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Road Test: 2012 BMW M135i
The M badge has returned to the BMW 1-Series in the shape of the 2012 BMW M135i. The Germans from Munich have used the M Performance line up to come up with a model that slots in between BMW’s regular models and the BMW M Power series with its 1-Series M Coupe. Following the footsteps of the 1M and its ‘normal’ ancestor, the 135i Coupe, the F20 M135i is not particular a successor of both, but more like an uprated and higher positioned version of the standard newly-introduced three-door 1-Series.
Time for us to have a go in the rival to Audi’s RS3, AMG’s upcoming A45 and Volkswagen’s Golf R. Available for a day was an Alpine White M135i fitted with 18 inch double spoke wheels shod in 225/40 and 245/35 tires and dressed in a dark grey color, which correspond to the similar colored front air vents and mirror caps. Other noticeable differences with respect to a standard 1-Series are the shadow-line exterior, M body package, the two exhaust pipes and blue painted four-pot alloy calipers. The questionable exterior looks are still there, somehow they do not seem to stand out like its 3- and 5-Series family members.
Under the hood of the M135i, you will find a similar powerplant to the E82 135i and 1M, a 3.0 liter six-in-line turbocharged engine. The new M135i uses a twinscroll setup, like the facelifted E82 135i. The old 1M and pre-facelift 135i use the old-fashioned and more fuel consuming twin-turbocharged engine. The output of the M135i’s powerplant is 320hp at 5,800rpm and 450Nm between 1,300 – 4,500rpm. This is 18hp more than the 135i and 20 less than the 1M. The Newtonmeters went up with 50Nm with respect to the 135i. The 1M has either 400 or 450Nm available depending on the M setting.
Acceleration from zero to 100km/h is done in 5.1 seconds for the six-speed manual version and 4.9 for the eight-speed automatic sports transmission with gearshift paddles integrated in the steering wheel. The top speed is a limited 250km/h, which we reached easily on German Autobahn. The acceleration times are quite similar for all models. There is not much between them. The availability of both gearboxes is not new, but the use of an eight-speed gearbox in a 1-Series was a first for us.
The acceleration of the M135i is shift, precise and manically quick. The gearbox is an excellent companion for the engine and offers a sportive manner when the Sport mode is selected and while you use the short paddle shifters. There is no long wait for the power to arrive. The gearbox shifts down fast and the turbo is spooled up by 2,500rpm. Shifts of full throttle are accompanied by a neck wrenching pull by the torque and an excellent dark snarl from the exhaust tuned by the M division. Totally new for the model in this range! The soundtrack of the exhaust is 90 percent true and 10 percent artificial via the speakers in the back. One of our rear passengers noticed the speakers producing some additional sound.
The most noticeable difference compared to the 1M and the previous 135i are the suspension and the steering. The newly fitted electric steering in the M135i is pretty close to what we remember from the BMW 1M. The gap between both is surprisingly small in Sport mode with additional modes offering a more relax driving manner. The M135i feels agile on its toes, communicative and is easier to place into turns than the previous 135i. It even has two turns between locks!
The suspension offers two flavors; with and without active dampers. Our test car had it all, and it proved to be wonderful. It’s supple around town, with only a slight edge to its initial bump response on harsh potholes and expansion gaps. The M135i’s ride is less maskingly firm. You could even call it comfortable for a hot hatch. On curving mountain roads the M Performance family member opens up its manners displaying its tremendous cornering grip and near-perfect balance. It distances itself from the previous series and grabs the 1M by its neck.
The more uncompromising character of the 1M Coupe lets it eventually stand out and set better lap times. The overall levels of grip and balance are slightly better due it is wider front and rear track, and the availability of a proper limited slip M diff instead of the M135i’s open differential which receives help from the electronics and the rear brakes. Still the differences are smaller than expected, and not worth the major price difference between the two.
The customer has a long list of options to choose from. Our test car was fitted with almost every option you can think of like a Dakota Black leather package, comfort access keys, rear view camera, electric roof, electric and heated seats, park distance control, adaptive front lights, dynamic cruise control, and the Harman Kardon Professional sound and navigation system with Bluetooth connectivity and BMW ConnectDrive.
The M upgrades were M135i door sills and a M badge on the steering wheel. The design of cabin is not particular our cup of tea, but after a few hours we started to enjoy it. The back seats do not offer as much legroom as the average front-wheel-drive hatch, but that is a common point to note with RWD cars. Overall, the interior is sufficient and offers a pleasant place to stay.
The M135i is unique in the hot hatch segment due to its RWD layout, and this makes it more enjoyable than the average FWD or AWD hot hatch. Still, the M135i does not make a 100 percent score. Even though it steers almost as good as a 1M and managed to improve itself on every single point with respect to the previous 135i – which was only available as a Coupe – the M135i looks are an immediate downfall. The 1-Series is still not a definite looker and needs some additional aggressiveness. The M package is surely a leap forward, but a different color than white would suite him even better. Perhaps, one of those Frozen Grey, White, Red or Blue colors from the M Performance M3 and M5 would come in handy!
The smallest M Performance sports car is a definite must-have with respect to other offerings, like the old-fashioned RS3, the single-minded Megane RS, or the AWD Golf R. In the end, it proved to be one of the most entertaining models in the entire BMW range, offering a truly memorable go for the money with a surprising soundtrack and a highly capable and entertaining chassis besides. It surely encompasses abilities which proved to be close to the 1M’s key abilities. It even adds those into a compromising and comfortable BMW-like package capable of transporting you everywhere on a daily basis, even sideways. Oh, and for those interested a four-wheel drive version is on its way!