I planned on writing a review about this car for quite some time now. But being rather lazy these days, I never really got to it. With the more or less “recent“ reveal of the new 1 Series it’s about time to look back the best 1 Series Hatchback there has ever been. At least that‘s what I think.
The 135i M (in fact this very car) holds a special place in my heart. Mainly because I had my first memorable experience of a „quick“ car in it and secondly because I‘m lucky enough to spend quite some time in the passenger seat, as the car belongs to a good friend.
What makes it so great
Many reasons, but let‘s start with the practical ones. With it being a proper dailyable hatchback, you can actually fit 2-3 grown people in the back without making use of a saw. The boot is quite spacious too. Not spacious enough for a nucelar warhead but big enough for your daily carrying-abouts. On the inside "spacious" isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Nor is "cramped". "Pleasant" would be a fitting expression. Very Organised. Very "German".
Sounds good, but is it a proper hot-hatch
Well...no. Not really. If you‘ve read my Renault Mégane RS review you‘d know what the original hot hatch recipe is. So go and read that now ... or after you‘ve finished this.
What is it then?
I like to call it a Super-Hatch. You know. All those 300+ HP hatchbacks with AWD, and super quick gearboxes. Golf Rs, RS3s, A45s and the likes. You get it.
So is it a proper Super-Hatch then?
What do you mean by sort of?
Well, it‘s in a category where you can consider it a Super-Hatch or even a bit more.
Oh come on! Another completely made up category?
No no, hang on. I think it's more than a Super-Hatch because it has a unique feature all the others don‘t have. That feature is: Rear. Wheel. Drive. That, and the use of a 3.0l straight six puts it on the verge of being a proper sports car. Like a BMW M car which isn‘t really an M-car.
"Isn‘t really an M car“
If they would have called it the 1M, „Bimmer“ fans all over the world would have gone mental in their forums. BMW also knew that it wasn‘t anything like the original 1M, so they just put a big engine in the front, fiddled around with some of the parts, added an M badge to the 135i and called it a day.
What‘s it to drive then?
Well. If I’d have to sum it up in one word that word would be: "Torquey". Mainly because there‘s a lot of it. 450NM at 1300-5000rpm which roughly translates to „constant peak torque“. Seriously. If I had to describe it differently I‘d say it feels like a German on the leash. And I don‘t mean the sort of dog you use to herd some sheep. I mean pulling like an actual German businessmen called Günther or Hermann on a Monday morning.
Lots of pull then I imagine. But what if you go past those torquey 5000rpm?
Past 5000rpm the torque starts to fade away, but that doesn‘t mean the fun stops. As the torque decreases the induction noise from the engine increases and makes itself noticed by a change in tone and more shouting. The sound coming from the back though isn’t that much of an event to be honest. It isn‘t as juvenile or artificial as the ones coming from other super hatches. It‘s got a more mature exhaust producing a lovely but a bit airy natural sound.
How does it handle?
Overall it feels very stable, light and controlled. The AWD system on this one works like a charm, the DCT is extremely fast and the handling is pretty good. It‘s fun to drive on a curvy road or through more urban areas, even though you will be over the speed limit in a matter of seconds.
A thing I didn’t really like is the steering, which is a bit too soft for my personal taste. And there's another thing I didn't like. Quite a big one actually. It's a bit dull. Don‘t get me wrong. It pulls like crazy and mashing the pedal to the floor will always put a smile on my face, but it‘s not a car that excites me too much on a proper drive.
What‘s your final verdict then?
If I try to stay objective and not judge it on the many great moments I had with it, I‘d say it still is the best hatchback 1 Series ever made. Mainly due to the fact that it’s the only one I’ve driven yet but also because the other 1 Series generations don‘t excite me too much. The 140i M is the exact same car with a rather useless facelift and the new 135i has only got a polar bear friendly 4-cylinder, is FWD and therefore loses all of its unique selling propositions.
The car is brilliant as a daily and it‘s a laugh on countless other occasions. A proper M BMW might be a more suitable car to me, as this one lacks the certain "something". Once I get the chance to drive a proper M car I will know for sure. However I have to say that BMW nailed it by offering a small and very grown up practical car for someone who wants a straight six without having to sacrifice practicality. They beautifully managed to build a car that competes with all the other super-hatches in one spec, but has no competition at all when you spec it properly.