David Errington tries the BMW M135i, in light of the M140i being introduced into BMW’s model range.
I will admit I am a little late jumping on the band wagon, but the BMW M135i is a superb car. A good friend has just bought one and I was able to have a short drive on one of my favourite roads.
First of all, where do we categorise the M135i? Is it a hot-hatch? I don’t think so, but it is a hatchback with a very hot motor – a 3-litre, straight six with 320hp, to be precise. To be defined as a hot-hatch, I think the car needs to be front-wheel drive, which the BMW definitely is not. However, some of the current hot (or is that super) hatches, e.g. Focus RS, Audi RS3 and Golf R are four-wheel drive. So where does the M135i and now M140i fit in to that picture? I’m still not so sure it does, but it has to be pigeonholed somewhere and the power fits right in as the average in this bunch.
Apart from the noise that erupts from the dual exhaust system when starting the car from cold on a mid November afternoon, everything is plush BMW and very stylish, thus the appeal of the car. Even the first few warm up miles in Comfort mode are very sedate, supple and dare I say it; ordinary. But, when you call upon the performance – it’s there – yet not intimidating. It just delivers, in a silky smooth six-cylinder BMW fashion.
A few miles up the road, with the engine up to temperature, the noise above 3,000rpm is seductive. On the wet autumnal roads, the car was keen to twitch its hips under load, but due to driving in Comfort, it was nothing too intimidating and totally controllable with an intuitive traction control system intervening when necessary.
Once we reached the road, known locally as ‘The Beehive’, Sport mode was selected. Immediately, the car felt more alert, with a more intense engine note. The balance in the chassis is so well judged and although the steering feel is lighter than I expected, the front axle can be managed with your finger tips and you have total confidence in where the car will go. Even over the limit, when the back steps out due to less traction control intervention, you can control the slip angle with the safety net of some traction support, and measured throttle inputs.
The pace at which the M135i covers ground is comical. Straight line speed is phenomenal, considering you’re in a hatchback and the lack of torque steer is refreshing. Peak power is found between 5,000 and 6,000rpm and the top end rush between 6,000 and 6,500rpm is addictive as the engine screams into the rev limiter. Trail off the throttle and the exhausts woofle in a refined manner, suiting the nature of the car.
The brakes are more than up to the job, too. Four-piston calipers at the front grip 340mm discs which are powerful and resist fade under pressure. Again, the pedal wasn’t as firm as I expected, but then it would be in 1M/M2 territory and the M135i isn’t designed to be as hardcore as these models. Part of the reason why it is so enjoyable to drive in every condition.
From the outside, the design is incredibly subtle, especially in a dark colour. Only those in the know will pick up on the contrasting door mirrors, bigger wheels with blue brake calipers nestled behind, and an exhaust pipe either side at the rear. Some people like to be understated, and the ability to smile smugly while the guy in the office brags about his Astra VXR is priceless.
The BMW M135i is a great car and is suitable for any occasion which fits in the with the ethos of both BMW and the definition of a hot-hatch, but I still don’t feel comfortable categorising it as such – I aim to come up with its own category. We’re yet to see what it’s like in the snow, though. I have suggested a set of winters may be a wise investment…