheaper but it doesn't offer the satisfying 'thunk' of German engineering. The Audi RS3 is equally as ferocious but hideously expensive in comparison and the Mercedes A45 AMG is yet to prove itself as a truly worthy contender. A race between the two German giants will certainly be interesting.
What's it like to drive?
This car is an absolute dream to drive and does such a good job of switching between refined motorway cruiser and complete thug when the mood takes. The suspension is well judged in Comfort mode- not too soft yet surprisingly pliant over rougher road surfaces. But flick the switch to Sport Mode and everything firms up, the engine revs wildly and exhausts bark and snarl. Adaptive M Sport suspension is a £515 option – that left us rather bemused, too - but it's an absolute must for those wanting their M135i to leave a distinctly Motorsport division aftertaste. The 60mph dash from standstill can be despatched in just 5.1 seconds, need we say more?
The AOL Cars verdict
This could quite easily be one of the best hot hatches on the market. It is nowhere near as cheap as other speedy runarounds but it manages to cram in so much BMW engineering, the sub-£30,000 asking price soon sounds reasonable. Hardcore M-sport fans will argue this isn't a proper thoroughbred – and it isn't- but it is one the fastest, most practical ways of blowing away the cobwebs without making any compromises on everyday usability.
Engine: 2979cc, 6-cylinder petrol
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 5.1 seconds
MPG: 35.3mpg (combined)
Emissions: 188g/km C02