Tested: BMW M135i has lost some of the sparkle, but is still a quality drive
JOHANNESBURG - It’s not often that a manufacturer puts in a smaller engine than the previous model had, and while they're at it, also change the driving configuration from rear-wheel drive to sending power to the front.
However, that's exactly what BMW has done with the M135i xDrive, which stands on top of the brand’s entry-level pile.
Gone is the six cylinder 3.0 litre turbo-charged mill, replaced with a lighter and more efficient 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol engine. Gone too is the rear-wheel drive and the M135i now has an xDrive all-wheel drive system that mainly powers the front wheels, although it can distribute 50 percent of the power to the back if needed.
It is a bit of a conundrum for purists though because while the previous M140i pushed out 250kW and 500Nm, in the lighter M135i xDrive the four pod produce 225kW and 450Nm, which isn't a whole lot less, and to be honest, should be enough for anyone wanting to drive a hot hatch.
Compare this though to Mercedes-Benz' AMG’s 2.0 litre turbo compact A 45 S 4MATIC+ Hatch which will give you 310kW and 500Nm, although at a pile of cash more.
BMW claims a 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 250km/h, which will satisfy most people.
More than most will be satisfied with the interior though which is a combination of practicality and sophistication.
Even as the "entry point" for BMW there's a lot happening inside.
The materials including the soft touch surfaces are premium, brushed aluminium gives it an air of sophistication, and our test model was also fitted with the optional backlit trim strips with six colour options which added a pleasant atmosphere at night.
In front of the gear shifter is a wireless charging bay. The vehicle is also fitted with BMW's Operating System 7.0 with gesture control, which is still one of the most user friendly infotainment systems as well as the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant that allows you to prompt it with "Hey BMW and then proceed to ask it to do various tasks like setting the temperature or finding a restaurant making this 1 Series lacking little compared to its bigger and more expensive siblings
Also fitted were the optional M-Sport seats (sports seats come standard) which provide extra comfort and support for when you decide to have some fun in the twisties.
Talking of which... the eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission shifts through the gears effortlessly as you throttle up and down and in the sport setting there's a bit of fake snap, crackle and pop when you use the paddles in manual mode.
Mid range power delivery and response is excellent but once you start to get to the top of the rev range it tends to run out and it's here that the six cylinder engine would sound a lot better.
We had the optional 19-inch wheels with M-Sport springs lowering the ride height by 10mm, obviously firming up the ride which over some harsher road surfaces affected ride quality.
Through dips and bends and around corners on smooth tar though the M135i xDrive is a lot of fun to drive. Because of the suspension set up there's very little body roll and gripping the M-Sport steering wheel powering out of corners where all the engine, braking and suspension electronics come into play makes you want to push it harder and drive some more despite a tendency to understeer.
Considering the rather radical change in engine and drivetrain the M135i xDrive is still a a quality drive and with its mesh-design kidney grille, angle cut tailpipe tips and rear spoiler in body colour will attract a lot of attention with South Africans looking to have a Beemer parked in the driveway.