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. But, if 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.
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