BMW M135i hatchback
“The latest BMW M135i is undoubtedly fast but it’s lost some of the old car’s character”
- Fantastic interior
- Improved practicality
- Lacks character
- Rear headroom tight
- Rivals are cheaper
The BMW M135i is officially the second ‘hot’ 1 Series, as there wasn’t an equivalent version of the first-generation model. There are significant changes for the new M135i; while the previous car was rear-wheel drive, the new one comes with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system for the first time in the UK.
Keen observers will note that the last range-topping 1 Series was known as the M135i, then the M140i, which was more powerful. BMW has reverted back to the original name as the new car has less power than the one it replaces but, thanks to the all-wheel drive, it’s actually a little faster.
The engine is all-new, too. A 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine replaces the old car’s tuneful 3.0-litre, six-cylinder unit. There’s no need to worry about the reduced size, as its BMW’s most powerful 2.0-litre engine ever. With 302bhp, the M135i can launch from 0-62mph in under five seconds and go on to a limited top speed of 155mph.
There’s no doubt that the acceleration is impressive but it lacks excitement. The downsized engine doesn’t sound as nice as the old six-cylinder engine, and the exhaust doesn’t add much either. Overall, it just feels a little ordinary; we think enthusiasts will find the Mercedes-AMG A 35 or the slower Honda Civic Type R more fun.
The M135i sits at the top of the BMW 1 Series range, so it’s quite well-equipped. It gets the upgraded infotainment system, heated M Sport seats, sat nav and exclusive styling tweaks, among other features. You do pay extra for the M135i compared to some rivals but we’d expect the difference to be relatively small in terms of the monthly payments on a PCP finance deal.
The widescreen infotainment system, coupled with a digital instrument cluster, premium materials and ambient lighting, means the interior is one of this car’s standout elements. It’s more spacious, too; the rear seats are much more accommodating than those of the previous car and the boot’s a bit bigger.
As good as the M135i is, it feels like there should be an even extreme model above it in the range to rival the Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG A 45. The BMW M2 is more comparable to these hot hatches, but it’s not as practical as the M135i.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Fuel economy won’t be the main concern for anyone who buys an M135i, but you’ll get reasonable figures when you’re not exploiting the engine’s full potential. The downsized 2.0-litre engine is a little more economical than the 3.0-litre engine fitted in the old car, and you should be able to achieve 36.2mpg when driving carefully. Neither the Mercedes-AMG A 35 and Volkswagen Golf R will top 40mpg, either, and the M135i’s figure is slightly better than what you can expect from a Honda Civic Type R.
Road tax (VED) stands at £145 from the second year onwards but spec the car to over £40,000 and you’ll need to pay an extra £320 per year until the car is six years old. With CO2 emissions of 177g/km, the M135i is comfortably in the top band for company-car tax. As with all BMWs, you get a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, and BMW offers a three-year service plan for £20 per month.
Engines, drive & performance
The previous car was the only rear-wheel-drive hot hatchback on sale, and as a result it stood out as a great choice for keen drivers. The new car has moved to BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system, so it’s much more similar to the Audi RS3 and Volkswagen Golf R. In normal driving, the M135i is front-wheel drive to save fuel but becomes AWD as soon as more grip is required.
All-wheel drive means the M135i can be as fast as the previous BMW M140i, despite having a much smaller and less powerful engine. The 335bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine has been replaced by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine pushing out 302bhp. The new model is still blisteringly rapid in a straight line, hitting 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds and maxing out at a limited 155mph. Launch control and a brilliant eight-speed automatic gearbox are fitted as standard.
Despite the performance of the M135i, it leaves you feeling a little cold. The smaller engine can’t match the great sound of the six-cylinder unit in the previous car, and the exhaust does little to enhance its noise. The experience ends up feeling rather ordinary and you feel a bit detached from the action. There’s always an impressive amount of grip, but less in the way of outright excitement. We can imagine there being some disappointed buyers if they’re coming from an M140i.
Interior & comfort
The interior will be instantly recognisable if you’ve been in any other BMW, but that’s no bad thing. Everything is aimed at the driver, and all the controls are placed so they’re easy to find and use. The quality of the materials used and the construction seem fantastic, although the Mercedes-AMG A 35 adds more theatre and is even more impressive.
You get M Sport heated front seats upholstered in a suede-like fabric, plus a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and the upgraded widescreen infotainment system. As it’s based on the M Sport trim, the M135i also features auto LED headlights, two-zone climate control and a sportier steering wheel.
BMW offers a number of packs and options, including an M135i Plus pack (19-inch alloys, sun protection glass and an upgraded stereo), a Tech Pack and a Comfort Pack. The latter adds a powered tailgate - for the first time on a 1 Series - a heated steering wheel and electric front seats. Other options include a panoramic sunroof, extra safety kit and sporty exterior add-ons.
Practicality & boot space
BMW’s decision to make the BMW 1 Series front-wheel drive has liberated more space for passengers and luggage, and the all-wheel-drive M135i seems to offer just as much versatility as cheaper and less powerful models. Those in the front might not notice too much of a difference but rear-seat occupants enjoy more leg and elbow room than before. Headroom is a little tight in the back for six-footers, though.
Boot space is up 20 litres, so it now exactly matches the space you get in a Golf R or an Audi S3. Handily, the tailgate opening is now much wider and a more useful shape, and it’s easier to load boxy items into the M135i than the M235i saloon. BMW doesn’t recommend towing with the M135i - it’s the only 1 Series variant that doesn’t come with the option of a towbar.
Reliability & safety
Euro NCAP gave the BMW 1 Series a full five-star safety rating in 2019, and this score extends to the M135i too. Standard safety equipment includes autonomous emergency braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection and lane-departure warning, and you can add extras like a head-up display and cross-traffic warning to make the car even safer.
Reliability is less clear-cut. BMW languished in 25th place out of 30 brands in our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, with 22% of buyers reporting a fault in the first year. The latest 1 Series is too new to feature on the list, but BMW will hope it can boost the brand’s rankings.