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Join Date: Mar 2005
BMW M135i vs A45 AMG vs S3 Review by CAR
BMW M135i vs A45 AMG vs S3 Review by CAR
CAR recently undertook a premium hot hatch comparison, featuring the M135i against the Mercedes A45 AMG and the Audi S3 (full review
). Here's how the trio stack up on paper:
The M135i serves up 320 HP and 332 LB-FT (450 Nm) from its 3 liter turbo N55 engine, mated to the 8 speed automatic ZF transmission and is RWD.
The Mercedes comes with the most power, but is also the most expensive out of this group, powered by a 360 HP / 332 LB-FT (450 Nm) 2-liter turbo engine and driven by a 7 speed dual clutch transmission and AWD.
The Audi S3 tested here has 300 HP and 380 Nm of torque from its 2 liter engine, 6 speed manual and AWD.
Here's how they compare when tested:
The M135i feels significantly softer edged than the now-defunct 335bhp 1-series M Coupe. That little bruiser, mixing the M3’s suspension and brakes with a squat chassis, manual gearbox and punchy turbo engine was a riotous experience, but the M135i is different. Believe it or not, but the high-end 1-series makes the charismatic 1M Coupe pale in more ways than one. How come? Because this half-breed M car is benign instead of brutal, cossetting instead of crash-bang hard, relaxed instead of highly strung, easily accessible instead of radically focused.
Through the countless hairpins, up steep slopes, and on a very mixed bag of winding roads, the absence of driven front wheels and a limited-slip differential looked at the beginning of our drive like a deciding dynamic deficiency of the BMW – but we were wrong. Thanks to its good dynamic weight distribution, the chip-controlled traction management and those fine composed-to-order Michelin Pilot Supersport tyres, the semi-M car rarely put a foot wrong.
That engine is sweeter than apfelstrudel with cream, whipping eagerly through the revs, the mighty mid-range urge putting the four-cylinder competition into perspective, the two extra cylinders of the straight-six ensuring there are absolutely no artificial ingredients involved in making this 3.0-litre motor sound spine-tinglingly good when the mixture gates open. The optional eight-speed automatic cracks quickly through the upshifts too, is keener to downshift than the Merc’s dual-clutch ’box, and hides any trace of turbo lag. And the BMW also is clearly the most comfortable car in this group: even with the driving experience selector in Sport or Sport Plus, the suspension will soak up most vagaries with a smile.
But marketing calls these niche models M Performance Automobiles, and that’s exactly what the M135i is: M make-up plus a performance engine and chassis, all wrapped up in the clothes of a compact gran turismo. The M135i was our number one choice on the poorly maintained Italian autostrada, but it is a touch too laid-back to bring your blood to the boil on those memorable Alpine special stages. Furthermore, the brakes are on the soft side when pushed, the quick steering (only two turns from lock to lock) feels overdamped and under-transparent, and there is more roll and pitch and dive than we expected from a 1-series model wearing the M badge. Full marks for ride quality, panache and refinement, but only 3.5 stars out of five for absolute sportiness and driver involvement.
Would the M135i have won if it looked better and felt more special inside? It might have come closer, but it would still be more of a GT – and we still wonder how the 1-series was ever type-approved for daytime operation on public roads. Thankfully a facelift will right that particular wrong in 2014. The Audi? It is tight-lipped, monosyllabic and reserved, strangely robotic in the way it performs, and flawed in its ability to turn a near-faultless performance into a tangible feelgood experience. There are too many layers of indifference and artificiality in what is, in essence, a solid concept.
It means, after 48 hours, 500-odd miles, 269 litres of premium unleaded, and three fresh shirts, the A45 AMG takes the trophy ahead of the BMW and the Audi, off-putting price tag notwithstanding. The M135i feels like a neatly spiced up 1-series, the S3 feels like an S-line A3 with more poke. In contrast, the A45 feels more AMG than A-class, more special than mainstream, more bespoke than bespoilered. For the time being, this Mercedes rules the microcosm that was once owned by Scooby, Mitsu & friends. But as soon as the 355bhp M2 and the next 375bhp RS3 are ready to pick up the gauntlet, we shall return to these dream driving roads for an encore.
Catch the full review at CAR
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