BMW M135i review
The BMW M135i is a higher quality and more practical hot hatch than the M140i it replaces, but for many, that won’t be enough to make up for its new smaller engine and all-wheel drive.
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The best hot hatches offer decent practicality, but also sledgehammer performance and a smile-inducing drive. The old turbocharged six-cylinder petrol, rear-wheel-drive BMW M140i was fantastic at doing just that. Why then, has its successor, the BMW M135i, been given all-wheel-drive and a less-powerful turbo four-cylinder engine?
Well, for better efficiency, mainly, which is a bit boring. That said, its alternatives such as the Mercedes-AMG A35, Audi S3 and Golf R all offer the same recipe of all-wheel-drive traction and turbocharged four-cylinder power, and have proven themselves thrilling to drive too.
The M135i’s new engine means it doesn’t get a long, sweeping bonnet like the car it replaces, but it still packs plenty of angular creases and a prominent grille to make sure it’s one of the sportiest-looking hot hatches around.
Things are a little tamer inside, but the M135’s minimalist dashboard and 9-inch infotainment display look more modern than equivalents in the old car’s cabin. It’s easy to get the hang of and comes with plenty of bang-up-to-date equipment too, including Apple CarPlay, optional gesture controls and BMW’s personal assistant system. The latter is similar to the A-Class’ ‘Hey Mercedes’ feature.
Less impressive are BMW’s optional digital dials for the driver which are a gloomy contrast to the crystal clear display you get in Audis and Mercs. All-told, the Mercedes’ system has the most impressive tech, but BMW’s iDrive has the edge for usability. In terms of interior quality, the M135i and S3’s plastics, trims and switches are so closely matched it’s impossible to choose a winner.
Ultimately, the old M140i is quicker, sounds better and will appeal to petrolheads more. However, this new M135i is more rounded, and an easier car to live with every day.
Due to its new engine layout, BMW has been able to redesign the M135i’s cabin to maximise room for passengers. As a result, there’s more space in all five seats than in the old car so you should be able to carry tall adults in the back in reasonable comfort. The driver benefits from loads of seat and wheel adjustment too. The M135i’s boot is also bigger than in the old M140i, and more spacious than the load bay you’ll find in a Mercedes-AMG A35.
Despite being less powerful than its predecessor, the BMW M135i is hardly a soft touch. Its turbocharged engine produces 306hp, which when sent through its standard eight-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive means 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds. That’s slower than before, yes, but not slow full-stop, and although six-cylinders will always sound better, the M135i still has a pleasing rasp when pushed hard.
And the new M135i is marginally more comfortable over lumps and bumps in town, even with its stiffer, lower sports suspension. It also has a light, precise steering and decent forward visibility for easy urban manoeuvres. Rearwards it isn’t so good, but then, front and rear parking sensors are standard.
Happily, the M135i is also comfortable and quiet on the motorway, but importantly it’s still great fun to thread along a country road, despite its move from rear to four-wheel drive. For some, the 1 Series’ high levels of grip and keen steering will never replace the feel of rear-wheel-drive, but it’s definitely possible to enjoy covering ground quickly.
So, the latest M135i is good to drive, powerful and comes with a high-quality interior. If you like its new looks and don’t care that it’s four-wheel drive, then you’ll love it. But if you’re a petrol head who fell for the old M140i’s creamy-smooth, even-more powerful straight-six engine and playful rear-wheel-drive setup, this new car may leave you feeling shortchanged.