If you want a small, high-performance BMW 'M' car, you'll be no doubt eagerly anticipating the April 2016 arrival of the all-new BMW M2 – the effective, and long-awaited, replacement for the beastly 1M Coupe. But if waiting is not your thing, there’s the tier lower M235i. If, however, you want your small, high-performance BMW ‘M’ car to have the practicality of a five-door hatchback, there’s only one option: the 2016 BMW M135i.
Down $2030 from where it stood pre-facelift, the revised figure is up to $9500 less than the rear-wheel-drive hatchback’s original 2012 launch price (the ZF eight-speed automatic being a $4000 option at the time). That makes the five-door M135i, $14,600 more affordable than the $77,500 two-door M235i.
Packing 5kW more punch than before, the M135i’s turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder produces 240kW of power at 6000rpm and 450Nm of torque between 1300-4500rpm – outputs now on-par with the same unit in the M235i.
Despite the extra pep, the updated BMW M135i claims identical 0-100km/h and combined cycle fuel consumption figures to the old 235kW version – 4.9 seconds and 7.5 litres per 100km, respectively. That makes it slightly slower to 100km/h (by 0.1s) and slightly more economical over 100km (by 0.1L/100km) than its 2 Series equivalent.
To BMW’s credit, the M135i’s acceleration and economy claims are also well in the ball park compared with the model’s nearest premium rivals – namely the all-wheel-drive trio of the 210kW/380Nm Audi S3 Sportback ($61,100), 280kW/475Nm Mercedes-AMG A45 ($77,900) and 206kW/380Nm Volkswagen Golf R ($52,740).
Sharpening up the look of the M135i for 2016 are new adaptive LED headlights, wider kidney grilles, revised front and rear bumpers and far more eye-catching tail-lights. Adding to the sporting theme are 18-inch M light-alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, Ferric Grey wing mirrors and dual Black Chrome exhausts.
Although the interior remains textbook passive BMW – hardly cutting edge design – an 8.8-inch iDrive display screen with Professional satellite navigation and ConnectedDrive and a seven-speaker stereo with DAB+ digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity are now standard.
Joining leather upholstery, Velour floor mats and aluminium and Estoril Blue highlights are a thick but squishy multifunction M leather steering wheel, a manual handbrake and manually adjustable sports seats.
Inside, cabin space and ambience are sound, but neither is going to take many breaths away.
The front seats are comfortable enough, despite being on the flatter and unsupportive side, though more bucketing and bolstering would be a plus during bursts of enthusiastic driving.
Getting into the equally basic back seat requires a little head minding, but once in, occupants are spoilt with rear air vents, two map pockets, slender door pockets, a 12-volt outlet, grab handles and their own interior light.
Rear head and legroom are both acceptable, though, room for toes slid under the front seats is tight. The 60:40 split-fold second row offers seating for three, however, two-up would be far more tolerable, particularly given the 1 Series’ central driveline tunnel floor hump.
Providing legitimate flexibility, the M135i’s 360-litre boot is not only at the head of its earlier mentioned pack, it’s expandable to 1200L. Tucked into the little almost-M’s rear end are luggage hooks, a cargo net and an under-floor battery.
Fire up the single-turbo inline-six and it’s quickly apparent just how smooth and linear and torquey the engine is.
Working seamlessly with the eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic of our Estoril Blue test car, the engine picks up strongly from between 1200-1400rpm, and for most ‘normal’ driving situations, simply doesn’t require revs north of 4000rpm.
At 100km/h on the highway, with the engine sitting at 1700rpm, road noise can be detected but it’s far from unreasonable. What might get tiresome for some, though, is the M135i’s droney exhaust and synthesised engine note – the latter ‘augmented’ with help from the car’s audio system.
Sitting 10mm lower on BMW’s adaptive M suspension, the M135i’s ride is, overall, genuinely impressive.
Controlled via the car’s four-mode ‘Driving Experience Control’ system – which offers choices of Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport-plus, which also impact drivetrain settings – the adaptive suspension allows for variable shock absorber compliance.
And around town and over speed humps, the results are positive, adding the option of greater comfort or performance depending on the situation. Particularly sharp or harsh pockmarks and imperfections can upset things, though, and the front end is still easily more forgiving than rear – noticeable going in and out of non-flush driveways.
In ‘Eco Pro’ or ‘Comfort’, the BMW M135i makes for a hugely comfortable cruiser. The driving experience is never wholly engaging, thanks to a distinct lack of feedback and feel, but the steering is responsive and accurate, the turning circle is compact, and vision is excellent – despite thick B-pillars and a slightly small rear-view mirror.
Trade the radar controlled cruise control, lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors and rear-view camera for a vacant stretch of twisty road, switch things to ‘Sport’, and the family-friendly Beemer reveals a whole other side.
True, engaging Sport or Sport-plus does add unnecessary weight to the steering (with little real benefit), but it also lifts the throttle from being slightly restrained and doughy in Comfort mode, to being far sharper and responsive.
Sitting flatter through bends, you still have to set the 1450kg, 4.3-metre-long M135i up a little between corners – never feeling super agile – but its performance is competent and accessible. And let’s not discount the fun and balance of a rear-drive car.
The standard four-piston front/two-piston rear M sport brakes too are progressive, delivering solid retardation while being attached to a smooth and consistent pedal.
The 2016 BMW M135i represents an achievable performance package that’s not only practical, it’s also fun. And in 2016 guise, it’s arguably better looking than ever before, better specced than ever before and better priced than ever before. You also get a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and three years roadside assist.
If you can’t wait for the M2 and the M235i is simply too dear and too limiting, then the BMW M135i remains a well executed, highly flexible and highly capable fast hatch, even if it’s not the most engaging thing doing the rounds.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 BMW M135i images by Tom Fraser.