What is it?
The BMW M135i, a sub-£30K hot hatchback and one of BMW’s newly emerging range of M Performance products rather than a direct replacement for the 1M Coupe. It’s only 19bhp shy of that car, though, which was one of our favourites of 2011.
Try to think of a car that reprises the E30 M3’s dynamic template – compact, light, nimble, rear-drive – but propelled by a sublime 3-litre turbocharged straight six that (acoustically engineered or not) sounds as good, if not better, than any naturally aspirated six the M Division has made in 40 years.
Its 316bhp and 332lb ft give it a 0-62mph time of 4.9sec when teamed with ZF’s frankly astonishing 8-speed auto. You can have a 6-speed Getrag manual (which adds a couple of tenths to the sprint time) but the 8-speeder is so fast, responsive and smooth, it makes a better case for auto-with-paddles than most double-clutch transmissions.
What’s it like to drive?
The BMW M135i is almost Q-car subtle, which made for an amusing 20 minutes on the Autobahn as, time after time, the car rushed to its 155mph speed limiter once other fast-moving (but somewhat bemused) traffic had been persuaded to move over.
The best thing about the M135i, though, is the grin it puts on your face on a twisty road. Dripping with feel the electro-hydraulic steering is not but, at two turns between locks, it’s direct and accurate and acquires a helpful meatiness with speed. With stiffer springs, dampers and bushes and a lower ride height than other new three-door 1-series models, the M tweaks work a little magic in league with the uniquely styled double five-spoke 18-inch wheels shod with 225/40 and 245/35 tyres to imbue the chassis with alert responses and fine grip without taking too much off the ride.
How does it compare?
Audi’s now discontinued RS3 Sportback quattro had 335bhp but an inferior power/weight ratio (203 plays 222bhp/tonne) and cost ten grand more. Mercedes’s forthcoming A45 AMG, also packing 335bhp, will give the BMW a fight in a straight line but, in the current hot hatch arena, the nearest price rival is the £29,745 Volkswagen Scirocco R with front-wheel drive and 56 fewer horses.
Anything else I need to know?
Thanks to Efficient Dynamics tech, the M135i posts a claimed 35.3mpg (37.7mpg with the auto) and 188g/km (175g/km). You’d expect nothing less. But I can’t help thinking the real achievement is the focus on something I’d feared the M people had lost sight of: the bloke behind the wheel. Three hearty cheers for that.