NOT all of us love BMW’s 1 Series, but those that do admire it so much that when the votes were counted in our tests of the 120i (Oct. 2004) and 120d (May 2005), we had to proclaim those cars as winners in their respective segments. However, there was always the suspicion that a really powerful version would not only make full use of an undoubtedly fine chassis, but would also be the ultimate justification for ignoring the car’s one big failure – its packaging. That car has arrived, and is badged the 130i Sport.
BMW refuses to call it the M1 but, make no mistake, what you have here is a 1 Series with no less than eight M-division badges, and the most powerful version of the company’s 3,0-litre, six-cylinder engine fitted to any of its models. It is a deadly serious attempt at bringing the thrill of M-division motoring to the masses. As a result, very few people are going to buy it for its rear space, of which there is almost none at all. What they will be interested in is whether the 130i Sport handles and performs in a way that justifies all those M badges. Let’s see.
Firstly, BMW’s engineers have managed to squeeze their fabulous 3,0-litre into the engine bay. But it hasn’t been easy, and the aluminium/ magnesium engine block actually extends some way under the bulkhead. For use in the 130i, the engine kicks out 195 kW (compared with 190 kW in the 330i) at 6 600 r/min, and 315 N.m of torque all the way from 2 500 to 4 000 r/min. In the 330i the maximum torque figure is 300 N.m. The increase in power is mostly the result of improved airflow and cooling, with the 130i gaining a lowfriction, electronically driven water pump. BMW’s well-known bi- Vanos (infinitely variable camshaft timing) and Valvetronic (variable valve opening and lift) control systems also feature.
Power goes to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. Obviously, the 130i Sport has dynamic traction control and ESP to curb excessive wheelspin, but this can be deactivated in two stages.
For our acceleration runs, we deactivated the traction control system to allow for some wheelspin (necessary for optimum acceleration). With the needle about to hit the rev limiter in second gear at a speed of 95 km/h, we had to grab third to complete the 100 km/h sprint, and this meant a time of 6,91 seconds, some way off the claimed 6,2. The car went on to complete the kilometre sprint in 26,03 seconds, and recorded an electronically limited top speed of 249 km/h. The 130i’s overtaking acceleration runs showed the BMW to be just about on par with the A3 3,2 quattro we tested in April 2005.
This 130i rides on lowered Sports suspension, with 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in low-profile 205/50 (front) and 225/45 (rear) run-flat rubber. An aluminium double- joint, thrust rod strut axle is used in front, and a five-arm set-up is used at the rear. The brakes, too, have been uprated, and the ventilated discs now measure 300 mm all round. ABS with EBD is standard. The 130i Sport stopped with stunning force and consistency in our emergency braking tests, recording a best time of 2,65 seconds and an average of 2,72.
As you may have noticed, the 130i Sport is a fast little car, with serious hardware under the skin. But performance testing is only one element. As we found out, this car’s real forte is the blockbuster entertainment it offers when driven in its preferred environment, which is basically anywhere where the road is relatively smooth, the speeds high and the traffic light.
Here, you’ll revel in the sound of that singing straight-six, and enjoy every precise gearshift that results in you being pushed back firmly in your seat once more as the revs climb up to the limit of 7 000. The steering is meaty and direct, with a delicacy of feel that a front-wheel or four-wheel drive car can only hope to match. Dive into a corner and it feels like the nose is being pulled around the bend by some invisible force, while the rear is kept in check by a fairly liberal traction control system. The light flickers often, but doesn’t spoil the driving fun. And switching off the DTC allows the driver to paint long black lines whenever he/she wants. From a steering and handling point of view, it doesn’t come much better than this, but our initial impressions were hardly promising…
In typical BMW fashion, the clutch has a jerky take action leading to kangaroo starts similar to those we experienced in the Audi A3 3,2, and the footrest is too close to the pedals, resulting in the driver sometimes stepping on half the footrest and half the clutch. And there’s another problem that upsets driver comfort: on bumpy roads the 130i struggles with damping, and the ride becomes bouncy.
OK, so we’ve mentioned the rear seats are useless, and the boot is small. Far more important are the comfortable and supportive sports seats that are fitted at the front. The only irritation is the raising/lowering mechanism, which requires the occupant to pull a lever and lift his/her bodyweight to raise the seat, or to force it down to lower it.
Once you’ve managed to seesaw yourself into a comfy driving position, you’ll notice a facia that is hardly changed from other 1 Series models, except for the Aluminium Glacier inlays on the centre console and door sills, and leather on the seats, steering wheel and gearchange gaiter. Also, there are “M” badges on the steering wheel, gearlever and doorsills.
Standard specification includes electric windows front and rear, cruise control, tyre pressure monitor, remote central locking, multifunction steering wheel with height and reach adjustment, automatic air-conditioning, BMW RDS radio with preparation for 6-disc CD changer, centre armrest and a MP3 player socket. The 130i Sport has dual front and side airbags, as well as curtain airbags (front and rear). Isofix child-seat anchorages are fitted to the rear seats.
Quality of build is certainly very good, but some of the materials used are not so impressive. Some parts of the cabin feel cheap to the touch.
You either get the purpose of the 130i Sport or you don’t. This is not a hot hatch. It is a sportscar that happens to have two extra doors – two doors that won’t be opened all that much. Powered by a hugely charismatic engine, and possessing electrifying dynamics that could set your hair on fire, this car is all about the joy of driving. Welcome, little M.