As you may know, there’s a department in Munich called the M Performance division, which slots in beneath the traditional M division and is responsible for beefing up and providing kits for certain models in the BMW range.
Which is all good and well. Although they’re not necessarily true-blue M cars, there’s nothing wrong with a nice little BMW-approved kit to get your Beemer terrorising hot hatches.
The M135i on test here, which gets more than just a power boost, is a case in point.
It’s the range-topper in the recently-launched three and five-door 1 Series offering, and unlike the current coupé and cabrio derivatives - which offer more regular 135i models - the newer hatch range offers only these M-badged specials.
What this means is that power from the three-litre straight-six force-fed petrol engine is upped from 225kW and 400Nm to 235kW and 450Nm, thanks to software and mapping.
START WITH THE NUMBERS
A slick eight-speed auto ’box is also on offer here, while other Performance division additives include M performance control (Beemspeak for electronic rear limited slip-diff) and engine sound tuning. So let’s start with the numbers. The M135i, with that eight-speed auto gearbox, ran a 5.6-second 0-100km/h (BMW claim 4.9) and a 13.9-second quarter mile in our tests at Johannesburg altitude.
To put that into perspective, the seven-speed auto 135i we tested last year with BMW’s aftermarket Performance pack (240kW/450Nm) ran similar 5.5 and 13.7-second times, while the king-dingaling manual 1M (250kW/450Nm, and 500Nm with overboost) returned 5.3 and 13.6.
So yes, the M135i stands its ground.
It should definitely be quicker than the 135i coupé and cabrio derivatives in our price guide, but the 1M should still be the quickest.
Having said that, the new torque-converter gearbox in the M135i doesn’t offer the launch control that was available in previous 135i models with the dual-clutch set-up, which hampers those sprint times.
Performance aside, the M135i gets a harder suspension and it provides quite a solid and firm ride. Steering feedback is meaty, and handling - with that 50:50 weight balance - is planted.
Acceleration feels a lot brisker than those figures suggest, and you tend to put the suspension (and brakes) through more trauma than intended.
Where it lets the side down is in terms of sound.
Or the lack thereof. Even with that engine sound tuning, the M135i lacks a real war cry to go with its performance.
The gearbox, like in other ranges, is a winner, and finds exactly the right gear to match your throttle inputs. It’s also smooth through gear changes and demands every last rev from the engine when you boot it.
Having so many gears was partly the reason we managed an impressive 11.7 litres per 100km fuel-consumption figure.
The ”Driving Experience Control” button on the centre console, which lets you play between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes, and the electronic Sport displays which show power and torque outputs, spice things up nicely.
The M135i looks the part, too. The long doors, frameless windows and hatch lid make for a sexy profile. Our test unit had some interesting rims, too, which added a nice finishing touch to a low and sporty package. At just under R600 000 our test unit had around R150 000 worth of extras, proving that there are lots of toys on offer from the Germans.
This is not necessarily a true M car. It’s a very capable 135i with cool power and suspension tweaks, and is a worthy range-topper of the new 1 Series hatch range.
M cars offer distinctive driver appeal, and while this 135i is brisk and agile, it’s not as sharp or emotional as true M-mobiles. It doesn’t have that M character in terms of sound and looks and is a bit clinical.
Other than that, I reckon there’s good value for money on offer here, especially as it’s one of the quickest hatches in our price guide. - Star Motoring