What is it?
The hottest 1-Series, the BMW M135i is an M Performance Automobile. A what? Why, part of the BMW range positioned between regular BMWs and full-on M cars. It joins the X5 xDrive50d and X6 xDrive50d, and if the name is a mouthful, do as BMW execs do: call it an MPA.
Although it may not quite say so, this is a true M car. You can feel the magic is there (M engineers aren’t solely responsible, but they’ve certainly had an input). It’s not quite as hard-edged as the brilliant old 1-Series M Coupe, but it’s close. And £10k cheaper. Given how it’s a thoroughly modern car to boot, it’s a real bargain. Particularly considering the way it drives…
The M135i may not have the twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six of the old 1 M Coupe, but its new-generation single turbo equivalent is almost as scintillating. With 320bhp, it’s very nearly as powerful, and the M modifications that improve response and sound add to the enjoyment, too. It has masses of mid-range pick-up and charges to the red-line with a vim and a voice that harks back to classic BMW straight-sixes.
It corners as well as the rate at which the bends explode towards you. Steering is super-direct, well-weighted and progressive, grip is near-unshakable and, impressively, the balance is equally tight at both ends of the car. You won’t break the rear tyres’ traction by accident. But 331lb ft means you can if you want.
On the inside
The three-door 1-Series is identical to the five-door inside (the M135i comes as either), save for trickier access to the rear. It’s good, but the new Audi A3 aces it for quality and ambience. MPA additions are discreet – you sense BMW hasn’t quite worked out how to make the MPA range distinct yet – but fundamentals such as bolstered seats are spot-on. The blue stitching and dash trim detailing is quite cute too, and we like the pleated seat trim pattern - but why, BMW, are your sports steering wheels always so thick?
Note, it’s not as roomy as a front-drive hatch. It’s better than it was, but you’ll need a Golf R to get a genuine family-friendly fast hatch. The boot is only average, too.
All the work BMW’s put into making the new 3.0-litre turbo engine efficient pays off. This averages 35.3mpg, 2mpg better than a Golf R and that’s got 50bhp less (the eight-speed auto is even better, averaging 37.7mpg). Impressively, it’s not only greener than the old 1M, it’s also £10k cheaper. With retained values likely to be higher than if it were a plain old BMW 135i, we reckon this could be the performance hatch bargain of the year. Clincher? It’s over £1k less than that Golf R…