The BMW M Series cars have always been a firm favourite of mine since I was a young lad. Growing up with the E36 M3, E39 M5 and M Roadster in the mid to late 1990s, I have always had tremendous admiration for all M cars coming from the famed Munich brand.
With the introduction of the new BMW M Lite range, BMW has made the entry point into a performance BMW far more accessible. When BMW announced late in 2017 that the M140i will have a $5000 price cut for the LCI-2 release, that was the deal clincher for me to finally sign the dotted line for my first-ever BMW.
If you are also fortunate enough to access the BMW Corporate Program like I was, there are additional benefits such as free servicing (five years if you are a platinum member) and reduced dealer delivery charges, which puts a few extra dollars in your pocket. As an added bonus, I was able to get the M140i in Estori Blue, my favourite BMW colour that I first saw in 1996 on an E36 M3 (which was one of my poster cars on my bedroom wall alongside a Porsche 993 Turbo).
Having owned a few European cars in the past including a VW, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of standard equipment BMW now offers. Items that were optional on my Land Rover are all standard in the BMW (e.g. satellite navigation, reverse camera, leather interior, digital radio and lane assist amongst many other features). This was a far cry to the BMW of a few years ago, when you could walk out the door of a dealership thousands of dollars poorer by ticking the boxes of some simple options.
Of course, the main attraction of the M140i is that drivetrain – the 3.0-litre straight-six turbo driving the rear wheels. This remains the only hatch in its class to offer this package, and for me that alone is worth the admission price. For the BMW enthusiasts amongst us, we all know that the M140i is powered by the latest B58 motor, an evolution of the previous N54 and N55 motors that have been highly revered by the motoring public for the last decade, and have faithfully served just about every single BMW model in the range from the 1 to 7 Series and most of the X Series SUVs.
My impression of this latest motor is that it remains in a class of its own. In Comfort mode around town, the motor is silky smooth and refined, so much so that you would think you are driving a luxury saloon. However, flick it to Sports mode and the B58 motor comes alive with a growl that only a BMW straight six can deliver. If you choose to get a more sportier exhaust note, you can change the standard exhaust to the BMW M Performance exhaust (retail cost about $3500 fully installed), which I understand will deliver M2-like acoustics. This is something that I am looking at doing shortly to top off an already brilliant package.
From behind the wheel, the M140i is not the most hardcore hot hatch on the market, but that is no bad thing. While I haven’t driven all of its main competitors such as the Ford Focus RS, I have had a long stint behind the wheel of a Mercedes-AMG A45 and can comfortably say (no pun intended) that the M140i is the nicer place to be. In comparison to the M140i, the A45 had a much stiffer ride and a louder exhaust boom in the cabin. Suffice to say, that will float a number of people’s boats judging from the sheer number of A45s on the road, but that isn’t my cup of tea, especially when 90 per cent of my driving is around town.
To think that only a few years ago, performance like this (0–100km/h in 4.6 seconds) was supercar territory, but is now offered in a garden-variety hatchback for sub-$60K pricing is mind-blowing. Moreover, this M140i has a faster acceleration time than the previous E92 M3 (4.6 seconds v 4.8 seconds) and is not far behind the $40K more expensive M2 (4.3 seconds). I honestly think BMW has held the true potential of the M140i back so that it does not outperform the pricier M models, in the same way Porsche does with the Cayman so that it does not embarrass the pricier 911.
As already mentioned, the M140i is pretty much fully loaded with the latest technology. The only major options are Apple CarPlay, electric sunroof and heated seats. While some have criticised the M140i for being a little dated on the inside compared to its competition (e.g. Audi with its virtual cockpit), I am a big fan of its simplicity and functionality, which I think makes it feel more like a race car and less like a video game. The old school hand-operated parking brake is another thing I love, as I am not a fan of electric parking brakes nor the foot-brake systems offered on many modern cars.
While the 1 Series will never be SUV-like inside, overall it isn’t too bad. The back seats will be tight for those tall people amongst us, but it does fit my 174cm frame perfectly. The boot is quite roomy too and can easily swallow the weekly groceries or a couple of large suitcases for that weekend trip away.
Finally, styling is of course purely subjective, and the 1 Series has always been a little controversial in the looks department. Personally, I like its understated stealth looks, unlike the overdone aero kit on the A45 AMG as it doesn’t attract unnecessary attention from the general public. I think the 1 Series does need the right colour to show off its lines, with the lighter hues like Estori Blue and Alpine White looking the best in my opinion. While I cannot deny that the 2 Series is the better looker (especially the M2 with its flared guards), I do not think this is enough to warrant the $17K premium to get into an M240i.
Negatives? Well, it was very hard to think of any while writing this article, but one that comes to mind is the BMW condition-based servicing. Being brought up in the old-school way, I like to change my oil every six months or 5000km, especially as the majority of my driving is around town.
The condition-based servicing as recommended by BMW basically is designed to only change fluids based on how the car is driven, with the car’s computer monitoring your driving behaviour and telling you when it needs to be done. This could be as long as two years or 30,000km, which in my opinion is far too long. A number of articles I have read online have also criticised this servicing regime, stating that more long-term damage can be caused by not changing fluids regularly. When the car hit 1000km, I changed the oil and filter (using Mobil 1 0-40W) despite BMW saying it was not necessary.
In summary, in my 2.5 months of ownership, I have had nothing but praise for the M140i. I believe BMW has really hit a sweet spot with this car, pricing it so competitively against its arch rivals from Audi (S3) and Mercedes (A45). From what I understand, there are several others out there agreeing with me, with M140i orders now stretching out several months with demand outstripping supply across the country.
All of the news articles I have read on the latest LCI-2 M140i (including a couple on CarAdvice) has also vindicated my decision. My father loved my M140i so much that he also decided to pull the trigger and purchase one as well, after driving Mercedes-Benzes for 24 years! Also, the BMW dealer network has been fantastic and superior to what I experienced with both Land Rover and VW.
Overall, I cannot fault the M140i except for BMW’s condition-based servicing that I do not agree with 100 per cent. When Munich finally retires the current F20 1 Series sometime in the next 12–18 months, I am sure many motoring enthusiasts will mourn its loss. While I do not doubt that the forthcoming 1 Series will be a cracking car, the more cost effective front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive layout to me does not fit the BMW mould of ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure’. It will be a great car, I am sure, but just not a BMW. But time will either prove me right or wrong.