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Quicker Than You Can Say Emmm One-Three-Five Aiii!

I can almost hear the lament from legions who believe in the dogma that RWD is the way to go for the new M135i. Believe me, I am with you when it comes to BMW’s mantra of ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure”.
OneShift Editorial Team
OneShift Editorial Team
12 Nov 2020
Blasphemy! I know!
What we like:
Engaging drive. Impressive soundtrack in a modern day context. Superb performance coupled with everyday drivability.
What we dislike:
Superb performance coupled with everyday drivability does not come cheap at all.

I can almost hear the lament from legions who believe in the dogma that RWD is the way to go for the new M135i. Believe me, I am with you when it comes to BMW’s mantra of ‘Sheer Driving Pleasure”. If you are on the same page, then you would be the kind who likes the idea that oversteer is sort of hairy-chested fun… Not that you would be snapping that tail out as a daily routine… you silly exhibitionist... but just knowing that your car is fully capable of that, is probably good enough.

But allow me to figuratively apply some wax on that figurative hairy chest of yours and then proceed to give it a good tug. Painful? Yes! But smoother too. That is the best way to describe what we are seeing here.

The all new M-badged 1 Series BMW is the result of the Bavarian brand milking as much as they can out of their UKL2 architecture, which also “underpins” the super hot MINI John Cooper Works Countryman.

In Singapore, we get just two engine options for now, on one end, the mild three-cylinder 118i, and on the other, this fire-breathing hatchback. Sadly, there isn’t a squeak of the in-between high-performance 2.0 FWD only hatch, which we bet, would be quite a joy to drive.

The M135i visually differentiates itself from the 118i with a three-dimensional different Kidney Grille motif, and an aggressive lower grille design. At the rear, you get twin tail pipes, a restyled bumper, and a stylised wing. The Misano Blue which coats our test car, and makes it pop, debuted during the launch of the refreshed BMW X1.


If you are familiar with the previous car’s interior, you would surely appreciate the trickle of quality originating from BMW’s larger models. The air-conditioning vents in the centre stack, and even the infotainment controls beside the gearshift lever, are now a familiar sight.

Unique to the M135i is the ‘Illuminated Boston’ interior trim finish, while seats are a combination of ‘Trigon’ cloth/Alcantara Black. Sited on the top of the dash, a 10.25 Control Display fronts BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional enabled infotainment system, which runs on their Operating System 7. Like the larger 3 Series, the system activates through the phrase “Hey BMW”, and you can even customise this to your preferred activation phrase. We like that their infotainment is user-friendly, and voice commands seem well integrated into many of the functions available, including my personal favourite, ‘Hey BMW, I’m Bored!’ where it responds by switching to ‘Sport’ driving mode, and activates its sport displays.

The wireless charging pad, which you have to wedge your phone into, to charge and secure it at the same time, is the same in both the 1 Series and 2 Series Gran Coupe; and is ideal for what the M135i M is intended for, since you would possibly be rocking the car around a few turns, and you would not want to have your phone flying around the car.

One of the new features BMW has been harping on of late, is its Digital Key, which is at the moment only compatible with NFC capable Samsung Android phones. This makes it possible to share your car with more users. Once the app is downloaded and paired, all it takes is for you to tap your phone on the front door handles to unlock the car, and placing the phone into the mobile charging pad, allows you to start the car.

I like how supportive the front seats are, with ample side bolstering and thigh support to help keep your body in-place. Passengers at the rear, while they do not get the same amount of lateral bolstering, will find the rear seats supportive enough. There is also improved legroom, due to a lower central tunnel, compared to its predecessor.

Luggage capacity at 380 litres is a 20 litre improvement over the previous car. Versatility in the form of 40:20:40 folding rear seats, which increases cargo volume to 1,200 litres, and a secondary storage area under the boot floor, makes this hot hatch a practical one too.

The Drive

So yes, this is the most important part for most of you who have made it this far. BMW has ditched their signature straight-six, mounted in a traditional North-South fashion, driving the rear wheels. In-place, the new car gets their most powerful B48 family 4-cylinder turbocharged engine which is East-West mounted, and now with all-wheel drive or in BMW speak, xDrive.

Blasphemy! I know!

When I reviewed the 118i, I looked at that car from a clean slate. I thought less of its predecessor, and looked at its merits. And well, the same goes for their new whip.

I did drive the M135i most of the time in ‘Sport’ mode, since I wanted to milk as much fun as I could out of that turbocharged 2.0. One feature BMW includes is their Active Sound Design (ASD) system, which amplifies the car’s actual engine note. Yes, some of you are already crying foul with this, since it is almost like a manufactured sound. You are half-right (since EU regulations have been in-place for a while to reduce noises much further). But it does sound authentic, and I must admit it is still quite enjoyable.

With 306hp on-tap, and 450Nm within the parameters of 1,750 to 4,500rpm, the M135i accelerates effortlessly, with a punchiness that is very appealing. BMW’s good work on the engine includes a reinforced crank, modified connector rods and pistons, and a compression ratio reduced further to 9.5:1, and also a larger turbocharger, are key to its high output. Additional cooling also ensures that all the important moving bits can operate at their best.

Drive to its four wheels is via an eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission, sourced from Aisin. BMW has also included Launch Control Mode, which lets you tap on its full 450Nm from the get-go. Gear changes in ‘Sport’ are best described as an aggressive bite at each change.

One of the little satisfactions you can get is to drop the car into ‘Manual’ drive mode, and work the gearbox up and down yourself around some tight stretches. Included in the mix is a mechanical Torsen limited-slip differential, that responds quickly locking the drive between the front wheels when there is slip. In addition to the drive satisfaction you will get from how accurate the M135i is, the exhaust also delivers satisfying pops and bangs between shifts when you work the engine harder.

The suspension which is an adaptive unit, when set on its firm setting, is not overly jarring, and has just that little bit of play to entertain a few bumps. While it is an all-wheel drive hatchback, BWM does claim that it can split its drive 50:50, when the situation calls for it; although very quickly, you will find that it does drive with a bias to the front wheels. That said, the M135i is amazingly composed and balanced, while its weighted steering offers good feedback.

If you are one of those (like me) who drives and swaps cogs according to what you hear from the front, as opposed to what you read from the instruments, you will often find that you will run out of revs rather quickly, since the rev-limiter kicks in at about 6,000rpm. Somehow I think that BMW engineers have decided to cap this as such for reasons of engine longevity.

As a daily driver, the small BMW is practical. There is plenty it can offer in terms of standard features. The drive mode, when dialed down also tames the suspension, making it civilised enough for you to run your day-to-day errands. Its compact footprint also naturally makes drivability easy in tighter confines.

The Reversing Assistant, which is now common across most models, also finds its way into the M135i. This feature helps you back out of tight situations, by tracing the path recently taken, to distances of up to 50 meters. Together with the Reversing Assistant, the Parking Assistant which forms part of the car’s autonomous assistance suite, helps you with parking in both parallel and perpendicular spaces. The system also is able to get you out of parallel lots.

Our Thoughts

While its predecessor had traits we can identify with what a BMW should be, the new M135i is a little more boy racer at heart, but delivers a refined driving experience, and pampers you with a well-built interior.

You may disagree with me, but it is one of the most engaging small BMWs cars available.

Competition comes in the form of family rivalry with a good-ol British one-two, with the likes of the John Cooper Works-badged MINI Clubman and Countryman, and the AMG-badged Mercedes A35.


Credits: Words and Photos by Clifford Chow

Cars in this article
BMW M Series 1 Series 2.0 xDrive (A) 2020

BMW M Series 1 Series 2.0 xDrive (A) 2020

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