Imagine if Ford put the XR6 Turbo engine in the Focus and made it rear-wheel drive.
In 2012 BMW sort of did its version of that in creating the M135i. Not quite an M car and sort of a hot hatch, yet one with a north-south 3.0-litre turbo six sending its not insignificant grunt to a solitary rear-mounted axle.
Of course, all hot hatches before it tended to be bum-draggers or come with a driveshaft quartet, but now here was something tempting HSV customers.
But since then, quite a few rivals have popped up. HSV customers are being tempted back by the $83K, auto 400kW LSA Clubsport. Or even the $56K, 304kW auto SS-V Redline.
Those more predisposed to hot hatches have the brilliant $54K DSG Golf R to consider, or Audi’s cracking all-claw S3 at $61K. Higher up still, there’s the newly muscled-up A45 AMG ($76K, but it’s due for a price hike). In short, the M135i has a little extra competition these days.
And the spec sheet suggests it has been treading water. Three years on, same N55 engine (itself getting on six years old), same eight-speed torque converter auto, and more or less same outputs.
In June, BMW reheated and restyled the 1-Series range, including M135i (in what BMW calls a “Life Cycle Impulse”) and upped power by 5kW, to 240kW at 5800rpm. Torque was unchanged, 450Nm between 1300rpm to 4500rpm. With launch control, the M135i will hurl its 1450kg to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds. All the previously mentioned rivals are just as fast, or faster, to 100 clicks at least.
But styling aside, there’s one area in particular BMW hasn’t sat still: the price. Consider that when it arrived in 2012, the M135i was $72,400, for the eight-speed auto, but it was an extra $2200 for the adaptive dampers and a bordering-on-taking-the-piss $3500 for sat-nav – $78,100 all up.
Today you can effectively get the same car for $62,900 – auto, dampers, and sat-nav, for $15,200 less. It has absolutely everything to do with why the facelifted M135i won this year’s $50K-$100K class at Bang For Your Bucks. And it wasn’t just the data that brought home the trophy; the M135i had the judges fawning, too.
With 22 cars to test on the day, the drive was all too brief, so we’re excited to welcome the exact Bang-winning car to the MOTOR Garage for four months. It’s done the press rounds already, so the new-car smell is on the way out and the odo on the way up, closing in on 6000km. You won’t be reading about any run-in periods here.
Instead we’ll check its claimed combined consumption of 7.5L/100km and report on myriad things you only notice after you’ve left the dealership. And we hope not to become a broken record about the lack of a proper mechanical limited-slip diff – such a thing is becoming like a manual gearbox, an oddity 90 per cent of customers couldn’t care less for. And so it enters the list of options.
We’ve clocked precious few kilometres on our Estoril Blue M135i this month, but much like at Bang, it didn’t take long to notice the diff, or lack of. The M135i has proper turbo six-cylinder grunt – bags of torque – and sounds snarly. But it took just one opening of the taps in first gear to encounter an angry spike of revs but no accompanying rear-end wriggle – the telltale sign of a diff wide open.
That said, it’s no wonder the engine hasn’t changed much: it’s a gem, packing grunt and character. Same, too, the ZF-sourced eight-speed auto, whose behaviour mimics that of a twin-clutch so closely we had to double-check it, in fact, isn’t one.
We’re just starting to reacquaint ourselves with this rear-drive hot hatch thing, and it feels novel all over again. Hopefully, in the coming months, the love only blossoms.
Liked: The grunt. It's got some
Disliked: Variable steering darty off-centre, taking some getting used to
Favourite Moment: Freeway on-ramp, getting reminded how much snot this thing has
Fuel This Month: 11.4L/100km
Distance this Month: 100KM
We're giving away the last great Aussie Holden V8! Enter here for your chance to win!
Get your free weekly report from the world of fast cars - subscribe to the MOTOR newsletter!