BMW pushed the boat out when developing the M135i’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, with a hefty 302bhp as a result. That’s on par with the Mercedes-AMG A35 and Audi S3 but a little way behind really big hitters such as the Mercedes-AMG A45. You’ll certainly not find it sluggish; the launch control is easily activated to fire the M135i off the line, covering 0-62mph in just 4.8sec.
The engine has a broad spread of torque, so it picks up smartly even in higher gears. Put your foot down hard and there’s a moment of hesitation (less with the gearbox in Sport mode), but it’s not as pronounced as with the Audi S3. Once the gearbox has selected the right gear and the engine is done pondering, the M135i very rarely struggles for traction, but you will feel the steering wheel writhing in your hands occasionally while the limited-slip differential does its thing.
Although the A35’s steering better insulates you from the front tyres tugging at the Tarmac, it doesn’t keep you informed of exactly what they're up to like the M135i’s fast, precise setup does. It feels light around town, but increase your speed and cornering force and its weight builds reassuringly, helping you easily place the car’s nose where you want it.
Make your way to a challenging set of twists and turns and you’ll find there’s strong front end grip on the way in, while the limited-slip diff and fast-reacting four-wheel drive system work together to fire the M135i out of tight bends. It won’t dance a sideways jig like the M140i did, but you really can feel the rear wheels digging in to help prevent the nose from running wide. It’s not the most exciting or playful of hot hatches out there, but it’s more entertaining than the A35 and S3.
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 firm edge. You know that the bumps are there, but you’re still perfectly comfortable after a few hours behind the wheel. Potholes can generate a thud from the suspension, but one that’s heard more than felt.
Body control is good in Comfort mode, but Sport ties things down a little further and makes the car slightly keener to change direction. You’ll feel the bumps more, but, at least on the 18in wheels of the M135i we’ve driven, the ride remains bearable on patchy roads. Even so, we found ourselves leaving the suspension in Comfort for the vast majority of our time behind the wheel. Happily, you can select the different drive modes you want for the engine, gearbox, steering and suspension individually.
Although we wish the engine sounded more theatrical when pushed hard, it’s smooth and barely audible when pottering about. Road noise from the standard wheels is well contained, although wind noise was noticeable on our panoramic roof-equipped test car.