Munich’s M Performance hatchback, the BMW M135i, has returned. Riding on an all-new platform, it’s not quite the car it replaces.
We like a bit of transparency here on The Redline. So I’m going to tell you that my love for the 1 Series extends to having owned three of them, all E87s – the 120i, 120d and 130i. That last one was a glorious thing in all its hydraulic power steering glory and really only needed a limited slip diff to take it supersonic.
I am obviously, “a BMW guy” – on top of the three 1ers, I’ve owned an E90 330d M Sport and an E60 M5. I adored the F20 M135i and M140i cars, despite the former being based on a car I once called “criminally ugly.” The latter was such a good car, you could choose it over the wonderful M2 and still sleep at night.
The F52 is a very different car to the first two generations of the 1 Series. The base car has gone front-wheel drive, the 1 joining the X2 and X1 on the Mini platform known as UKL2. So no more turbo straight-six, no more rear-wheel drive. We’re not in Kansas anymore – question is, are we in California or Iowa?
How much is a 2020 BMW M135i and what do I get?
$64,990 + ORC
It’s a pretty stiff start for the all-wheel drive M135i, reaching well in to your pocket for a four-cylinder transverse-engined hatchback. It’s a solid $5000 more than the F20 M140i that departed our shores last year.
Sixty-five large buys you 19-inch alloys, a 16-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, head-up display, sat nav, auto parking, electric front seats, auto LED headlights, auto wipers and pretty much power everything except the tailgate. No spare, just a tyre repair kit.
The 10.25-inch touchscreen runs BMW OS 7.0 which is a pretty nifty piece of kit and comes with a fairly decent set of services and has wireless Apple CarPlay to go with wireless charging. Unlike the Minis and the X2, the wireless charging pad is at the base of the centre console in a clever, grabby slot that a) fits big phones and b) stops the phone from flying about.
BMW is offering a weirdly limited colour palette. The lone freebie is Alpine White. For $1308, you can have Black Sapphire, Misano Blue, Mineral Grey, or Melbourne Red. Storm Bay, a darker grey, is $1808.
The ridiculous gesture control is $462 and stops being funny pretty quickly.
Comfort Package, which is $2300 for heated seats and steering wheel.
Convenience Package, $1200 for a cargo net, 40/20/40 split fold rear seat, power tailgate and an extra 12V power port.
The $2900 Enhancement Package ($3400 with Storm Bay grey) adds active cruise control and a sunroof.
You can get a bunch of individual things like M seat belts for $423 (more than adaptive suspension, for some reason), active cruise for $654 or heated seats for $577.
Safety – 5 Stars (ANCAP, Dec 2019)
The new platform means a whole bunch of new safety gear, a bit of a blind spot on the older car.
You get six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB with pedestrian and cycle detection, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and reverse cross traffic alert.
You also get three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points for the kiddies.
Warranty and Servicing
Frustratingly, BMW is still stuck with the three years/100,000km warranty. At the 2 Series Gran Coupe launch, I was told there were no plans to increase it – despite Mercedes’ move to five years. So, while that’s not a no, it’s quite likely a wait and see and things are moving fast at the moment. But in April 2020, it’s still three years with matching roadside assist.
Pleasingly, there is a very solid service pre-payment option called BMW Service Inclusive. You’ll pay $1550 for five years/80,000km of coverage and you’ll have to visit your dealer once a year at least. BMW says servicing is “condition-based” but it’s probably best to assume 12 months/20,000km type intervals, which is perfectly fine. You can upgrade to BSI Plus to include pads, discs and wiper blades.
Fundamentally, this is a good deal as long as the person behind the counter at BMW isn’t a jerk and insists you need a whole bunch of other stuff.
Look and feel
You know what? I don’t mind the M135i. You can spot it by the 19s, silly silver mirror caps (I really don’t like those and say so every time I see them. It also has the requisite black bits like the lip poking out from the side skirts and the rear apron with the twin exhausts poking through. Most of the chrome is gone in favour of black, which I applaud most heartily. You also get a M Performance grille which, unlike some BMWs, isn’t too big.
The M135i’s interior is excellent. Lovely M steering wheel, digital dash, huge iDrive screen and a really nicely detailed cabin. It’s quite lovely, although the back seat is a bit shapeless. The cloth/Alcantara you can see on the back seat is standard, the leather on the fronts a no-cost option.
Rear seat passengers are okay if there’s just two of them, but the door is a bit of a narrow opening. Once you’re in it’s fine, with your own set of cupholders, air vents and bottle holders. Annoyingly, there’s no armrest, though, which at $65k you might reasonably expect.
The two-level boot holds 380 litres and up to 1200 with the seats down, which is pretty good cargo space really. Front seat passengers get a really good pair of seats which are more comfortable than the AMG A35’s, although the M Performance blue nonsense might annoy you.
As the M135i is based on the UKL2, you will note some familiar caveats. Like the Mini John Cooper Works, M235i and the aforementioned X2 M35i, it comes with 19-inch alloys but “static” suspension. If you want adaptive damping ($308), you have to dial back to the 18-inch alloys.
My car has the 19s, so standard suspension it was. The M Performance brakes are larger than the 118’s and you get those lovely blue callipers to look at. Chassis rigidity is good, and aided by a chunk of metal joining the strut towers.
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the M135i’s chassis, apart from the active front differential, which is a clever solution to the front-wheel driveyness of a maximum 50:50 torque split.
Yes, the M135i is lower than 118i, with firmer suspension and it rolls on 235/35 Continental Premium Contact 6 tyres, which are perfectly fine.
BMW’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo comes in a variety of tunes. Here in the M135i you get the B48A20T1 version, spinning up a very impressive 225kW at 6250rpm and 450Nm between 1750 and 4500rpm. It never feels strained or stressed, either, so there might be even more in it. As it’s in a UKL2, it’s slung across the engine bay.
Snuggled in behind it is an Aisin eight-speed automatic driving all four wheels. The maximum torque split is, as I’ve already said, 50:50.
All that power sends it on to 100km/h in a pretty decent 4.8 seconds, with a top speed electronically limited to 250km/h.
The first thing you’ll notice about the M135i is that it’s not a rear-wheel drive turbo six. That’s a given, yes, but worth pointing out. The old car had deep, deep lungs and propelled you forward with such abandon you wondered how it was legal.
The F52 is a little more calm at first, with a bit of turbo hesitation – it’s not really lag – before a solid shove in the back sends you on your way. Once you’re over about 1700rpm, where the torque kicks in, stay there because you will cover ground very rapidly indeed.
The steering is well-weighted and responds faithfully to your inputs, especially when powering out of corners – BMW puts the expensive diff to good use and you can get away with a fair bit.
The M Performance brakes are very good, which is handy given the huge slab of torque. You do build up quite a bit of speed between corners, so being able reliably wash it off, with good pedal feel into the bargain, is most gratifying.
But the whole time you’re driving the M135i – quickly at least – you know in your heart of hearts that the translation to the new platform has meant genuine sacrifices.
This isn’t a criticism in the sense of “I don’t like it.” Not at all. The M135i was the subject of “who has the keys” the entire time I had it, my wife taking a particular shine to it. It’s very, very good around town because it rides well and absolutely trounces just about everything else around it.
It’s just not the harder-edged, driver-focussed car a vanishing minority want. It’s just a different car and that is the best way to approach it.
Oddly, one of this car’s fiercest competitors is probably in the form of the X2 M35i Pure for $64,440 (link is an old review with wrong pricing for 2020). It’s a really nice spec and terrific fun to drive. Based on the same platform it looks better (in my humble etc.), has all the good bits and none of the pointless expensive bits. Costs a hundred bucks more to service over three years and rides higher, but that’s about it.
The Mercedes A35 is very good indeed. It looks a bit weird at the back, but apart from that, packs a similarly excellent interior, same constrained space but it’s a bit more lively and slightly more powerful. It is, however, a lot more expensive to buy at $72,500 and over twice as much to service over five years.
Audi’s S3 is getting on a bit. Okay, a lot. It probably has a slightly better all-wheel drive set up, but isn’t as sharp or well-equipped as either the Merc or the X2 or the M135i. Probably best to wait if you simply must have the four rings.
I wasn’t thinking the M135i would be like the old car – it can’t be, it’s far too different a platform. I was hoping it would be a bit fightier, like the Mini John Cooper Works with which it shares a lot of its hardware.
It is, however, a tremendous car. It’s a well-judged package, with plenty of power and torque, a fluid chassis and restrained good looks. It isn’t a hot hatch anymore, though, which is a bit of a pity.
Hopefully it means there’s something in the wings…
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.