BMW 1 Series M135i 3dr
List price £32,010
Target Price £28,069
Fastest 1 Series is one of our favourite hot hatches, but can it stave off Ford's new pretender?
List price £31,000
Target Price £31,000
With four-wheel drive and 345bhp, the new Focus RS has some serious talents.
BMW’s M135i has been our favourite money-no-object hot hatch for years thanks to its sublime combination of power and rear-wheel-drive thrills with comfort, practicality and a classy interior.
However, it has a feisty new challenger, the barnstorming Ford Focus RS. Despite having a smaller engine, the Focus RS pumps out more power and delivers it to all four wheels for better traction – and it costs less than the M135i. This is a hot hatch match not to miss.
What are they like to drive?
In our tests the M135i lagged 0.6sec behind the RS’s 0-60mph time of 5.2sec (achieved with the help of its easy-to-use launch control system but on a soaking wet track). Had the weather been dry the M135i would have got away from the line better and been a close match for the Focus RS, but in such slippery conditions it couldn’t transfer its power to the road as effectively as the four-wheel-drive Focus RS.
The larger-engined M135i pulls harder from low revs, but both engines are strong in the mid-range and love to be worked. The Focus RS packs a slightly mightier punch, but the M135i revs more freely and has a sweeter, more natural sounding engine. Choosing Sport mode in either turns up the volume; the M135i’s engine emits a meatier howl, and the Focus RS’s pops and bangs angrily when you lift off the throttle.
Both cars have sweet gearshifts, but the gearbox in the RS is slicker and handles quickfire changes better. The M135i has more stopping power, although the brakes in both cars are easy to modulate and there’s decent feel through both pedals.
The Focus RS is devastatingly fast through corners; its clever four-wheel drive system helps it turn in sharply, scythe through bends and accelerate out with mind-bending ability, giving your neck muscles a real workout as it goes. One gripe, however, is the RS’s habit of weaving to the left or right under hard acceleration – particularly over uneven surfaces.
The more softly sprung, rear-wheel-drive M135i can’t match the RS’s extreme cornering speeds, especially in the wet, but it still grips gamely, carrying more than enough speed through bends to put a smile on your face. To achieve its potential more driver input is required via the accelerator and through its lighter but more natural-feeling steering. The RS’s steering is more precise, but is often overly keen to self-centre.
For circuit use, Track mode sharpens the Focus RS even more, while Drift mode sends more power to the rear wheels allowing you to carve out smokey circles like a racing god. The adaptive suspension can be toggled into its firmer Sport mode at any point, but this setting is too stiff for road use. Even with the suspension in its softer setting, the RS is decidedly firm, especially around town, although it never becomes crashy. The M135i is far more comfortable in all situations.
Both cars are relatively quiet cruisers. The Focus RS’s engine is boomier at a steady 70mph, but the RS still feels slightly more composed on the motorway because, unlike the M135i, it doesn’t require you to continually make minor steering adjustments to stay in the centre of your lane.
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