Price Guide (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $72,400
Options fitted (not included in above price): Glass sunroof $2290; Park Distance Control (front) $600; Music Interface for smartphones $220; Navigation System Professional $3500; Internet $200; Metallic Paint $1700
Crash rating: Five-star (Euro NCAP)
Fuel: 95 RON PULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 7.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 175
Also consider:Audi S3 Sportback (from $71,200); Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG (when it arrives)
Few things prepare you for the experience of driving BMW's M135i – and certainly not the diesel-engined front-driven sedan from the week before.
After a recent run of worthy but mundane machines the tiny tearaway Bimmer proved to be a (pleasant) shock to the system. Open up the taps of the 3.0-litre straight six, with its twin-scroll turbo induction, and the M135i becomes a snarling, angry beast of a thing – something to scare small children and sensitive animals. There's a moment of hesitation as the engine and the driver draw breath for a sudden leap forward, but the brief bout of turbo lag is quickly (very quickly!) forgotten as the car lets rip with startling acceleration and a crisp note all the way through to redline, followed by a woof from the exhaust on the overrun.
But for all its breath-taking straight-line performance, the M135i is also a very easy car to drive. The 235kW/450Nm engine produces more than enough torque under light loads to hold high gears on moderately steep hills and the same twisting, tugging force will nonchalantly sling the M135i out of tight corners with practically no effort from the driver other than point the wheel and squeeze the throttle.
Complicit in the M135i's quotient of fun – and satisfaction – is the ZF eight-speed automatic and the shift paddles. The ZF box is typical of the brand in being very competent and smooth, with the added virtues of shifting down to provide engine braking on hills – even in BMW's EcoPro mode. In Sport or Sport+ modes the transmission is highly responsive to manual shifting and the paddles were very well designed and located for the purpose.
The M135i won't shift up when the engine reaches redline, if the driver is using the shift paddles in Sport or Sport+ modes. Such is the spread and abundance of torque from the engine the driver can be assured of shifting up just before redline without losing tenths of seconds around a track, whereas hitting the rev limiter will cost time, for what that's worth.
The car's astonishing performance is reined in readily with the dependable M Sport brakes, which are also easy to live with – good feel through the pedal and 'almost' soft-stopping without high-performance brake squealing or vibration.
In corners the M135i is naturally very adept. Steering response is rapid and the ratio feels direct enough even at around-town speeds. Ratchet up the speed and the M135i's steering ratio is virtually as quick as thought.
Ride comfort is firm, but the M135i absorbs smaller bumps without shattering teeth. In the suburbs – where roads tend to be better maintained – the ride quality will certainly be adequate for most owners, particularly those who have bought the car for its hot hatch factor rather than bespoke luxury. Out in the country, with its lumpy bitumen, the M135i remains very well damped, but the ride can feel choppy. The compensation for that is the car's exceptional roadholding and handling. Thrown into a corner the M135i exhibits plenty of grip and the feedback through the wheel feels like the car is banked into a turn on a bobsled run.
The stability control – and its sub-systems Cornering Brake Control and Dynamic Traction Control – will step in to correct any waywardness, even in Sport+ mode. Unlike some systems where the safety nannies seem to be battling against the car's power and passive dynamics, the BMW's systems form an active partnership in getting the power to the ground and exiting the corner as neatly and rapidly as possible.
In many respects the M135i is the polar opposite of the 116i this writer tested back in July of last year, but where the flagship and the entry-level model are broadly aligned is in the respective packaging. Both cars feature a tyre repair kit and the battery under the floor in the boot. Luggage space is also limited by having drivetrain components underneath as well.
Where the M135i goes its own way is in respect of equipment and fixtures, including more aggressively contoured seating (in the front at least) and a sports steering wheel. Other than what BMW describes as 'Aluminium Hexagon' trim, applied sparingly, the cabin of the M135i is spartan, but that's in keeping with the car's sporting aspirations. And one would never argue that the car lacks anything much for the price.
While the writer is not a big fan of thick-rimmed steering wheels, BMW has got this one about right. It's a chunky rim that complements the small diameter of the wheel, which is small enough for race-day work without obscuring the view of the instruments. No need to push-pull with this wheel, and the shift paddles are right where your hands remain once the red mist has descended. It's surprising how far BMW has come in ergonomics over recent years – admittedly about where they should be for a brand that advertises each of its products as the 'Ultimate Driving Machine'.
The mode switch for BMW's Driver Experience Control is located near the driver's left knee, and the stability control disable switch is just north of that. With the handbrake adjacent the driver's left thigh, all the salient controls of any importance fall within easy reach. Our one (continuing) grumble is that the indicator stalk remains on the left side of the steering column, although even that is a minor consideration in a car with an automatic transmission.
During harder cornering the seats in the M135i performed admirably, with firm, supportive side bolstering to hold the driver in place. They were comfortable enough as well, but it's as a halfway race-ready proposition they earn points. Headroom in the front was impressive, given the (optional) sunroof fitted. In the rear the headroom was a bit tighter for adults, but still passable. Knee room in the rear was acceptable also, since the 1 Series is a compact rear-drive hatch. In common with similarly sized hatches, the M135i didn't offer a lot of leg room for adults, but there was room under the front seats for feet. Adults of average size should be able to face a longish journey in the back without complaint. That said, the rear seats are not especially forgiving.
As a daily driver/ownership proposition, the M135i is surprisingly practical. Parking is straightforward, thanks to parking sensors front and rear. In keeping with its sporty demeanour the M135i is not an eerily quiet car at freeway speeds. The drivetrain is subdued but can be heard working in the background, as can the tyres – and there's a modicum of wind noise present as well.
Build quality achieved the necessary standard for a BMW, and the car felt very taut over mid-corner bumps that were sufficiently tortuous to trigger the stability control system. Over the course of the week the M135i used 11.5L/100km, which would have been more if not for the idle stop/start function. But then it conversely would have been less if not for the reviewer having his wicked way with that lusty turbo six!
That leaves us with just one significant issue to canvass: the looks. It's been said before that the frontal styling of the new 1 Series is not the prettiest visage BMW has brought to market, and we'd go further in saying that it has the sort of proportions (and heavy C pillars) for it to resemble hatchback models from other manufacturers when approached from behind.
But you know what? It's not the ugliest car on the road – not by a long stretch – and any style shortcomings are easily ignored when the car is so good in other respects.
There is one redeeming element of the styling anyway. People recognise it – and they certainly recognise the M135i badge. Like the Golf GTI driver who pulled up close astern of the BMW at the lights one afternoon on the way home from work. Rather than pull into the lane adjacent the M135i, he was content to stay behind. Good choice that, with the BMW switched from Comfort to Sport+ and the reviewer easing pressure off the brake pedal...
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