What Car? says...
Like the less extreme models in the 1 Series range, the latest generation BMW M135i is a very different kettle of fish to its predecessor.
First up, that means no rear-wheel drive, and the six-cylinder engine has gone, too. It's now a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that's coupled to four-wheel drive.
Is that a good or a bad thing? Well, it all depends on how wedded you are to the idea of doing massive, smokey burnouts and tail slides around every corner.
BMW research would seem to suggest that, while some folks love the thought, in reality, buyers want a useable, predictable car. This is a hot hatch after all, not a track-oriented supercar.
Four-wheel drive should provide stable handling, and the smaller, four-cylinder engine should make it a more economical car to run than the ‘big six’ engine of the previous models. Of course, we’re here to tell you whether that’s the reality, and if it is, whether the M135i has become a bit too sanitised or still manages to be fun.
And there’s the rub of it. Hot hatches do have a fine line to tread between everyday driving, but still putting a smile on your face when you head out for a blast.
Over the next few pages, this review will tell you how much fun the BMW M135i is, what it’s like inside and what you get for your money. (If you're looking for the standard family car, check out our full separate BMW 1 Series review.)
Whichever hot hatch takes your fancy, don’t forget that you could save yourself thousands of pounds by taking a look at the free What Car? New Car Buying service. It's got some excellent current prices, including very attractive BMW M135i deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
BMW pushed the boat out when developing the M135i’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine: a hefty 302bhp was the result. That’s on a par with the Audi S3 and Mercedes A35 AMG but a little way behind the really big hitters in the class, such as the Mercedes-AMG A45.
You certainly won’t find it’s sluggish, though; activate the easy-to-use launch control system and – bosh – the M135i blazes off the line with immediacy and hits 62mph in just 4.8sec. It hardly ever struggles for traction thanks to its xDrive four-wheel-drive system, even on a damp road.
The engine has a broad spread of torque, picking up smartly even in higher gears when you’re using the gearbox in manual mode, and doesn’t run in to a soft rev limiter that leaves you hanging between gears – as the A35 does so frustratingly and too easily. In its automatic setting, there’s a moment of hesitation before the M135i kicks down (less so if you’ve selected Sport mode), but that’s not as pronounced as it is in the S3.
Is it an exciting engine and gearbox? No, not massively. The engine produces a bit of a monotonous drone even when you’re ‘on it’. The Volkswagen Golf GTI isn’t a great-sounding hot hatch, either, but it sounds better than this, while the Toyota GR Yaris makes a far more invigorating noise. And we’d much rather have a snickety manual ‘box, like the one you get in the Honda Civic Type R.
What about its handling? The M135i’s steering is fast and precise. It feels light around town, but increase your speed and the cornering forces build weight reassuringly, helping you easily place the car’s nose where you want it. It’s a more intuitive steering set-up than the A35’s, but it’s not raw, involving and feelsome like the Civic Type R’s.
Make your way to a challenging road and you’ll discover excellent body control with strong front end grip on the way in to turns. On the way out of bends the limited-slip differential and fast-reacting four-wheel drive system work together to fire the M135i resolutely and reassuringly onwards.
If, however, you’re looking for some finesse, some entertaining action, some delicate movements that make you feel like it isn’t just a point-and-squirt machine, they’re absent. It’s a more clinically polished car in which to attack a good B-road than the A35 or S3, but nothing like as much fun as the GR Yaris.
So far, we’ve only tried an M135i with the optional adaptive suspension, which has a softer Comfort mode and a stiffer Sport mode. The former irons out the worst of the road’s imperfections but maintains a slightly firmer edge than the Golf GTI.
You feel more thuds from potholes and the like, but it’s still liveable with and not harsh, like a Renault Megane RS. Meanwhile, road and wind noise are both fine for a sporty hatch, and it’s much quieter at speed then the Civic Type R.
The interior layout, fit and finish
There’s plenty of tweaking potential for the driver’s seat and steering wheel in the BMW M135i, albeit done manually unless you pay extra for electric adjustment. Variable lumbar support is optional, too. We'd certainly add the lumbar adjustment at the very least; it isn't that expensive and makes the part-Alcantara sports seat tremendously supportive in all situations.
The view out of the front is good, but the chunky rear pillars restrict vision out the other end. Fortunately, front and rear parking sensors are standard, and, for a very reasonable sum, you can add the Park Assist pack, which includes a rear-view camera. Meanwhile, with LED headlights as standard, it's easy to see at night.
There's another 10.3in screen for the iDrive infotainment system, which is certainly one of the best on the market. It can be operated from the touchscreen, by using voice command or by using the rotary controller and physical shortcut buttons between the seats. Having the rotary controller means it's simple to use on the move, while the touchscreen is the quicker option when stationary.
Gesture control is available as an option but don't bother with it. It's useless, apart from making your passenger believe (for a brief moment at best) that you've learned the art of magic and can turn up the volume simply by a mid-air swirling hand motion. A DAB radio, Bluetooth, sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are more useful standard items.
While its interior doesn’t have the visual wow factor of the A35’s, rock-solid build quality makes the M135i’s dashboard feel like it’s been carved out of the side of a cliff, albeit, thankfully, with plush, soft-touch materials covering the rock face. It's certainly a big step up from cars like the Honda Civic Type R, Toyota GR Yaris, and even the Volkswagen Golf GTI, when it comes to panache. It's a cut above that of most other hot hatches.
Would you like more detail about the inside of the BMW 1 Series? Then check out our main review.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’ll be few complaints from those up front in the BMW M135i; the driver and passenger have plenty of head and leg room, while the interior is nice and wide. There are also decent-sized door bins and a generous cubbyhole under the central armrest. Add to that the tray in the centre console and there’s loads of room for your stuff.
That’s great news in itself, but one of this car's most notable improvements over the old M140i is the amount of room it has in the back. Six-footers will have leg room, just enough head room and there's plenty of room beneath the front seats for your feet. It's roughly equivalent to a Mercedes A35 AMG or Volkswagen Golf GTi, but the Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus ST or Skoda Octavia vRS are all roomier if you need more space.
The Octavia vRS has a much bigger boot, too, but at 380 litres the M135i’s boot is bigger than its premium rivals, the Audi S3 Sportback and A35, and matches the Golf GTI’s. It’s a useful, boxy shape, with only a small load lip at the entry. Unusually, you have the option of 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats instead of the standard 60/40 split to which most of its rivals limit you.
For more detailed information about the space and practicality inside a BMW 1 Series, check out our main review.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The BMW M135i is a bargain next to the enormously expensive Mercedes A45 AMG, but priced very close to the Audi S3 and Mercedes A35 AMG. It's a lot costlier than more exciting hot hatchbacks, like the Honda Civic Type R and Toyota GR Yaris, plus, adding a few option packs can send the total spiralling sharply. Thankfully, it should hold its value well, if not quite as tenaciously as the AMG A35.
Its official combined fuel economy is just under 40mpg, while its CO2 emissions stick it straight into the naughtiest company car tax band of 37%. Still, it's a hot hatchback so that's to be expected, and most of its rivals are no better.
The M135i comes with a reasonable list of standard equipment, including automatic lights and wipers, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, 18in alloy wheels and a racy bodykit to set it apart from lesser BMW 1 Series models. One of the options includes the ability to turn your smartphone into the key for the car, allowing you to unlock and start the car with it.
In our 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, BMW ranked the best of any premium manufacturer other than Lexus; in ninth place, one behind Honda. Toyota also beat it, while Audi and Mercedes were a lot lower down the pecking order. The BMW 1 Series as a whole also proved to be one of the more reliable family cars on sale. The M135i is covered by a three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, matching that provided by Mercedes for the A35.
And what about safety? When it was tested by the experts at Euro NCAP, the 1 Series received a maximum five-star rating. However, it should be noted that the Mercedes A-Class proved safer, scoring higher for adult chest protection and pedestrian safety. Standard safety kit includes automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, speed limit assist, and a system that will warn you if you get too close to the car in front.
On top of that you can select the optional Driving Assistant package. This gets you an upgraded AEB that looks out for pedestrians, blindspot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and rear cross traffic alert.
|RRP price range
|£41,845 - £45,165
|Number of trims (see all)
|Number of engines (see all)
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)
|MPG range across all versions
|38.2 - 38.2
|Available doors options
|3 years / No mileage cap
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)
|£1,662 / £3,261
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)
|£3,324 / £6,522