Words by: Isaac Atienza and James Tagle
Photos by: Isaac Atienza
A Pocket Rocket
The BMW 1 Series easily stands out among its competitors because of its rear wheel drive (RWD) chassis. Combine that with the relatively light weight and the short wheelbase, it’s easy to see why the BMW 1 Series is the most fun to drive premium hatchback. When the second generation BMW 1 Series arrived, it didn’t receive the love the first generation had. Not that it was a bad car, but because it had a weird front fascia that not a lot of people appreciated, but thanks to this facelift, the BMW 1 Series is (aesthetically) back to fighting form. Regardless, it is still a fun to drive car, especially the BMW M135i, which is not exactly a fully-fledged BMW M car. Rather, it’s an M Performance car that gives a taste of what a possible BMW M1 (or 1 Series M since the M1 is a name for a sports car in the 1970s) would be like. Fitted with a 3.0 liter, twin-turbocharged inline-6 petrol engine in such a small body, it’s like fitting the heart of an elephant into a mouse. This is going to be an interesting drive.
The facelift, or Life Cycle Impulse (LCI) as BMW’s cheesy marketing people call it, has done wonders to the car’s front fascia. Gone are the weird ugly eyes that make the kidney grilles bulge like a pig’s snout, and instead are replaced by more conventional but handsome and more aggressive new pair of LED headlights with, of course, BMW’s trademark “angel eye” LED daytime running lights. Being an M Performance model, it’s only appropriate to put the 1 Series back to the gym for only the right amount of time, as it only gained a set of more aggressive front, side, rear bumpers, and M Sport rims. It doesn’t have the flared wheel arches of a full-fledged M car, but it doesn’t need it, at least until BMW really decides to build a BMW 1 Series M to compete with the Mercedes-AMG A45 and Audi RS3. At the rear, the LED taillights have been redesigned, now with three LED tubes to give it an unmistakable look at night. An aggressively designed rear bumper with a diffuser is not only for aesthetics, but also for function, as it aids the car’s aerodynamics. The BMW M135i possesses just the right amount of muscle to really show its master what the car intends to be.
The interior of the BMW 1 Series receives less dramatic and less noticeable changes compared to the exterior. There are new switches for the iDrive, multimedia, and climate control, and a new center console with piano black trim, which livens up the interior ambience. The interior is quite dull in this color though, as it is predominantly black. Opting for the interior with the M Sport blue highlights in the seats and interior trims should further liven things up. Nevertheless, the BMW 1 Series’ interior is well laid out, well-screwed together, easy to use, and has an upmarket and premium feel, just as you would expect in a BMW.
Space and Practicality
There are plenty of storage spaces inside the BMW M135i. There’s a decently sized glove box, large door bins for big bottles, and the center console is practically sized for things to fit in. The fold down rear seats are split in a 40:20:40 ratio, which helps in boosting practicality, whenever you want to carry large flatpack furniture, or just lower the center seat for carrying skis or perhaps wakeboards (who skis in the Philippines anyway?).
Typical to BMWs, the seats and steering have a huge range of adjustments. The seats, by the way, are electrically adjustable, and it isn’t hard to find a good driving position. The driving position is snug, but not claustrophobic. Somehow fits me like a glove I guess. The M Sport Seats hold you well in place when cornering hard, which is a necessity in a car like this.
Features and Safety
The BMW M135i comes loaded with kit. BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is easy as ever to use, though James is still not a fan of it that much. Being an M Performance car, it comes with many of the bells and whistles when ordering a normal 1 Series with the M Sport package. These include the M Sports Suspension with Adaptive Dampers, which means, when the Driver Experience Control is set into Comfort Mode, the car ride decently despite the large 18-inch rims with low profile tires, while putting it in Sport+, the suspension noticeable stiffens, providing better cornering capability to the M135i. Just in case you do care, there’s also an ECO PRO mode in the Driver Experience Control, which sets the car’s powertrain into a relaxed mode for maximum fuel efficiency but minimum fun. An engine Start/Stop system is fitted as standard, which shuts off the engine when let’s say at a set of stoplights.
Further heightening the sporty nature of the M135i are a few M Sport bits, such as the M Variable Sports Steering, which, depending on the mode, is either light or hefty to use, and the M Sport Brakes, providing better stopping power and greater resistance to brake fade when in heavy track use. Clearly identifying that this is no ordinary BMW 1 Series are the obvious set of aggressive M design exterior parts, a large intake where the foglamps normally are, and twin black exhausts, which not only are aggressively designed, but also give off a menacing tone typical of a BMW inline-6 engine, but with a little bit more character.
The usual automatic features such as automatic headlights and wipers, come as standard. Two-zone automatic climate control keeps everyone inside cool despite the hot summer, while the sunroof allows for some levels of al fresco driving. ISOFIX child seat points are standard in the rear outer seats, and there’s a huge set of airbags to keep you safe in the event of a crash. Keeping things in check in the first place are a set of driver electronic aids, such as stability and traction control, which of course, could be turned-off for maximum fun and tire slaying. Other standard features include an auto-dimming rear view mirror, Comfort Access smart key system, and BMW ConnectedDrive telematics system.
The BMW M135i is powered by BMW’s familiar N55 inline-6 petrol engine with twin scroll turbochargers (TwinPower Turbo in BMW speak), direct injection, and VALVETRONIC, which is BMW’s variable valve timing system. The engine produces 325 hp @ 5,800 rpm, and peak 450 Nm of torque from as early as 1,300 up to 4,500 rpm, typical to any turbocharged petrol engine. This is mated to a ZF 8-Speed Automatic Transmission, and this powertrain combination enables the BMW M135i to sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds. Just a note, this acceleration figure is what a 2008 E90 BMW M3 is capable of.
How It Drives
Of course, I’m pretty sure most of you skipped to this part of the review, so for those who did, I’m not going to say any of the boring stuff here anymore. A press of the engine start button, and that inline-6 engine barks to life. Even if it’s a turbocharged motor, known generally for diluting the sound when compared to a naturally-aspirated equivalent engine, it still manages to sound great and spine-tingling. There’s a distinctive growl that only an inline-6 engine is able to produce. Launching off the line, it even gets more addictive. The engine is rev happy, as it feels at right at home in the higher rev ranges. Along the high speed straights and fast corners in Daang Hari, the car accelerates and handles beautifully, rotating when you dig your foot into the accelerator as you exit a corner, which with the traction control off, smile inducing power slides aren’t hard to do, but of course we’re not douches and we aren’t going to do this on a public road. Fitted as standard in this BMW M135i are a pair of paddle shifters, which in the flick of a paddle, the gear changes are instantaneous, almost as fast as BMW’s own dual-clutch transmission. The gearbox comes standard with a rev-matching feature when downshifting, and it’s quite easy to get carried away playing around with the 8-Speed slushbox.
The car’s chassis set-up is excellent, with the perfect amount of chassis rigidity for it to go around a corner really well. One thing that sets the BMW 1 Series apart from its competitors is that, it’s rear wheel drive (RWD), and because of this, the BMW M135i handles unlike any other hatchback. Put the M135i into Sport Mode, and the car livens up even more. The steering weights up beautifully, and the electronic aids intervene less, unleashing the car’s full performance potential.
When you want to settle down from your tire-shredding track days, the BMW M135i cooperates. With the Adaptive Dampers fitted as standard, putting the car in Comfort Mode gives the driver a sufficiently supple ride despite the large 18-inch rims. Switching to ECO PRO mode further relaxes the car’s attitude, as high fuel economy is now the priority of the car’s powertrain. In this mode, the BMW M135i’s engine Start/Stop system intervenes even more in traffic, but it’s never irritating. Our fuel consumption while in normal driving circumstances was 9.7 km/l, which is a combined city and highway figure. Not bad for a high performance hatchback with 326 hp on tap.
On The Downside
Because of the car being RWD, rear interior space is terrible for tall adults such as me and my mate James Tagle. With the driver’s seat set into our driving position, legroom is poor to say the least. Don’t ever attempt fitting a third person in the back seats either. Being RWD, a driveshaft should be present in order to send the power from the engine at the front towards the rear wheels, therefore, an insanely large driveshaft tunnel eats up any sort of leg or foot room for the middle rear passenger. It’s not like the middle passenger could share foot room with the other two passengers either, because the transmission tunnel is wider than the English Channel. Of course, these are aspects we have to talk about. This is still a family hatchback, after all.
The trunk space is another aspect of the BMW 1 Series to take note about. It’s not exactly the smallest in class, but it loses out from its competitors, especially the Audi A3, due to its awkward opening, meaning wide items will be difficult to shove into the trunk, plus a tall trunk lip makes loading heavy items difficult. The actual trunk floor is quite shallow, too, due to its RWD set-up, so it’s not really advisable to put tall items in the car’s trunk either.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of the BMW M135i is its price. At P4,490,000, it’s very expensive by all means, especially if you consider the existence of the Lexus IS 350 F Sport and Lexus RC 350, which are, while not as raw as the BMW M135i, they do however, deliver the same power, but in a more attractive, mature, and more importantly, bigger package, since these are compact sedans and coupes, not little hatchbacks. Perhaps I’m asking too much, since these Lexus are covered by JPEPA (Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement), which puts these cars at a pricing advantage.
The BMW M135i is a rat with the heart of an elephant. Small, but very powerful and nimble, and when you want it to be quiet and relaxing, it does so with dignity. It’s an example of BMW’s greatness in building versatile cars, and it’s not the first time they have done this. Sure, there are compromises, but as a concept, it’s not something to be ashamed of. The BMW M135i can be a track day RWD tire-shredding machine, yet when you go to work or even school, it’s perfectly fine for everyday use. The third rear seat passenger may need to have to amputate his legs in order to fit back there, but then, at least you’re having fun driving this pocket rocket, right? At P4,490,000, it’s a huge burden, but hey, if performance is all you’re after, consider this a bargain when you factor in the BMW M235i, which loses two doors, but provides almost the same amount of fun.
Mind you, this isn’t a full-on “M” car, but is equally exciting as it’s bigger brothers. For starters, you get 320 horsepower from it’s 6 cylinder engine. It makes the most lovely/ classic BMW straight six noise. It loves to rev. Exhaust sounds absolutely epic! You get that pop and crackle sounds when you lift off the throttle, and induction noise is quite good too. The interior of the car is sort-off complicated and I still think BMW’s iDrive system doesn’t work as well compared to the other systems, but it’s modern, it’s cool… It makes one of it’s rivals old. In my eyes, it’s a compact that is completely capable. Very fast, very exciting, wrapped in a beautifully sounding package. Main question is. “Is the rear-wheel drive thing a bonus especially in a hatchback?” Well, to us, thats a big YES! That way you could make it do those little squiggles coming out of corners and we’d rather enjoy those. It’s kind of a bit like a baby supercar, you get this surge of power in a really small body, we quite like that very much.
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Quality: ★★★★☆
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★☆
Value For Money:★★★★☆☆
Overall: 4 out of 5