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It's a surreal experience – belting through roads that are closed once a year for the incredible Targa Tasmania road race.
While they're not closed on this occasion, they are quiet and we have a suite of BMW's latest 1 and 2 Series vehicles to throw through them. It really was a tough couple of days.
First cab off the rank is the 2018 BMW M140i LCI. While the design changes are minimal, this little pocket rocket still carries the same heart and feisty rear-wheel driven drivetrain that helps it extract the most from its forced induction, six-cylinder petrol engine.
From the outside, design changes are limited to new Jet Black 18-inch alloy wheels and adaptive LED headlights. Inside the cabin, though, the BMW M140i picks up a new high-gloss black finish on the centre stack and changes to the joins and design elements around the dashboard and surrounds. Plus, there's new upholstery stitching and chrome elements around the electric window controls.
Arguably, the most exciting thing about the M140i LCI is the price. It now kicks off from under $60,000, with a starting price of $59,990 (plus on-road costs). That prices it within coo-ee of cars like the Volkswagen Golf R, Subaru Impreza WRX STi spec.R and Ford Focus RS.
At this asking price, it's already comprehensively loaded with features, coming standard with things like an 8.8-inch BMW Navigation Professional infotainment system, leather interior, harman/kardon sound system, electric seats, DAB+ digital radio and adaptive LED headlights. You can see the full feature breakdown in our 2018 BMW 1 Series LCI pricing and specs article.
These incredible roads offer a mix of high-speed sweeping corners and technical low speed sections – the perfect mix to really test out what the M140i can deliver.
Under the bonnet of the M140i is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 250kW of power and 500Nm of torque, which helps it move from 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds. Torque is sent through an eight-speed ZF Sachs automatic gearbox or a six-speed manual (both the same price) to the rear wheels.
Both at idle and while the revs ascend, the six-cylinder offers a silky smooth engine and exhaust note that is simply intoxicating. With each gear shift there is a burp before it grabs the next gear and continues with its surge of torque.
That huge slab of torque comes on from 1520rpm and continues all the way through to 4500rpm before the car reaches peak power at 5500rpm. It's an incredibly versatile engine that makes the most of its forced induction.
The sports suspension comes with adaptive dampers that alter firmness depending on the drive mode. While the ride in Comfort mode is good, it's still on the firm side and is noticeable on rutted sections of road or over railway crossings.
The Sport mode noticeably firms the ride to allow the vehicle to sit dead flat through corners. While the springs are firm, the dampers do a good job of rounding the hard edge off the bumps.
Steering both in Comfort and Sport is good, but in Comfort mode it lacks a bit of feel about centre. This is partly due to the tune of the electrically-assisted variable ratio rack that tightens up considerably in Sport mode.
As we began attacking these epic stretches of road, the M140i felt most at home in Sport with the gearbox in Sport mode. Leaning on the throttle in any gear delivered a pleasing push in the back, while jumping on the throttle kicked the sleeping giant to life, spitting barks and noise happily.
The brakes are damn good – four-piston calipers up front (with front vented rotors measuring 340mm) and two-piston at the rear (with 345mm solid rotors) with reliable pedal pressure. While the rotors aren't cross-drilled or slotted, they hold up well with a battering.
A particular downhill stretch we drove required a number of hard stops and the brakes didn't degrade or fade at all.
Static steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters can be activated at any time, while sliding the shifter over to manual mode allows the vehicle to hold gears upon paddle-shifter input.
We scored a heap of rain across our entire first day and it barely affected the impressive M140i. Turn in is sharp, while the steering is communicative enough to catch every imperfection of the road surface.
Feeding in the throttle out of corners offered progressive and predictable torque delivery and it wasn't until we found uneven sections of road where the rear end became twitchy.
In fact, it was only in the dry that the lack of a limited-slip differential was noticeable. BMW uses an electronic brake and torque system to limit inside wheel traction loss. It's nowhere near as good as the optional limited-slip differential, but it works well in most cases.
One of the big downsides to this package is the restrictive stability control. Even with the vehicle in MDM (the limited stability intervention mode), the on-board electronics tend to react too aggressively to limit torque and wheel slip.
The end result is moments where literally a second passes while torque is being throttled. It then returns unexpectedly in a sudden hit that can be surprising.
The M140i certainly meets the design brief – small car and ultimate driving machine. But what's it like to live with?
Inside the cabin it feels very premium. The 8.8-inch Navigation Professional infotainment system has been bumped up to iDrive 6, which adds a touchscreen and new interface.
While we think the interface has gone back a step in terms of functionality, the speed improvements are certainly noticeable. The voice recognition system is excellent and the new instrument cluster looks fantastic.
There's plenty of leg- and headroom up front, with enough room in the second row for short trips.
Wireless Apple CarPlay is available as a $479 option, but we'd give it a miss. iDrive is so good that slapping Apple's user interface on top of it makes it feel like an old school system that lacks the finesse of BMW's effort.
Cargo capacity comes in at 360 litres, which is reasonable. The second row folds flat to increase that space to 1200 litres and the hatch door is big enough to make the space genuinely usable.
The six-cylinder engine demands 95RON premium unleaded petrol as a minimum and uses a combined 7.1 litres of fuel per 100km in eight-speed automatic form.
If you option the automatic gearbox (no cost option) you also score launch control, which helps it jet from stationary to 100km/h in a brisk 4.6 seconds.
Think it's expensive to service a car like the M140i? Think again. If you purchase BMW's Service Inclusive package, it'll set you back just $1340 for five years (or 80,000km) of servicing. To put that into context, a Volkswagen Golf R over the same period will cost you more than double that at $2684.
The BMW M140i really is a cracking machine. The LCI update cements this as a European performance bargain.
If you're in the market for a Volkswagen Golf R, Ford Focus RS or even a Subaru Impreza WRX STi, it's worth taking one of these for a test drive. The noise is intoxicating and that six-cylinder never fails to deliver a smile from ear to ear. The only thing we'd change is the limited-slip differential, it's worth stumping up the extra cash to add it to the package.
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