Long-term update: Practicality and performance of the BMW M135i
I was a little nervous about ordering a car I’d never seen in person especially since I had seen the meek-looking normal 1-Series at the dealership and it didn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. Any doubts I had were dispelled as soon as I laid eyes on my car at the dealership upon its arrival. With the M Sport kit, the M135i looks far more aggressive and purposeful than the vanilla 1 series. The M Sport front bumper especially adds a lot of presence (and a bit of menace) to the car. I really love the stance of the 1-Series with its long hood giving a laid back stance courtesy of the longitudinal engine, as opposed to the transverse layout used by all its front-wheel-drive competitors.
I would say the only view that lets it down is front three quarters with the slightly overly big headlights but from every other angle I’d argue that it at least looks handsome. Check out the photos if you don’t believe me! Most people judge the 1-Series based on the base car, but I think it absolutely needs the M Sport body kit to look its best. In Estoril Blue, with the slightly matte-grey wheels I think it looks fantastic and I will argue to the end of the world with anyone who disagrees!
The interior is a really nice place to spend time. After 3 years in an SUV I’d forgotten about how “snug” the 1 series can feel but in a good way – like you’re strapping the car on as opposed to just sitting in it. The Coral Red leather was a bit of a gamble but I think it paid off spectacularly. It looks stunning with the red seats and door inserts set off by black carpets — just enough red to look good without being overwhelming. The sports seats offer adjustable seat back side bolsters which give excellent lateral support when driving “enthusiastically” but are very comfortable in daily driving. Otherwise the interior has lots of soft-touch plastic everywhere and a design that slightly wraps around the driver. I wasn’t a big fan of the steering wheel design initially but it grows on you after a while. Its leather-covered and while it initially feels a bit soft and “squidgy”, but eventually you get used to it. I went for the “black display” dials which give a nice colour LCD just below the dials that can give you extra information and some neat animations. The dials themselves are classic BMW; silver-ringed and with the traditional BMW orange glow at night.
Rear passenger space is merely okay, I’d say. Two adults can sit fairly comfortably but three is a bit tight. Two car seats can fit easily and more importantly (for me at least) children can be put into the rear child seats easily courtesy of the rear doors (a major reason for replacing my Scirocco). Boot space with the seats up is just fine, not quite as good as a Golf, but better than the Volvo V40 I briefly tested. I ordered the “Storage Pack” however which gives you split-folding rear seats so practically anything can fit in the boot.
Given the relatively humble spec of my M135i there isn’t too much to discuss on the tech front. I’ve quite liked the iDrive system as I find it simple to navigate and one of the biggest surprises has been how well its voice activation system works. Pairing up a phone via Bluetooth was easy and after that its possible to make calls without taking your hands off the steering wheel. BMW’s voice activation system goes further though, because you can control practically all aspects of the system (audio, telephone, trip computer, etc.) with voice commands. I’m sure results will vary depending on accents, but in my case I’d say the system’s accuracy at recognising my commands is over 90%.
The Harmon Kardon audio system is very good but I don’t find myself listening to it very often because I’d much rather listen to that glorious straight six engine. In hindsight, I’d swap the H-K for electric seats instead. Similarly, although the cruise control works well, I wish I’d swapped it for the sunroof to give me another way to listen to the engine. Otherwise, I think I was spot on with the other options I picked. Comfort access (keyless entry) is impossible to give up once you’ve experienced it while the PDC sensors work very well and the folding rear seats make the M135i such a versatile car.
There is one downside to the interior though, namely the signs of some cost-cutting which are a little hard to take on a car which costs this much. Things like the fact that the vanity mirror isn’t lit or the plastic on the centre console around the gear-stick which is a little too shiny for my liking. However, I am being a bit picky here in the name of completeness — the truth is most of these problems simply dissappear once you start that engine.
I simply don’t think its possible for me to write about the M135i’s powertrain and performance without gushing like some sort of adolescent love-struck teenager. Quite simply, both are phenomenal. The basic ingredients are BMW’s Twinpower turbocharged (single turbo) N55 3.0 straight-six engine mated to ZF’s all conquering 8-speed auto sending power to the rear wheels. In this application the N55 is producing 320 hp and 450 Nm of torque. The official figures are 0-100 kph in 4.9 seconds and a limited top speed of 250 kph. I managed to get 5.08 seconds, as measured by an OBD device.
Throttle response is crisp and the torque curve feels completely flat all the way from idle until the 7500 rpm redline. It’s hard to believe that its turbocharged because the power delivery is just so linear and it loves to be revved out all the way to the redline just like a naturally-aspirated engine. The noise it makes is pure 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 (especially in Sport and Sport+ modes) – all very addictive.
The gearbox is the perfect companion to that wonderful engine. The ZF has all the bases covered; in normal driving it’s buttery smooth yet when pushing on or changing gears manually the shift speeds are incredibly fast (I’d say as fast as or even faster than the 2010 DSG on my Scirocco). If you didn’t know better, you’d swear the car had a dual clutch gearbox. However, as fast the manual shifts are, you hardly ever need to change gears yourself because the gearbox seems to be telepathically capable of knowing which gear you want to be in. This is the first automatic I’ve ever driven where I hardly ever have to overrule it because it just always seems to be in the right gear.
The M135i doesn’t have as many different powertrain modes as BMW’s full fat M cars, but the few modes it does have are Comfort (default when the car is switched on), Sport (sharper throttle response and more aggressive gearbox map) and Sport+ (more linear throttle response, more aggressive gearbox map and faster shift speeds). In addition the gearbox can be switched between comfort and sport mode independently by pulling the gear lever to the left.
Any weaknesses to report? I’m not very fond of the Stop Start system which I find annoying because you have to switch it off on every journey in the car — it doesn’t remember the last setting used when the car was switched off. I paid to get it disabled, after a long argument with the dealer. I also wish the exhaust sound were louder because I just can’t get enough of that lovely straight six noise but these are the only two minor blemishes the M135i has when it comes to the engine.
In the past, driving an M Sport BMW meant you had to trade the excellent handling for a ride that could at best be described as “firm” – and this was a trade I was usually willing to make. Nowadays, with adaptive suspension you don’t have to choose anymore. This was probably the single best option I picked. In Comfort the ride is practically plush and does a good job of isolating you from the worst of the road surface. Handling is still decent in Comfort although you can feel a little body roll. In Sport mode, everything firms up considerably. The ride is still surprisingly good in Sport, but now you can feel a lot more of the road surface while of course body control is much better.
The steering also has two modes, a light “Comfort” mode and a heavier “Sport” mode which are tied to the damper settings. In both modes, steering feel isn’t great (as it’s an electric system) but accuracy is very good. Turn in is sharp with just a little understeer which can quickly be converted into oversteer with judicious use of the throttle. Despite the relatively short wheelbase, oversteer is quite well-telegraphed by the car so it’s easy to either back off or catch it with opposite lock. By default the stability control intervenes quickly if it detects any oversteer, but there is a “track mode” available which allows a little slide before it intervenes. This mode works very well for street driving as it really allows you to explore the car to its limits and just a little bit beyond before it intervenes to tidy things up.
There is a third mode available for the stability control and that is “off”. In this mode, instead of braking the outside wheel (in order to halt a slide) the stability control will brake the inside wheel (which sends power to the outside wheel thereby simulating an LSD). I haven’t summoned the courage to try this mode on a public road yet so can’t comment on how well it works. I’ll report back after a track day hopefully.
The OEM tyres are the same Michellin Pilot SuperSports developed for the full fat M cars and they give stupendous amounts of grip – arguably too much grip because you have to be going at ridiculous speeds to get them to break traction (above 100 kph in my limited experience). Run-flats are available as a no cost option but frankly, I think you’d be sacrificing a big part of this car’s character by selecting the run-flats.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one negative on the ride and handling front and that’s 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 primarily in Comfort mode but can still be felt to a much reduced extent in Sport mode so I don’t think it’s the spring/damper settings that are to blame but rather the bushes or suspension bump stops. In any case, supposedly the M235i will have a slightly firmer rear suspension set up so someone at BMW might agree with me on this point.
However, this is a really minor point to nitpick on. Once you’re familiar with the car you forgot about this and just get on with enjoying the otherwise excellent handling.
Recent costs have been nil, as the recommended 15000km/18-month oil changes are covered under an included service package.
Original Mileage When Bought: 70 km
Latest Mileage To Date: 15,500 km
Latest Average Fuel Economy: 14.6 litres/100 km
Cost of Latest Problems: QAR 0
Cost of Latest Maintenance: QAR 0
Total Non-Fuel Running Cost Since Bought: QAR 975