The new BMW 1 Series 3dr Sports Hatch is a three-door version of the latest 1 Series. It's identical to the 5dr model in all but its rear door/window design and aims to provide an even more affordable entry point to the BMW brand. Prices start at 17,300.
With this in mind, BMW's decision to launch the 3dr range by letting us drive the outlandish 29,995 M135i model seems somewhat bizarre. However, when a car is this good, it definitely deserves its place in the spotlight.
What's the 2012 BMW M135i 3dr Sports Hatch like to drive?
BMW is at pains to point out that the M135i is more of a co-development; a model that, although significantly tweaked, sits between M Sport trim and the fully fledged M cars.
It can say whatever it wants, however, because in our opinion, the M135i is closer to the original spirit of M than any of the bombastic, overweight models that currently wear the badge.
We think the M135i is closer to the spirit of M than any models that currently wear the badge
For a start, the engine is a high-revving, turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six that develops 316bhp and pulls strongly all the way from tickover to the 7000rpm redline. The fact that it remains almost devoid of vibration as it revs higher and higher makes it all the more astonishing.
The 0-62mph sprint is over in just 5.1 seconds, and the engine produces a thunderous 332lb ft of torque, which drives the M135i out of corners with devastating effect.
This outrageous pace is combined with a chassis that bristles with feel.
Much of this is down to the 1 Series' relatively low weight and compact size, and the immediacy of its electric steering, which takes just two turns to go from lock to lock.
Just as crucially, though, a lowered ride height, specially selected springs and dampers, and the M division's insistence on fitting high-grip, non-run-flat tyres means you can place the car on the road with supreme accuracy.
The ride is pretty firm, no matter which setting you put the adjustable dampers in, but its beautifully controlled and the cabin is well insulated from wind and road noise.
What's the 2012 BMW M135i 3dr Sports Hatch like inside?
There's no doubt that the latest 1 Series' cabin is a significant step up in quality compared with the previous model's, with more robust materials used in its construction and a greater focus on design.
The new 3dr Sports Hatch can't match the 1 Series 5dr for access to the rear seats, but interior space is all but identical. There's a memory function on the front seats, too, so you wont have to reset your driving position every time you let someone in or out.
The M135is front seats feature heavily bolstered side supports to hold you in place during hard cornering, aided by a slip-resistant, suede-like leather covering.
Additional M135i features include anthracite headlining, colour-coded trim highlights and an M Sport leather-trimmed steering wheel with multi-function buttons.
Should I buy one?
In a heartbeat. The M135i is one of the most likeable cars we've driven in years and at less than 30k it's an absolute bargain.
It's crazily quick and handles beautifully, yet it provides just as much pleasure at moderate speeds. That's not something you can say about the more exotic M cars, which need to be driven insanely fast before they deliver their thrills.
What Car? says