BMW’s hot 1 Series undergoes major fundamental changes, but has the switch to all-wheel-drive and four-pot power diminished its driving appeal?
Photos: BMW, Daniel Kraus
Despite the switch to front-wheel-drive (FWD), BMW still wants its new 1 Series to be the hatchback of choice for the keen driver. And the company intends to prove that it’s still got it with the top-of-the-line Baby Bimmer, the M135i.
On the face of it, there seems to be a lot more for enthusiasts to worry about this new high performance 1. Not only has the sacred rear-wheel-drive (RWD) been ditched, in place of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, but the inline six engine of the old M140i has also made way for a four-pot. The horror.
Before you scream ‘sacrilege’ however, do take the time to delve a little deeper into this all-new pocket rocket from Munich. For one, the above-mentioned new engine is no ordinary powerplant, but BMW’s most powerful four-pot ever, putting out a handy 306hp and 450Nm of torque, numbers that would worry its great rival from Stuttgart, the Mercedes-AMG A35.
What this means is that out on the autobahn where these cars call home, the M135i can easily slug it out with the best of them. Power comes on effortlessly, especially when paired with the smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox. At lower revs the car exhibits some semblance of playful urgency, thanks to the plentiful torque that’s readily available on tap.
If there’s any quibble about this new engine, it’s probably in the aural department. It does make a decent noise, especially when you pile the revs on in Sport mode, but it doesn’t feel quite as nice as a well-sorted six would. Having said that, it’s probably only the really fussy enthusiasts that would have a problem with this.
And then we move onto the all-wheel-drive system. BMW acknowledges that switching from RWD is a massive sea change, and it has gone to great efforts to ensure that the M135i remains as fun to drive as ever. For the most part, we reckon it’s probably succeeded.
As mentioned earlier, the new 1 Series comes with BMW’s ARB (actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation) technology, which is an electrical system controlled by the ECU, and works with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system to distribute the torque sent to each wheel more accurately, minimising slip and improving control.
The M135i further adds a Torsen limited-slip differential (LSD), extra strut bracing, plus optional adaptive dampers that were fitted on the cars we drove. All good stuff that will please enthusiasts, and when combined as a package, makes the M135i a truly entertaining little machine to take on the winding Munich country roads.
The car sweeps through corners with utter precision, blessed with plenty of grip that feels like it would never run out. The steering is quick and sharp, and allows you to point the car in any direction you wish with pinpoint accuracy. It’s not quite the exhilarating thrill ride of the old RWD car, but it still handles phenomenally well, and can easily hang with the best hot hatchbacks available out there right now.
It’s probably helped by the xDrive system that can split the torque among the wheels, although the maximum it can go is 50/50, with the car being mostly front bias the majority of the time. In a way, the new setup gives the M135i a whole different character. It’s not better or worse than the old car, just different.
But the M135i, being not quite a full-fledged M Car, is always one for those who appreciate subtlety, of not being overly exuberant, whether in driving or looks. And the new car reflects that sentiment with its fairly docile and low-key styling. The only real distinguishing features on the outside that indicates that this car is a performance machine are probably the different grille and bumper treatment, twin tailpipes out back, and a small roof spoiler.
It’s the same story inside too, with the M135i getting suede sports seats and some contrast stitching, but otherwise it’s virtually indistinguishable from a standard 1 Series. A good thing really, with minimal outlandish distractions so you can concentrate on driving, but you can always add on bits from the M Performance catalogue if you want to exhibit your extrovert side.
But that’s not what this car is about though. Instead, the M135i is an exceptionally-engineered hot hatchback that offers more accessible performance more of the time for regular drivers. If you remain unconvinced, my advice is this: don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
BMW M135i xDrive
|Engine||1,998cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||306hp at 4500-6250rpm|
|Torque||450Nm at 1750-5000rpm|
|Top Speed||4.8 seconds|
|Fuel Efficiency||6.8 L/100km|
|VES Band / CO2||TBC / 155g/km|
|Agent||Performance Motors Limited|
|Price||S$235,000 with COE (estimated)|