It's a Guy Thing

Monster Beema

BMW M135i xDrive loses more than its 6cyl engine

For the past fifteen years, BMW’s hottest 1 Series has been powered by a 3.0-liter straight six sending power to the rear wheels. The only evolution to that format was the introduction of turbocharging from the 130i to the 135i. Looking at the new M135 xDrive, it’s hard to trace it back to its forebears because this is the furthest BMW’s hot hatchback formula has ever deviated, so much so that it’s now a generic facsimile of every other 268hp+ German hatchback out there. The BMW 1 Series used to bring something different to the table.

What BMW has given us is a similar powertrain to the X2 M35i but with a lower center of gravity and a lower base point, although our tested model made this comparison rather moot. It’s fairly expensive for a 2.0-liter engine that produces less power than the 3.0-liter it deposes although BMW will argue that you’re getting an all-wheel-drive system that makes the car more user friendly and safer. Not to mention faster over anything bar perfectly smooth sticky tarmac. This has become the go-to recipe for brainless speed under 7 digits but it’s terribly boring at the same time – Audi’s 2.5 5cyl over in the RS3 now looks exotic. Then there’s the issue of noise, especially when the reference point is BMW’s syrupy straight-six with sequential turbos. For this job, BMW’s brought out its noise spanners in the form of variable exhaust valves. It tries a little too hard, sounds rough at low rpm, then heavily synthesized in the mid-range with a pronounced hiss of turbocharger that’s working especially hard to fill in for lost capacity. BMW’s quick band-aid is to cover the soundtrack in pops and crackles which only highlights how far the situation has deteriorated.   

Sensing a tear forming, let’s move to the exterior which is only available as a 5-door. Those blocky grilles still look like a wrong fit no matter how desensitized we’ve become while the rest of the package is really mature and business-like with no other polarising features. No wild aero fixtures, a set of very plain alloys but the twin pipes are noticeably wider in diameter. Edge to edge the new 1 Series is a bit shorter, a little wider and higher.

If the grilles spoil the exterior, then it’s the gauges that cheapen the premium interior. They work backward (literally) with information scattered in a horrible typeface. It’s a dysfunctional design afflicting all modern BMWs, which is good news for Audi’s virtual cockpit and Merc’s twin displays – both are infinitely easier to read and customize. BMW’s priority with the 1 Series was about increasing interior space by useful margins including the boot. It’s nicely sized now but the X2 M35i still edges it. Sporty seats are about as sporty as things get in here as the rest wouldn’t look too out of place on a BMW 120d. Still, it’s all very well made if a little underwhelming for those who want carbon fiber and G-force readouts. 

xDrive enables the M135i to be fast on any given day or road which sounds like a win until you realize that the big loser in all this is steering feel. The old rear-wheel-drive M135i and M140i had a purity about them; pour in the power mid-corner and the steering stayed true and light versus the busy and inconsistent feel you are now met with. Corner speeds might be higher in the new M135i xDrive although it’s contaminated by too many electronics wrestling you, the road and itself. 

I am not totally unbiased, I admit. My first test car was a BMW 130i in 2006 and I owned the previous M135i. The M135i wasn’t as well built, the ride was crashy but it was the essence of a hot hatchback – big engine, small car, few-ish driving modes and you couldn’t get it anywhere near the base price of this new car if you threw every option at it. It was about as raw and old school as a new BMW could get. The new M135i has saturated that package with a hefty price and a list of components that most buyers don’t actually want. JP