It took its time, but the BMW M135i has firmly tipped into half price hot hatch territory, which is to say you can now buy a decent used example for 50 per cent of the original £29,995 asking price.
This is very good news indeed, because the M135i was and still is a real belter of a hot hatch. There are a number of reasons for this, starting with the fact it sends its power not through the front wheels as with most hot hatches, or even through all four wheels, but through the rear wheels only. It’s classic BMW in that sense, and it gets better still because under the bonnet is a brawny 3.0-litre straight-six engine, turbocharged for more performance and mounted longitudinally so that its propshaft can run to the rear wheels. Peak power stands at 315bhp, while the 332lb ft of torque is significant not only for being an awful lot in a car the size of a 1 Series, but also for the fact it is all available from just 1250rpm.
On the downside packaging a small, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive car is not easy. That’s why space inside takes a hit; the boot is smaller than you’ll find in rivals, and there’s not quite as much room for passengers in the rear seats either. Both three- and five-door body styles are available, however.
Allowing for a fraction of turbo lag, the M135i accelerates effortlessly regardless of what gear you’re in, making it a very flexible car to drive. It’ll rev too, singing its way to a tight, high-pitched crescendo at 7000rpm. If you find four-cylinder hot hatches one dimensional in their aural appeal, this car is for you.
Most M135is in the UK were sold with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and thus equipped it can accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. It’s a great setup, smooth when you need it to be, but also responsive if you take control with the paddles behind the steering wheel. Alternatively, you might choose to seek out the relatively rare six-speed manual (0-62mph in 4.9 seconds), which is also a joy to use, although bear in mind on a test drive that it can feel recalcitrant when cold.
So you fire up the big engine and roll away, building the speed gently until the first corner looms into view. You turn the wheel and note how precise and direct the variable ratio steering feels, its response uncorrupted by having to transmit power through the front wheels. Then you ease on to the accelerator and the car squats downs, its wider rear tyres digging into the road as the weight balance shifts. Push harder still and, depending on which driving mode you’ve selected, either the electronics will intervene or the M135i will loosen its tail, requiring quick hands and a steady nerve to control.
That’s in the dry. Throw in wet, greasy roads and the M135i can be something of a handful if you really start to push it, which of course is part of its appeal. As with many of the hot hatch greats, this is a car that requires you to be on your game in order to get the best from it, and will punish sloppy driving. True, it’s still not a proper M car (it lacks a limited-slip differential for a start), but that doesn’t mean it’s not great to drive.
As a powerful rear-wheel-drive car with lively handling the first thing you’re going to want to be sure of is that any M135i you look at is a genuine, straight example. A vehicle history check is a must, but also check the bodywork for signs of repairs such as overspray under the bonnet and on door seals, different shades of paint from one panel to the next, or uneven panel gaps. If it’s wearing budget tyres you might also wonder where else corners have been cut.
Look for evidence of regular servicing, including a fluid and filter change for the automatic gearbox at around 60,000 miles, and ensure the suspension feels tight and doesn’t make any unusual noises, and that the steering tracks straight with no vibrations caused by misalignment or buckled wheels.
In terms of options to look out for, the M135i was available with adaptive dampers to offer the choice of a smoother ride for bumpy roads or a firmer setting for smoother tarmac and race circuits. Elsewhere there was the option of an upgraded iDrive infotainment system with a wider screen, a head-up display that projects your speed on to the windscreen, rear parking sensors, plus various wheel, colour and interior trim upgrades. Whatever spec you go for, make sure the gadgets all work, because repairing something like a faulty iDrive infotainment system can be very expensive.
A facelift in 2015 resulted in the engine gaining an additional 6bhp and sat-nav being fitted as standard, as well as lightly revised styling. Then, in 2016, the M135i was replaced by the more powerful and equally as entertaining M140i. That one, sadly, still has a little way to go before it qualifies for our half price hot hatch budget…
Power: 315bhp @ 5800rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
See examples of the BMW M135i for sale on CarGurus (just follow the link and use the filter to select the correct model).
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