On 27 May 2005, beside a roaring log fire at Darley’s Restaurant, my then fiancé took one sip of the 1976 Grange I had splashed out on for our engagement dinner and immediately announced to the waiter and myself, “Oh wow, that’s lovely, you have the rest darling”. It was as if she was reading from a script and I had written it.
That was a proud moment, but she went close to trumping it recently when she said she wanted to make the exhaust “really loud” on our soon-to-arrive from the factory BMW M140i and adorn it with a custom M Sport tricolour vinyl wrap. What thirty-something, tattoo-less, hardworking professional mother of two says that? My bad-ass wife, that's who.
Of course, I agreed and so it came to pass. And I gotta say... pretty pimpin’.
The M140i is a third car for our family and primarily for my wife. She wanted something small and fun, but with the capability of handling two toddlers.
Originally, this car was planned to be the 2017 update to the Golf GTi. She drove that and it was eliminated. The DSG gearbox is still not smooth in slow moving Sydney traffic and it wasn’t fast enough.
We then turned our attention to the Audi S3 and it was also quickly eliminated – again the gearbox issue and the ride was punishing. It was also hard to fall in love with the idea of shelling out about $70K for a four-cylinder that is really just a tarted up Golf GTi with AWD.
So then the test drive in the M140i and, well, now we are talking. The same money and the same outright pace as the S3, but delivered in an entirely different way. The M140i sticks to first principles when it comes to auto engineering – front-engined, rear-driven, and loads of power (250Kw/500Nm). In that sense, it is a bit old fashioned, like most of the best things in life are.
The purchase price for the M140i is worth it for the engine alone. As Enzo Ferrari is supposed to have said, “you pay for the engine and I give you the rest of the car for free”.
There is something about BMW straight-six engines. They spin so freely and really howl when you pin the throttle. The addition of turbocharging hasn’t, to my mind, harmed those characteristics. For example, I can’t discern any lag or reluctance to live happily above 5000rpm. The addition of turbocharging simply makes the scenery disappear more rapidly than it otherwise would.
This a 4.6-second car remember. That is what the current base Porsche 911 does. When I was at school in the early 1990s the Lamborghini Diablo, a 5.7L V12, could do 0-100km/h in 4.5secs, if you were a hero and got it off the line perfectly with its manual gearbox.
The M140i on the other hand does it all day, everyday, with the only fuss being the yellow stability control light flickering madly while it fights to keep you pointed in the right direction. It is just a missile.
Other things you might like to know:
1. Nothing beats a traditional torque-converter gearbox (ZF eight-speed) for buttery smooth changes in all situations. It is just sublime in that regard. In Sport mode the changes are properly fast (both up and down) and, really, if you seriously think you need a double clutch gearbox because the changes are fractionally faster, then you should call NASA and let them know they can unplug the supercomputer because you have a brain that can detect nanosecond differences.
2. The adaptive dampers (standard on the M140i) work brilliantly. In Comfort mode they make a huge difference to your everyday enjoyment of the car. It doesn’t make it feel like an S-Class, but hey, the ride has surprising compliance and I think the conventional Michelin Pilot Sports (non run-flat) tyres really help here too. In Sport mode the chassis is certainly firm, but not to the extent that a mid-corner rut has you skipping over to the wrong lane.
3. But the thing is you don't have to have firm suspension to get it all feeling sporty, because the driving modes are configurable. For example, you can configure Sport mode to keep the drivetrain in Sport (faster gear changes/sharper throttle response) while keeping the chassis in Comfort (soft suspension) – and it saves that setting for you each time you select Sport mode. Saving that setting for Sport mode is the first thing you should do after buying the car.
4. Sport mode also has the advantage of instantly locking out the stop/start feature. Oh my God I hate stop/start. Why it cannot be permanently disabled is beyond me. It is my fuel, I paid for it. If I want to waste it, that should be my decision.
5. On delivery day, my wife asked me what the plus sign on Sport+ mode means. I told her that was the mode where all the stability control computers are turned off and the “+” sign means plus death and it is a tiny picture of the cross that will be on your grave.
6. The latest iteration of iDrive is borderline perfect. It is so good that I am not sure why you would option up Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
7. The vinyl wrap was done by Provinyl at Artarmon. It cost about $400 dollars and they were a pleasure to deal with. Recommended.
8. Fuel consumption is acceptable given the performance on tap. Somewhere around 12L/100kms in 90 per cent city driving, but who gives a crap, petrol is cheap.
No complaints come to mind. It does everything it says on the tin. It is a handsome, beautifully-built hatchback with more or less supercar performance. Big engine up front in a small package. It is not complicated, it is just good.
Finally, I'm 41 and aging prematurely, so my motto for 2017 is "What am I waiting for?"
While that is just a lame excuse for self-indulgence, it is no joke there will come a time in the not too distant future when we can’t buy these petrol-powered extravagances anymore and that will be almost as sad as thinking about what Michael Schumacher is doing today.
So if you want to scratch an itch, do it now. What are you waiting for?