BMW M135i hatchback review
“The latest BMW M135i is undoubtedly fast, and a recent update has added some of the old car’s character”
- Fantastic interior
- Improved practicality
- Lacks character
- Rear headroom tight
- Rivals are cheaper
The BMW M135i is the flagship ‘performance’ version of the 1 Series line-up, sitting above the 128ti in the range. Unlike the previous-generation flagship models, which were rear-wheel drive, the M135i is fitted with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
Keen observers will note that the last range-topping 1 Series was known as the M135i, then the M140i, which was more powerful. For this latest model, BMW has adopted the M135i xDrive name, because it has less power, but thanks to the all-wheel drive, it’s actually a little faster.
The engine is all-new, too. A 2.0-litre turbocharged 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 though, because it produces 302bhp, and launches the M135i from 0-62mph in less than five seconds and on to a limited top speed of 155mph.
But for all its power, the current M135i lacked excitement. It sounded dull, plus it felt clinical and ordinary, which isn’t good enough for what should be a flagship hot hatchback. BMW clearly realised it dropped the ball, because it has made a whole host of updates to the M135i long before the car is due for a mid-life facelift.
As of spring 2022, the M135i gets recalibrated suspension, new tyres, an improved soundtrack and software tweaks for the xDrive four-wheel-drive system, which have all added up to a much-improved driving experience. It’s worth noting that the majority of these changes are only applied to cars without the fancy adaptive dampers; cars with the trick suspension are much the same as before. BMW says the vast majority of buyers go without the upgraded dampers, which is why it’s made the changes to the standard model.
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 four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine is a little more economical than the 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine fitted in the old car, and you should be able to achieve up to 38.2mpg 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 Cupra Leon - although that car is also available as a more frugal plug-in hybrid.
Road tax (VED) costs the standard rate from the second year onwards, but if you spec the M135i to more than £40,000, you’ll need to pay the additional surcharge each year until the car is six years old. With CO2 emissions starting from 168g/km, the M135i sits towards the top of the bandings 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 traction 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.
It seems BMW has taken criticism of the M135i xDrive on board, as in 2022 it made changes to the car’s hardware and software. Some of the changes to the setup come from the less powerful 128ti version of the 1 Series, such as the revised suspension with new lower arms that make the car stiffer and more responsive.
The xDrive system has been updated so it now sends power to all four wheels more of the time, and BMW has even changed the car’s recommended tyres to more performance-focused rubber. The artificial engine noise has been made to sound more realistic, and it’s louder as well. All these changes show us what the M135i could’ve been like all along, because the updated car is far more entertaining to drive and feels like the hot hatch it is.
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. For 2022, the Sao Paulo Yellow paint option from the BMW M4 has been added to the colour palette, bringing a searingly vibrant choice alongside the greys, blacks and blues.
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 21st place out of 29 brands in our 2021 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, with 19.2% of buyers reporting a fault in the first year. In our model survey, the latest 1 Series hatchback finished in 46th place out of 75 cars. Owners were generally happy with their cars, praising the quality of the infotainment system and the strong fuel economy, but were less impressed with the expensive servicing costs and harsh ride quality.