The next-generation BMW 1-Series has arrived and we're evaluating the entire range. We're starting with the flagship performance model, the M135i, tested here in three-door Sports Auto guise.
Monster EngineLet's go straight to what matters when it comes to a premium performance hatchback and that's the engine. BMW has stuck to the tried-and-tested 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo engine and what a fantastic piece of engineering it is. Due to the fact that it's a new model, power naturally has been increased and we're now sitting with 240kW and 450Nm. While the rest of the segment has stuck to highly-tuned 2.0-litre engines, BMW is happily throwing a middle finger to the establishment and resorting to what it does best: the six-cylinder engine.
Power reaches the rear wheels through an eight-speed DCT 'box and with the drive experience buttons, the car can range from calm, sedate cruiser focusing on economy to all-out Defcon 5 attack mode. Put the car into Eco Pro and the engine is neutered as it powers down in favour of low boost and smooth gearshifts. The auto start/stop engages as soon as you come to a standstill and the result is a very civilised way of getting around town. Comfort is pretty self explanatory, but engage Sport and that's where the M135i comes alive. The throttle becomes super responsive, the exhaust opens up and provides wonderful backfires and if you listen carefully, there's a large amount of turbo whistles and pops. Fuel economy sat at around the 10.5L/100km - adequate given the nature of this performance vehicle.
Performance is what you'd expect from this baby M car. 0-100kph takes under 5 seconds, but how it gets there is brutal. The gearbox slams the next gear in and the car feels easily capable of reaching its 250kph claimed top speed. Throw some corners into the mix and this is where the enthusiast will truly appreciate what this rear-wheel drive car can do to the senses. Few cars are this involving at the price and we feel you'd have to look to more expensive machinery to get a similar experience... As fast and agile as it is, it's real strength is being able to switch from race mode to sedate commuting mode at the touch of the button.
Being a BMW, you get a lot of premium touches and the gadgetry is pretty special. The car feels well built, but we'd have to express disappointment over the dull orange glow from the speedo and odo. That colour scheme has been around for ages and surely it's time to make it look a little modern? The negativity surrounding the dials is easily surpassed by the infotainment screen which is vibrant and crisp. This particular unit came with satellite navigation and a Harmon Kardon audio system. As lovely as that Harmon Kardon sound system is, the purr from that engine is better...
Summary and ConclusionThe BMW M135i is a proper premium hot hatch and we like where it's positioned in the market. For less money, you can get a Volkswagen Golf R which offers similar performance thanks to its all-wheel drive setup. But it's a Volkswagen and is that premium enough when you're paying over half a million Rand? You could look at Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG 4Matic, but that's almost R100 000 more. For the enthusiast, there's very little to touch the BMW M135i. It sounds incredible and performs well both in a straight line and in curves and as for the rest of the BMW 1-Series range, we're impressed and have nominated the BMW 120i in the Premium Hatchback category.
Team OpinionsThe BMW 1 Series now has a better looking body to go with its always brilliant engine range. It's amazing what a few slight changes can do to an overall appearance. In M135i mode it emphasises the 1 Series' handling talents and balance. It's an involving car to drive. -Ashley Oldfield
BMW M135i Price in South AfricaThe BMW 1-Series range starts from R342 000 for the three-door 118i, while the range-topping M135i goes for R560 243. The price includes 2-years/unlimited km warranty and 5-years/100 000 km maintenance plan.
We Like: Performance, luxury, technology, dual personality
We Don’t Like: Nothing major
Also Consider: Volkswagen Golf R, Audi S3, Mercedes-Benz A45