Following a last-place finish in Performance Shootout 2020, we revisit the BMW M135i xDrive to find out whether it works better in the rigours of daily driving...
The CAR editorial team was left with mixed emotions when experiencing the BMW M135i during January’s Performance Shootout. What we were expecting was a hot hatch that embodied the smile-inducing, cheeky nature of the rear-wheel-driven F20 M140i. Instead, we found a grown-up five-door that curiously lacked high-speed stability and steering feel (a complaint every single member of the team levied against the BMW following a drive). As a result, it was voted last in the rankings by all but one member of our team.
It was not all doom and gloom, though. We found the M135i impressed in the engine, packaging and perceived quality fields. Owing to its new UKL2 underpinnings, it translates to a refined ride which was further emphasised by the excellent 118i we since tested. So, should we tweak our requirements of a BMW-branded hot hatch when framed in the context of daily driving? Will the M135i be more impressive on essential trips to the shops and office? Let’s find out.
First, some context. Our M135i test unit was fitted with R137 600 worth of options. Notable add-ons included a set of 19-inch alloy wheels; automatic hatch; keyless entry; a panoramic glass roof; electric seat adjustment with memory function; adaptive LED headlamps (static ones are standard); parking assist; and a Harman Kardon surround-sound system.
The focal point of the M135i is its powertrain which features a twin-scroll turbocharged 2,0-litre four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission which links to a front-wheel-biased all-wheel-drive system. This layout puts it in direct competition with the Audi S3 and Volkswagen Golf R, a pair which has made its mark on the all-wheel-drive hot-hatch segment over the last decade, as well as the Mercedes-AMG A35, which placed higher than the M135i in Shootout.
As for the on-paper figures, the M135i offers 3 kW less but 50 N.m more torque than the Volkswagen Golf R (last tested in June 2019). While the Bavarian hatch is 61 kg heavier than the Golf (and bears a similar front and rear weight distribution), our recorded 0-100 km/h time of 5,41 seconds is, disappointingly, almost half a second slower than the Golf. On our test strip, the launch-control function failed to activate in several attempts, an issue we have noted with previous BMW M products we’ve tested. The M135i shows more strength in its in-gear acceleration where it’s a fraction faster from 40-100 km/h than the Golf, but it loses some ground with a 100-120 km/h time of 1,83 seconds; 0,19 seconds slower than the Golf R.
Not having a conventional straight-six under the bonnet may be a concern for die-hard BMW M fans but the augmented exhaust note pumped through the speakers is surprisingly effective.
Using a pair of 360 mm ventilated discs on the front axle (the wheels are shod with grippy Continental Premium Contact 6 tyres), the M135i was able to achieve an average 100-0 km/h braking time of 2,98 seconds which nets it an excellent rating. Its best time of 2,86 seconds and worst time of 3,09 seconds showcase impressive consistency under repeated hard braking events.
Like the preceding generation, this 1 Series uses a front MacPherson and rear multilink suspension but the ground clearance has been raised by 23 mm. Despite wearing the optional 19-inch alloy wheels with a fairly shallow 35 profile, the M135i offers a plush and well-sprung ride which complements low NVH levels. Oddly, the optional adaptive suspension (R7 600) can be fitted to this car only with the standard 18-inch wheels.
In terms of interior measurements, there’s a smidgen less headroom all-round but rear legroom – the F20’s biggest failing – has increased by a useful 59 mm.
Curiously, we measured 40 litres less utility space while boot space has stayed the same at 216 litres. This is par for the course in this segment but perhaps a little too tight for more than the weekly grocery-shopping trip or a visit to the local nursery.
The M135i impressed us far more this time round. Away from the pressures of Shootout and our expectations for the vehicle to perform like one emblazoned with an M badge should, we appreciated its responsive engine, beautifully constructed cabin and excellent overall refinement.
However, our concerns about waftiness at high speed and feel-free steering remain. VW’s Golf R, the Audi S3 and even the Mercedes-AMG A35 are all more interactive performance cars that also happen to strike a fine balance of daily comfort and usability. That means the BMW remains at the back of the premium hot-hatch pack.
See Full BMW 1 Series price and specs here