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      07-05-2012, 11:02 PM   #1
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Lightbulb BMW M135i Impresses In First Drive Reviews

BMW M135i Impresses In First Drive Reviews
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The press drives of the BMW M135i [official info] are underway and with that come the first reviews.


Performance first: the M135 is manically quick, subjectively, even quicker than the the 4.9sec 0-62mph figure, which matches the 1M’s (the manual M135i arrives two tenths later). Although down on power compared with the 1M, the 1425kg M135i is 70kg lighter, so posts an almost identical 222bhp per tonne power to weight ratio. There’s no big wait for the power to arrive, the turbo is spooled up by 2500rpm, tugging your neck first, then wrenching it when the revs pass 4000rpm. Grab a paddle to engage the next gear and as drive is re-engaged, your head snaps back again as that torque does it’s thing. It revs out, too, although really there’s nothing much to be gained from chasing the last 1000rpm to the 7k limiter.

Even the soundtrack is great, a proper hard-edged BMW six snarl, 90% of which is real, say BMW’s engineers. The last 10% is synthetic, added to make up for the silencing effect of the turbo, though it’s so convicincing, you’d never know otherwise.

The electric power steering is nicely weighted, if perhaps less communicative than the muscle-it-round 1M’s, and not everyone will warm to its variable gearing which makes switchbacks a wrist-flick affair, but occasionally seems a little overgeared. But the M135i feels taut, agile and easy to place. And massively grippy. Maybe too grippy. Even with its open diff, the fastest 1 has no problem putting its power down, meaning it’s perhaps not quite the lairy beast you imagined.


The M135i is a different creature to the old 1M. It’s more cultured, not so extrovert in the way it looks or drives. But it’s massively cheaper and a seriously fun little hatch. It might not look as sexy as a Scirroco, or feel quite so single-minded as a Megane RS, but the BMW is faster, better built and just feels more special than any of them. We can’t think of a more desirable, more exciting top-drawer hot hatch on the planet than this M135i, and even the slighty dull styling can’t stop us reaching for that rarely used fifth star.


In short, they found the M135i to have terrific performance, stunning grip, fine balance and decent steering, making the M135i a mighty road weapon. It’s value, too.

What's It Like to Drive?

Either way, this new three-door 1 Series is eagerly, muscularly and excitingly quick with the potential, you may think, to become a flailing handful if you dare to meddle with the ESP button. But the first bold dive into a rain-sheened bend uncovers grip reserves far deeper than expected – deep enough that when that DSC button is prodded for partial disengagement, it takes some lead-foot ambition to get the rear axle’s wider 245/35 R18s to get a skate on, the slide part-managed by a brake-deploying virtual limited slip diff.

So it’s pretty neat, controllable and reassuring, the more so because this rear-driver is quite a finely balanced tool, as proved by a too-fast arrival into a tight, low speed turn that fails to bring on any plough-on understeer. That said, you can expect to see plenty of the orange light that confirms an active ESP system, which is no surprise given all this energy and rear-wheel drive.

Perversely, it’s best to experience all this in the ‘comfort’ setting of the 515 Adaptive M Sport suspension, an essential option. It softens off the electronic dampers and lightens the steering effort to produce a satisfyingly communicative, more absorbent chassis and best of all, usefully more feelsome steering. Of course, tripping the ‘Comfort’ mode slows the shift times and the ‘box’s willingness to hold a gear, but that’s easily undone by sliding the gearlever to leftwards to ‘Sport’, which gets you a more eager gearbox.

The result is a an excitingly rapid drive that sits just the right side of hectic, the excitement of the six’s keen blare built on by the ‘box’s light thumps in sport, the ra-ta-tat of the exhaust’s over-run, the lightly clasping support of the seats and an excellent driving position. While some may desire the more uncompromising character of the 1M Coupe, the fact is that this M135i’s ride is less maskingly firm, its steering more delicate and its character easier to live with. And it’s also a whole lot cheaper, being almost 10k less.

Of course, you do without the some of the 1M’s alloy suspension hardware and massive brake rotors – although the 135i’s enlarged blue-calipered disks are entirely effective - but remember that the M135i rides on the latest 1 Series platform besides benefiting from bespoke suspension geometry and its own springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and bushes.

Much of the M135is’s considerable entertainment repertoire is provided by the straight six. This Twinpower motor features a twin-scroll variable geometry turbocharger, variable timing of both inlet and exhaust cams, variable valve timing and direct injection, these features managing to almost eliminate turbo lag. Indeed, you must actively search it out to find any, by shifting manually and having the revs build from 1000rpm to the 7500rom limit in second, say. Then you’ll uncover a slower-moving tacho needle to 1300rpm. From this point the six has already reached its 320lb ft torque peak, this figure impressively maintained through to 4500rpm, although the revs don’t rush at you until this peak has passed, the tacho needle performing a lightning flit to the limiter.

Throttle response is not as instant as you’ll find in a normally aspirated M3, but it’s sharp enough for most circumstances. Couple the six’s breadth of urge to that eight-speeder, and you have a car that powers near seamlessly from a dawdle to its easily struck – and restricted - 155mph maximum.
Motorsport has tuned the 135i’s exhaust to provide a smoothly busy sound-track that makes paddling your way through eight ratios an absorbing business, even if the noise can turn slightly wearing. Happily it quietens off at a motorway cruise. And we suspect the same may be true of the ride, which showed signs of choppiness on Germany’s mostly smooth roads.

Do They Recommend the M135i?

None of this seriously diminishes the appeal of this car, which has to be one of the most entertaining in the entire BMW range, offers truly memorable go for the money and a highly capable and entertaining chassis besides. It’s a shame that the 1 Series, three door or not, doesn’t make a more appealing eyeful, like an Astra GTC. Maybe the next-gen 1 Series coupe will fix that.

Price: 31,595
0-62mph: 4.9sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Economy: 37.7mpg combined; CO2: 175g/km
Kerbweight: 1500kg
Engine: 6-cyls, in-line, 2979cc, petrol turbo; Installation: Longitudinal Power: 316bhp at 5800rpm
Torque: 332lb ft at 1300-4500rpm (with overboost)
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic



“The M Coupe was a race car that had been tamed slightly, whereas the M135i takes the road car as a starting point and takes it to the limit,” Dr Friedrich Nitschke. BMW’s M boss, told us.

Under the skin, this is a very different car to the M Coupe. Firstly the six-cylinder engine has a single, rather than twin turbos, there’s no limited slip differential, it uses adaptive dampers instead of rock-hard fixed-rate suspension and the M135i comes with the option of an eight-speed auto, unlike the manual-only M Coupe.

But don’t imagine for a second this car is soft. The engine’s performance in thrilling, although it never feels too ballistic for the road, and it sounds fantastic too – the raspy engine note fills the car and there’s muffled pops and bangs from the exhaust on the overrun.

What sets this sensational powertrain apart though is its smoothness, even as you scream towards the 7,200rpm redline, which is partly thanks to the superb eight-speed auto gearbox. The six-speed manual will still be the purists choice, but there’s now no shame in ordering the auto.

The standard M Sport adaptive suspension sits 10mm lower to the road, but leave it in Comfort mode and it’s easily forgiving enough for everyday use. Crank it up through the driving modes though - which also tweak throttle response, gear change speed and steering weight – and it gets significantly firmer. Sport+ is best reserved for driving on track, but even so it’s not as bone-shaking as the M Coupe.

Our only gripe was with the variable-ratio steering, which is sharp and accurate but too light for a car this fast. Hit a bump mid-corner causes the wheel to wriggle in your hands, which can upsets the car’s balance. That aside the grip levels are impressive, throttle response is immediate and when you want to act like a hooligan turning the traction control off in the rear-wheel drive M135i is far more fun than with the four-wheel drive Audi RS3 or forthcoming Mercedes A45 AMG.


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