The facelifted version of BMW’s brilliant M135i, which proved to be one of the real-world stars of the last few years. Along with Volkswagen’s Golf R the M135i became renowned for offering serious performance and involving dynamics at a realistic price tag – with seriously tempting lease deals to boot.
This latest version gets a little more power and a sharper, more handsome aesthetic – the headlights have been reshaped and the taillights now reach into the bootlid, while the front bumper boasts a more sculpted design.
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BMW isn’t claiming any chassis revisions, but the company does employ a policy of continuous improvement throughout a model’s lifecycle so there may yet be dynamic differences between this latest version and the original to report.
Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
The turbocharged, six-cylinder engine has been uprated by 10bhp to 322bhp – it’s essentially the same version of the N55 unit that the M235i coupe has used since its launch in early 2014. Despite the modest power increase BMW isn’t claiming any reduction in 0-62mph times – BMW claim the manual cars will hit the benchmark in 5.1 seconds fractionally quicker than the 5.2 seconds to 60mph we recorded. The automatic M135i has a claimed 0-62mph of 4.9 seconds.
The peak torque output of 332lb ft is delivered from just 1300rpm, which is unchanged from the previous model.
The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual, but around 80 per cent of buyers are expected to opt for the eight-speed ZF automatic. A limited-slip differential is available as a dealer fit option, although the uptake on the previous model was close to negligible.
See how the M135i fares in a drag race with Honda's latest Civic Type R.
In mechanical terms there’s little to distinguish this latest model from the previous version, but there are various electrical and connectivity updates worth mentioning, such as the now-standard LED rear lights.
The entire 1 Series range, including the M135i, now comes fitted with satellite navigation as standard, as well as a SIM card embedded within the car for emergency calls.
A raft of internet-based services are now optional – think live traffic information, smart phone remote connectivity and a concierge service. Owners can also sync their Spotify and Napster accounts directly to the car’s entertainment system to stream music on the go.
On the driver assistance side systems like a rear view camera, High Beam Assistant, Speed Limit Info, Lane Departure Warning and Collision Warning are now available across the range.
What’s it like to drive?
For the most part the facelifted M135i feels exactly like the previous version. You’d need to drive them back to back to notice the extra power of the new model, but the engine remains responsive, full of torque and lively near the top end. An Audi S3’s engine, by contrast, feels lifeless and is more obviously turbocharged.
The manual gearbox of our test car was very notchy, at times taking a good shove to select third and fourth gears. We’ll give it the benefit of the doubt since the car had fewer than 1000 miles on it, though. The eight-speed automatic continues to be a very appealing alternative for those who want the added convenience. It shifts quickly and cleanly and operates without fuss around town.
The M135i still feels neatly balanced and agile in cornering. The front axle is very responsive and holds on extremely hard, which gives the car enormous turn-in speed. One of the previous version’s weaknesses was body control over vertical inputs – despite BMW not claiming any chassis revisions for this model, it did feel marginally more composed and better controlled over difficult roads.
That being said, it does still get a little ruffled when you start to push it really hard. It’s better stroked along just within the limit – driven in that manner the M135i is fun and engaging with a malleable chassis balance. For those drivers who want on-the-limit thrills, the full-fat M cars are much better equipped than the halfway house M135i.
A limited-slip differential is available as a dealer fit option, but only a handful of buyers will tick that box. The standard car doesn’t struggle for traction in dry conditions in normal driving, but the open differential also means that it’s far from being a wild drift-mobile.
Like the previous version this M135i responds without hesitation to steering inputs and there’s no slack to speak of, but there’s no real feel either. The M135i is a broadly talented car and would make a fine daily companion, but it’s not quite the last word in outright dynamic ability.
The Golf R remains a direct rival for the M135i, although its basic list price is £2200 north of the BMW’s. They offer comparable levels of performance and both are fun to drive – identifying a victor simply comes down to personal preference.
Audi’s S3, which starts at £30,940, undercuts the M135i by £250 and, like the Golf R, offers a very similar level of performance. The S3 isn’t, however, as much fun to drive as either the BMW or the VW.
The M135i is to be replaced with the M140i, which we are yet to drive. However prices have been announced. The M140i starts at £31,875 for a manual three-door with the five-door model costing an additional £530. The majority of buyers will specify the eight-speed automatic gearbox, which adds £1430 to the list price.
|Engine||In-line 6-cyl, 2979cc, turbocharged|
|Power||322bhp @ 5800-6000rpm|
|Torque||332lb ft @ 1300-4500rpm|
|0-60mph||5.2sec (manual, tested)|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|
|MPG||35.3mpg (manual, 3dr)|