Hot hatch Revised is a story of two halves
What is it?
The BMW 1 Series was the first to go front-wheel drive. With the Volkswagen Golf R-baiting four-wheel-drive BMW M135xDrive, it proved it could make a hot hatch while still maintaining the ‘premium feel’ of a BMW.
It’s now been updated. The actual facelift is not happening – that will come in 2024. There are no new paint options, such as the retina-searing Sao Paulo yellow shown in the photos. These changes are strictly mechanical.
Engineers stated that the goal was to make the M135i more versatile. They focused the M Sport suspension on the driving enthusiast’s preference, while keeping the adaptively suspended car’s abilities as an all-rounder.
All versions have more sound through the speakers and more alert torque vectoring via braking. Cars with M Sport suspension get new springs, dampers and springs.
These changes have clearly separated the two versions. Both versions have the same chassis balance. The M135i is more like a front-wheel drive car with infinite traction than a Ford Focus RS-style hip wiggler. Because there isn’t any torque steer, the tweaks to reduce it have been successful.
The M135i feels agile thanks to its new torque vectoring or “Performance Control” in BMW language. You can feel the system correcting the car’s course when you are in a corner with grip close to its limit. Although it’s not subtle and a little artificial, it’s an enjoyable addition.
However, after a test drive in both versions, I am not convinced that the sport suspension’s chassis sharpness is worth the compromises. The Pilot Sport 4Ss turns in a little quicker and corners with greater precision. However, it is still limited by uncommunicative steering, which doesn’t solve the somewhat humourless chassis balance. It’s more fun on the roads. Not necessarily.
The adaptive dampers are just PS500 more, and offer a much more appealing compromise. This setup is not only more comfortable, but it also has better dampening, which improves daily driving experience. A little extra body roll helps to compensate for the numb steering. The car also feels a bit more fun at highway speeds due to the lower grip of the Pilot Sport 4 tyres.
Similar contrasts can be seen in the powertrain modes. Comfort mode produces a little bit of synthesised exhaust bark, and slight thumps from your gearbox when you make full-bore shifts. Sport mode is a tree trunk of synthetic exhaust noise. It includes fake pops, bangs, and single-clutch manual-style wallops during upshifts.
The eight-speed torque converter gearbox is more like a dual-clutch because of its shift speeds and the slight clunkiness when it’s asked to grab a particular gear it didn’t expect to. The paddles are responsive on the way up but it can sometimes refuse to change down.
Do I need one?
BMW effectively made the M135i two cars. One offers more drama and ultimate capability, while the other has more nuanced and everyday usability. The more compact car with adaptive suspension seems to be the better looking. However, this is only a brief impression.
The M135i’s price is another reason to be a fan. Although PS38,470 may not be a small sum, it is still cheaper than the Audi S3 Sportback and Mercedes-AMG A35. A BMW proves to be the more affordable option. Who would have thought it?