This will set tongues wagging: BMW’s 135i edges the latest-and-greatest WRX STi out of the PC08 Final.
But while it was good enough to slay the indifferent Sube, the 135i wasn’t the shoe-in its specs suggest it should’ve been.
Dropping BMW’s 3.0-litre twin-turbo six into the eagerly anticipated 1-Series Coupe looked like it couldn’t possibly fail. Big engine, small car, rear drive: the tried and tested regulations of Formula Fun.
The engine is a cracker – we know that from previous experience in the fabulous 335i Coupe – and BMW is more than capable of engineering a great car. What could go wrong?
Surprisingly for a BMW, especially as the car maker gets a better handle on how to make run-flat-tyred cars ride better, it’s the chassis and suspension that fall short. Honestly.
Every judge noted that the 135’s ride was overly jiggly, which is a run-flat trait that BMW must overcome if its non-M-cars are to live up to previous reputation. That translates into an unsettled basis from which to hustle when you really need the 135i to hunker down, take the hits and get on with things. We sampled some great roads on our drive to Queensland, and only on the very smoothest of those did the BMW show enough composure.
Furthermore, the 135i doesn't quite achieve the fantastic balance of other great BMWs. It's prone to a little more understeer than we’re used to unless you dial it out with the throttle.
And it's also a bit lacking in connection through the tiller. When you’re looking for that last little bit of feedback as you really press on, the Coupe's new electric power steering set-up can only manage a cloudy assessment of what the front wheels are up to. This is disappointing from a manufacturer that knows exactly how to do the job properly.
But the story’s not all bad. The jittery ride and mild understeer aren't an issue on the track, as evidenced by the 135i’s excellence around Lakeside’s fast layout.
The throttle is beautifully linear, allowing you to use the engine’s impressive torque to throttle-steer it out of trouble. It will still understeer, but only if you let it, and as long as the car is willing to work with you that’s fine by us. It’s just that we’re used to driving great BMWs without deficiencies that need to be compensated for.
The drivetrain, on the other hand, remains typically BMW. The 225kW/400Nm twin-turbo six is amazingly smooth, yet happy to punch on with the baddest engines around. Want proof? How does 5.7 seconds to the speed limit and 14-dead down the standing-quarter sound? On gravel. That’s only four-tenths slower than the STi, despite the Sube’s AWD traction advantage, which the 135i’s engine wrestles back over the standing kay anyway, with both cars clocking 25.2sec.
The 135i is a seriously fast, perfectly sized coupe that packs a great engine and a decent chassis. It’s a well-executed attempt at shoehorning a big, powerful engine into a small, lightweight car, but for all 135i’s good points, it just doesn't quite hit the spot. With the hatch's hydraulic steering set-up and normal tyres, though, who knows...
“Its not perfect, and it’s a bit pricey. But still a great drive.”
“Love the concept, but it’s not quite the full deal in reality.”
“best engine, smallest body, but it misses the bullseye.”
“Big bang. Should’ve been great, but was merely good.”
“Smokin engine tries hard, but the 135i, isn’t good as it should be.”
“one the road its stiff and jittery, but once you start using more of the suspension it rides the bumps well. It’s a fantastic chassis even by provoking it, it wont step out; mild understeer, surprising front grip.”