Owner drive: 2013 BMW M135i in Qatar
The awkwardly-styled BMW 1-Series has always been an acquired taste ever since it launched in 2004. But I’ve always been a fan of the top-spec 1-Series which have combined arguably BMW’s best inline-6 engines with an entertaining chassis and probably most closely evoke the spirit of past BMWs than most of the other current models. Having owned (and loved) a 2007 130i M Sport back in London, as soon as I saw the M135i I knew I had to have it as it promised to be even better than the old car.
The spec I went for in the end was a 5-door “Estoril blue” example with red leather, adaptive suspension, xenon turning auto headlights, Harman Kardon stereo, cruise control, smart keyless entry and start, parking sensors and an 8-speed automatic gearbox, all optional on this car. The price for all this Bavarian magnificence? A “mere” QAR 210,000. Gulp! On the plus side, this does include a 5 year warranty and service pack.
Lets get the looks out of the way – I think that with the M Sport kit, the 1-Series looks quite handsome with the long hood and I will argue to the death with anyone who disagrees!
The interior is a nice place to spend time in, snug but in a good way, like you’re strapping the car on as opposed to just sitting in it. Rear space is okay for 2 adults but 3 is a bit tight. Two car seats can fit easily. Boot space with the seats up is just fine but can be increased substantially by dropping the rear seats which makes the car extremely practical.
I quite like the iDrive system. It’s pretty simple to navigate and one of the biggest surprises has been how well the voice activation system works for controlling the whole system.
There are some signs of cost cutting, which are a little hard to take on a car which costs this much. Things like the fact that the vanity mirrors aren’t lit or the shiny plastic on the centre console around the gear stick. However, I am being a bit picky here in the name of completeness — the truth is most of these problems simply aren’t noticed once you start that engine.
I don’t think it’s possible for me to write about the M135i’s powertrain and performance without gushing like some sort of adolescent love struck teenager. The basic ingredients are BMW’s 320 hp “TwinPower” turbocharged 3.0 straight-6 engine mated to an 8-speed auto, sending power to the rear wheels. Official acceleration figures from 0-100 kph put it at less than 5 seconds. The engine is simply phenomenal — throttle response is crisp and the torque curve feels completely flat all the way from idle until the red line. The noise it makes is classic BMW straight six — a bassy rumble until about 3500 rpm and then from there until the redline a tingling howl all backed up with some crackling and popping from the exhaust on the overrun. The gearbox is the perfect companion to that wonderful engine. The only negative point against the powertrain is that I wish the exhaust sound were louder — that’s it.
The ZF has all the bases covered as it always seems to be in the right gear, and in normal driving it’s buttery smooth yet when pushing on or changing gears manually, the shift speeds are incredibly fast, possibly faster than the DSG gearbox on my 2010 VW Scirocco.
Courtesy of the adaptive dampers, ride and handling are very good. The ride in “Comfort” is practically plush, while in “Sport” everything firms up nicely. Steering is very accurate, although steering feel isn’t great. Yet the chassis communicates its balance to you very well. Grip from the OEM PIlot Super Sport tyres is tremendous. Turn-in is sharp with just a little understeer which can quickly be converted into oversteer by using the throttle. By default, the stability control intervenes quickly if it detects any oversteer, but there is a “track mode” available by selecting Sport+ which relaxes the stability control and allows a little slide before it intervenes. This mode works very well as it really allows you to explore the car’s limits (and just a little bit beyond) before it intervenes to tidy things up.
As far as I’m concerned the only weakness the car has in this area is the fact that rear end feels a little “soft” to me which can make it feel slightly ragged when cornering on a bumpy road. This happens in both Comfort and Sport modes so it’s unlikely the spring/damper settings are to blame but rather the bushes or suspension bump stops. However, once you’re familiar with the car, you quickly adjust and get used to this behaviour so it’s never a major problem.
Final verdict? It’s simple. Small Car + Big Engine = Massive Fun. That’s really all there is to it — all the minor flaws pale next to this simple equation. Every journey in this car puts a smile on my face and I can’t ask for more than that.
Photos by Omar Mohatarem.