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The BMW M140i, and its M135i predecessor, have long been among our very favourite hot hatches. And there's no shortage of other options out there to choose from...
Key to our Bavarian love affair is the car's intrinsic points of difference. Contrasting four- and five-cylinder rivals with front- or all-wheel drive, the six-pot rear-drive Bimmer stands out like a beacon, a throwback that doesn't feel like an anachronism.
Knowing it has something great, and keen to exploit a cult following, BMW Australia specced and released a limited run of just 60 M140i Performance Edition models earlier this year, with the company's normal three-year warranty coverage.
The existence of the Australian-market BMW M140i Performance Edition is testament to BMW M’s success here. The market penetration – that is, the proportion of total BMW sales here that are M cars – is the world’s highest.
A review of this future collectable is clearly more about 'autotainment' than genuine consumer advice. But if the shoe fits...
The M140i Performance Edition gets the following light touches over the regular M140i: bi-colour 19-inch alloy wheels, handmade carbon-fibre mirror shells, a performance exhaust system, and black bits on the kidney grille, rear fins and spoiler.
Inside is an M Performance Alcantara (suede) steering wheel, carbon-fibre trimmings, and LED door sill finishers. There's also a numbered plaque.
There's also a price hike, of $7000 over the normal M140i, to $71,900 before on-road costs, though it still undercuts the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A45 by a few grand.
The cabin really benefits from the parts-bin raid the Performance Edition embodies. The 1er's cabin remains supremely ergonomic and built better than a bomb shelter, but it looks a little dated.
So that suede wheel with top-centre marker and the plethora of extra carbon-fibre trim along the driveshsaft tunnel, plus the cool badging, ups the ante and offset the cloth/Alantra bucket seats. BMW Australia claims the whole visage is inspired by the BMW M4 GTS.
Standard features of the regular M140i carry over, headlined by keyless entry and start, an 8.8-inch horizontal screen with iDrive 5 controller, sat-nav with real-time traffic and speed limit information, 20GB of onboard storage, DAB+, Bluetooth phone and audio, USB input and a harman/kardon sound system.
Apple CarPlay is a ridiculous $623 option, though at least it’s an industry-unique (for now) wireless connection.
As with the regular M140i, the RWD layout impinges on rear legroom, which is poor even by class standards, while the 360-litre boot isn't much better. Still beats a coupe though.
Despite the performance exhaust, the 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six makes a familiar 250kW of power and 500Nm of torque, between 1520 and 4500rpm. The engine hustles the portly 1475kg BMW from 0-100km/h in 4.6sec.
It's a brilliant engine, free-revving to about 7000rpm and as close as a BMW force-inducted unit has gotten to its iconic '90s atmo donks, with the added benefit of massive low-down pulling power.
The BMW M Performance Exhaust system adds bright chrome tailpipes and adds a little acoustic depth at idle and under heavy throttle alike.
Matched to our test car and sending torque to the rear axle is the volume-selling eight-speed slushbox by ZF, with paddles, and which has long been a benchmark for combining smoothness with crisp rolling response to rival a DCT – especially in the drivetrain's sportiest programming.
Yet the fact we had the self-shifter raises a slight bone of contention, because 15 of the 60 total Performance Edition units come instead with a six-speed manual gearbox – a no-cost option on many BMW passenger cars to this day.
Not only does this 'box boost driver engagement and enhance the M140i's throwback charm, but the Performance Edition with this transmission also comes with two features that our 8AT-having version does not.
One: a carbon-fibre gear shift knob with Alcantara shift gaiter. Two: more importantly, it has BMW's brilliant mechanical limited-slip rear differential that provides torque to the wheel with the most available traction.
We've driven a M140i with this option and it adds to the dynamic experience, slingshotting the car out of corners and neatening your lines. If you do track time or want the very best, you need this.
For background, the LSD is typically available via dealer order (it’s an accessory fitted here, rather than an option ex-factory) and is currently priced at $5390 fully fitted. So the fact it's standard on the manual PE is a sizeable saving for the lucky 15.
The M140i also gets standard variable sport electro-assisted steering with speed-sensitive assistance that ups the resistance at higher speeds, Adaptive M suspension with variable dampers (softer in comfort mode, stiffer in sport) and adjustable stability control settings.
Even when the dampers are set to offer the lowest amount of resistance on the compression and rebound (comfort mode) the car has immaculate body control, complemented by the ability to flick the tail out with some throttle modulation, and without gimmicks.
This is offset slightly by the 19s shod in P Zeroes on our tester that make the car slightly terse over sharp hits. They look great though... Standard-fit are M Sport brakes with signature blue calipers which offer good stopping power. We did eight laps of Winton Raceway in a different M140i last year.
All BMW 1 Series models get condition-based servicing that you can pre-pay for at delivery, kicking off at base level at $1340 for five years or 80,000km of basic cover, expanding for the Plus pack that you’ll need to cover with your dealer. The warranty is three years/unlimited km.
Let's be honest, the BMW M140i Performance Edition is just a well-marketed raid of the parts bin. But when the parts bin belongs to BMW, and the project vehicle is already stellar, the results are excellent.
This writer would take a regular M140i over a Golf R, Audi S3/RS3 or Mercedes-AMG A45 any day, and while the $7000 bump to this special edition is something one could take or leave, the fact there are only 60 will make it a collectible.
If there's one gripe, it's the fact the manual offers the LSD as standard, and honestly, if you're going to indulge in something extravagant like this, then you may as well seek one out. The 8AT as tested gets a 8.5/10, nevertheless.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser