- 27 March 2013
- 1 Comment
BMW M135i 3-door Sports Hatch
Road tested by Blake James in Austria.
Pros: Makes you smile when driven hard. Engine is a slingshot at any speed in any gear. Ride is unbelievably smooth for such a car.
Cons: Dare I say, the car is too refined. Don’t let the M-arketing fool you.
Listen to the sound of the M135i – BMW M135i HD
I suspect the head of sales and marketing at BMW has been set a near unachievable target to get his yearly bonus. Recently his team dreamed up the X6, for example. If I spent enough time in a mood room I could convince myself that a frog sitting on top of a van was a good basis for car design as well. Now they are using the power of the their Motorsport division to woo a new set of customers into a car with an M badge.
First, you must get your head around the new M nomenclature. BMW now divide cars with M badges into two categories. ‘M Automobiles’ is the name for their traditional, full on M products. Such as the M3, M5 and M6. These cars have around 80% changed or completely newly developed parts compared to the car on which they are based. If you changed 80% of yourself, you would have to say you probably won’t come across anything like you did before you began.
The second category is BMW ‘Powered by M’. These cars have around 30% changed or completely newly developed parts compared to the car on which it is based. The M135i, along with the M550d, X6 M50d, X5 M50d all fall into this new category. 30% is enough to notice a difference, but you’re still you, if you know what I mean.
So, the M135i is not a full on M car. It is a car that you can use every day in total comfort and quietness (even on rough roads), discretely going about your business. Apart from the M badge at the back and the silver mirrors, no one would know you’re not in an ordinary 1 series. However, unlike a normal 1 series, when the mood takes you, you can thrash the car like you have been set on fire and the car will relish the punishment.
Driving along the autobahn heading south to the Austrian alps the car was unbelievably quiet. I could hear myself breathing at 160km/h. No rattles, no suspension knocks, very little wind noise. Even tyre noise was subdued.
Several hours later a massive alp appeared, with a smooth road draped down the side. Basically a race track with a view.
This is a great car. As a piece of engineering, it is astonishing. How can a car that just rode so smoothly on the motorway then go around a corner with the back hanging out and the wheels smoking with no detectable body roll? Few cars achieve such a balance of ride and handling. I highly recommend you purchase the optional adaptive M suspension as fitted to the car I drove.
You have four driving modes. Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. Eco Pro is for efficient driving. The steering lightens and the throttle becomes very heavy. This makes it easy to drive slowly. Comfort is your every day mode that works fine even when you push the car hard. Sport sharpens the throttle response, makes the steering heavier and makes the gear changes more aggressive. Sport + turns the traction control partly off, so you can get the tail out just a little bit before the electronics shuffle you back into line (with a bit of work from the driver as well).
I found that most of the time I was in either Comfort (when I was on the motorway, in traffic or needed a rest) and then in Sport the rest of the time (with it configured so that the gear changes were normal, rather than more aggressive). This can all be configured on the iDrive system to your liking.
Engine and transmission
BMW M began with the single turbo 3.0liter straight six engine found in the latest 335i, and tuned it to develop 10kW and 50Nm more power and torque respectively. So you get 235kW @ 5800rpm and 450Nm of torque from 1250 – 5000rpm. 1250! That is 450Nm from just above idle.
The end result is that this car feels like a slingshot in almost any gear, at any speed. Go for a full throttle overtake the first time and you will not believe how quickly the manoeuvre is performed. In the automatic model you get from 0-100km/h in just 4.9 seconds. And it feels that fast.
However, along with the cars looks, there is a polarising fact about the engine. 10% of the sound you hear from inside the cabin is synthesised via pre recorded engine noise that is piped through the cars stereo. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. I just wish from inside the cabin the noise was a little louder. I can understand BMW need to find a balance between performance and comfort with this car and that is what they have done. The noise itself is quite nice. The bass from low down that turns into a mid range thrum and then a very angry scream. Typical BMW straight six. With the windows down, it sounds even better, thanks to the noise coming out of the exhaust.
You can choose from a 6-speed manual gearbox or an 8-speed ZF automatic. My test car had the $4000 automatic option. The automatic gearbox is generally behind the scenes when in Eco Pro or Comfort mode, quickly and smoothly changing gears. In Sport, Sport +, or when changing gears manually, the changes tend to be a bit more deliberate and some of them are ‘banged in’ for lack of a better phrase. This makes the car feel more sporty.
Ride and Handling
Here is where BMW have outdone themselves. If anything, this car rides more smoothly than the standard M sport equipped 1 series models. Again, this car had the option adaptive M suspension fitted. All road surfaces are dealt without fuss, smoothing broken tarmac and settling into a comfortable cruise on the motorway.
The ride is so good, after a while you simply forget about it, allowing you to focus on the cars handling.
While you do not feel exactly where the tyres are sitting on the road to the mm, you can place this car accurately through bends carving your chosen line. The steering feel is excellent and gives you confidence and reward when you really stick it into a bend. The M leather steering wheel is also a treat to hold.
Brake hard, turn in and feed the mountain of power on as you exit the corner with a massive smile on your face. Put the car into Sport plus mode, feed a bit too much power as you exit the corner and feel the rear of the car slide. The dynamic traction control will actually make you work to get the car back into line. It doesn’t step in too early. This is extremely addictive and allot of fun.
It is the same as an ordinary 1 series. Which is to say, good enough. You get the usual array of cup holders, split folding rear seats, keyless entry, and a decent boot. The ground clearance is not so low that you have to creep over every speed hump, which is nice.
The driving position is excellent, if ever so slightly cramped for very tall people like me. The seats are comfortable enough and the side bolsters can be adjusted to hug you more in the corners. There is also adjustable under thigh support and lumbar support. If I’m being picky, I don’t think the optional lumbar support went down far enough, to where my spine needed it.
Rear leg room is fine for children and not bad for adults on short to medium length trips. The air conditioning works as well as any other BMW as do the optional heated seats.
Another nice touch is the speed limit indicator displayed under the speedometer, so you don’t have to second guess what speed you should be doing when a camera appears. This is an option along with the Professional Navigation system.
The standard interior (in Germany) as fitted to my test car was the soft Alcantara (feels like a soft suede) with hexagonal blue stitching. It does add to the sporty feel and makes the car feel more cosy in the cold climate. Cars in Australia and Ireland come standard with leather. You have a choice of black, coral red or oyster.
It’s not stunningly beautiful, is it? But at least from the inside you don’t have to look at it. And the cabin is a nice place to be.
The most important thing you need to know about this car, is that on the right road it is huge fun. For me, BMW have made just enough M tweaks to make you want to get out of bed early and go for a drive somewhere. Only just, but just is enough. And to be fair, I was nursing a cold at the same time.
I suspect this is a car that will get better with time. Because you will be able to drive it everywhere in complete comfort, it will not wear you out. And so you will be able to indulge in the joy of driving whenever the mood strikes you.
As an all rounder, this car is without question a 5 star machine. The M135i may not be a match in the thrill stakes for the outgoing M3 (primarily because of the M3’s epic V8 engine), but forget about that, and it is stunning.
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