Thanks to the BMW 135i Coupé, the entire CARtoday.com office has been gripped by “Shadowline Fever”… It’s a condition characterised by fits of nostalgia about those wailing BMW E30 coupés that tore up South African racetracks in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Sufferers are also known to often repeat anecdotes about the magical din of Bavarian straight sixes and get that notorious thousand-yard stare when one mentions the “Shadowline 325i” or 325iS Evo2 – which is an undisputed modern classic.
The flagship model of the pint-sized 1 Series Coupé range doesn’t score well in the metal for money stakes (it costs R375 000 in bog-standard trim), but it is a much needed balls-to-the-wall BMW in the spirit of the 325iS and its predecessors. It could almost single-handedly save the One from its poseur’s car image (the 130i is still an awfully nice pretender, though). To my mind, the 135i is the embodiment of BMW.
The Coupé derivative is the most handsome of the 1 Series litter, but not all aspects of the M Sport aero kit worked well. I like the aggressive front spoiler, but the side skirts add a little too much bulk and the rear “spoilerette” is overkill. The car’s interior ambience is quite businesslike – there are subtle brushed-aluminium trim bits to cheer up an otherwise sombre cabin – complete with manual aircon and temperature/ ventilation control and fan speed knobs in the facia. I guess the basic layout is all in keeping with a no-frills hardcore little sports car, but it’s still a bit disappointing for a premium product. The Audi S3’s cabin isn’t that Spartan, is it?
The 135i’s driving experience emphatically made up for all those reservations. The snug driver’s seat offers good thigh and upper back support for the enthusiastic driver and the car’s performance is utterly phenomenal. There’s instantaneous response from the supremely torquey twin-turbo 3,0-litre straight six under the bonnet and the party just gets wilder all the way to the redline. Even though I have the utmost respect for the BMW M Division’s V8- and V10 creations, the N54 powerplant is my current favourite.
This car is different to larger coupés in that it feels almost as fast as it is. When you drive it you feel 22 years old and carefree all over again (and that was only 10 years ago, in my case!). With a glorious soundtrack and razor-sharp reactions to driver inputs, the 135i must be one of the most involving everyday cars on the road at the moment… The ride is predictably firm, but not choppy. The 135’s more sober light car underpinnings are somewhat betrayed when it traverses a bump in the road at high speed, but there are no white-knuckle moments (as one might experience when repeating the exercise in BMW’s Z4-based M Coupé, for example).
Now for the caveat: The 135i’s controls are not for the meek among us. The beefy clutch combines well with the precise-action short throw six-speed ‘box (leave it in third gear, point the Baby Bavarian Bruiser in the direction of a twisty stretch of blacktop and prepared to have yer socks blown off, kids). The car’s steering feel is heavy – and although I prefer that to vague and lifeless ‘wheels, I would have preferred a more progressive setup (light at slow speeds and then firms up gradually).
Although it’s been a while since I drove the 130i Motorsport, the 135i’s handling feels slightly less on edge than that of its sibling. However, the newcomer still demands respect under full acceleration… You’re always going to revel in the Coupé’s direct, accurate and satisfying steering BUT keep the DTC system switched on… A short wheelbase and monstrous power capability could be a lethal combination to inexperienced or over-eager drivers – especially in the wet!
Okay then, so you’ll have to fork out almost R400k for a baby Beemer, albeit a very fast one? It is a tricky purchasing decision… after all, even well-heeled folks expect their four-wheeled toys to fill out a parking bay and stand out from hoi polloi out on the road. Ultimately, the 135i Coupé has very few rivals at the price (can any of them match the Beemer in terms of sheer ability?). If you are single and well-to-do (perhaps one half of a financially successful DINKY partnership) and demand Porsche Cayman-rivaling performance, you need look no further than the 135i.