Car Review: BMW M135i

(Location: 1-day test drive sponsored by Performance Motor Limited)

Is this the hot-hatch everyone is waiting for?

Thank you once again to Performance Motor Limited for letting us have a 1-day drive experience on the new M135i where we can bring it around in town to do test drives and evaluate the vehicle in greater detail.

The M135i that was provided to us is a unit painted in Storm Bay Metallic. This is a very unique colour compared to the usual white or black units that typically people purchased. Before any detailed run through of our thoughts on the hot hatch, below are some pictures and specifications of the car.

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Specifications

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Engine Capacity: 2.0L Turbo Charged Inline-4 Engine
Bhp: 301bhp
Torque: 450NM
0-100km/h: 4.8s
Top Speed: 250km/h
Transmission: 8-speed ZF Auto Transmission
Drive Train Type: BMW X-Drive (AWD)
Curb Weight:
Length: 4.32m
Width: 1.79m
Height: 1.43m
Wheelbase 2.67m
Fuel Type: Petrol
Boot Space (normal/extended): 380l/1200l
Fuel Tank: 50l

Exterior Review

The exterior of the M135i is a smart hot-hatch that's signature of BMW 1-series fleet. The key difference is that the M135i has additional elements like body kits, exhaust systems, brake kits that stands out from the normal BMW 1-series.

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Aggressive M-Sports Kit with elements of grey aluminum alike trims for the chrome parts which adds to the sportiness of the car. While all is good with the kit, the only complain here is the use of fake vents in the rear which is something that should be avoided.

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The exhaust consists of a dual pipe exhaust system with Valve Control (Valve located on left of exhaust). The aggressive note of the exhaust is most audible when turned to sports mode.

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The head lamps are made LED now which gives a very sleek and modern look. The branding of BMW can be seen in the head lamps which gives it a more luxury made feeling overall. The head lamps also comes with a hexagonal/LED lit Daylight Running Lights which is again, the new design language for this new generation of BMWs.

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Another new design change is the huge kidney grille in front. It's a bit of a controversy here. I personally prefer it to be more subtle like the previous generation. It's a little too big for my liking. But I guess it's really a personal preference thing here.

Tyre used are Bridgestone Turanza T005. it's a set of good balanced tyre but does not provide good handling characteristics. But noting the fact that this is also a practical hatch, you can't have the best of both worlds. The specs of the tyre are Rear 225/40r18, Front 225/40r18.

The car also comes with adjustable suspension that you can make changes in the I-Drive console according to your preference but the suspension also changes the settings in different driving modes as well.

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What is of a mention here on the exterior is really the M-Brake kit which is really good for this car. The performance of the brake is really good and provides a good grip during braking and we did a performance measure of how many seconds it takes to brake in our Performance review section.

Interior & Quality Review

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Now to the interior of the M135i. The interior of the M135i is well built with no shakiness on most, if not all of the parts. The feel of the interior feels German enough and pretty luxurious in general.

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You will get special sports pedals in aluminum which is very sport looking and well-built. A touch will know that the materials used here are of good quality.

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There are ample seating space both in front row as well as rear row and seats are well-wrapped in leather (red sporty colour in our test car) with seat belts in M-sports trim (red,blue trims).

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The dashboard looks much futuristic compared to the older designs which are usually very conservative with trims of silver carbon fibre used. The screen is made of high resolution LCD and the graphics in the I-Drive system are very well-made. The aircon is cool and strong with good LCD display of the temperature control as well as fan speed etc. You can also adjust the interior lighting colours to your favourite which is a very welcome feature.

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On top of these, the speedo cluster has also gone the digital route. The speedo cluster is now replaced with full LCD screen on high resolution and comes with a very nice meter cluster which you can change to your liking. One of the weird points in this cluster is that the tachometer is placed on the right and going anti-clockwise which is going against normal driving logic. While it looks right on the design perspective but from a driver point of view, it's still weird to see the tacho being placed this way.

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As per most luxury car, the usual features like auto-light detection, gauge meter light intensity etc is all adjustable.

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The center console has a new design on the gear stick and a new I-Drive navigation button and wheel. The area is made up of piano black material which is very prone to finger prints which can be annoying at times and very easily scratchable as well. The buttons, however are pretty well placed and easy to access with the center arm rest supporting the actions.

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The armrest console box is adequate enough in terms of space but not big. If it can be optimised better, it will help.

The steering wheel also comes in a change with a sporty wheel with good controls like cruise control and entertainment buttons which helps the driver to control the day-day tasks easily.

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Needless to say, being a luxury car and new in the market, gizmos like wireless charging as well as rear aircon for rear passengers are almost a must which is included in the M135i.

The entertainment system comes with apple car play. Works ok but Android auto support seems to be absent. Sound system is adequate but not fantastic but again, being a performance car, the car should bring more fun in driving instead, so entertainment can be sacrificed a little.

Performance, Handling & Sound (Real test and butt feel)

All testing are done within speed limits and according to limits of traffic rules
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On the performance, the graphs clearly shows that the 0-100kmph acceleration doesn't show the full potential of the car as we did not put the car into sports+ mode with traction mode off and hence the 1 sec+ difference from specifications. The feel of the transmission change from the 8-speed ZF feels quick (although it can't be compared with BMW DCT) and doesn't feel awkward during downshift in automatic mode which is good. Again our feel here is that the car can perform much better in a DCT but again, M135i is also targeted for normal audience that requires easy maintenance so we can understand that the ZF is decent and easy enough (for maintenance) for this setup.

On the acceleration portion in terms of power output, we realised that there is a turbo lag of 1+ second before the spool actually comes in. While we understood that this is not a twin turbo setup (twinscroll turbo instead), the lag can be quite a drag especially for consumer whom are looking for better on-demand power. Of course, for any normal consumer, the power lag is not that significant as the power is still adequate for normal day-day commuting for sure.

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Braking is good with us doing a 50kmph to 0 braking at about 2.7s to complete. Again, we are not doing this at the most aggressive rate so with this result which ultimately means that it's less than 3 car length generally is pretty decent.

On the exhaust note portion, to be honest, we are kind of hoping that the exhaust can be louder by default as per the past M-series cars, the M135i is equipped with a M-Performance exhaust with valve control but even having opening the valve via sports mode itself, the sound from exhaust is not too aggressive, not too bassy but more towards a higher pitch tone. There are still pops and crackles but compared to other car makes eg Hyundai i30N, the pops and crackles is more subtle. The engine note sounds pretty decent for a 4 cylinder engine too, more towards a bassy note.

Handling wise, we experienced body roll which is expected for a hatch back. However, we kinda hope that there will be a way to fix the suspension to be harder further in individual settings so that we can compensate a little more on the body roll but the settings are still pretty conservative even though it's still as M-Performance series line.

The X-drive felt a little too front biased. If it can be a little more rear biased, the cornering feel can be better which again help to compensate on the body roll as a whole in a whole package feel.

Comfort & Practicality

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The boot space is decent at 380l and as a hatchback format gives it a good "upper" deck space to stack things up. Not to mention that the rear seats can be folded down and that gives it a even larger space (up to 1200l) for much bigger items which is a key benefit of a hatchback.

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The key fob remains a simple F-series alike one with the standard lock/unlock feature with boot release etc. Nothing special although the side of the fob do have the M-Performance colours to match but it's subtle.

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One of the major complains that I have with this car in terms of build quality is the use of rather cheap plastics on the dashboard as well as on the doors etc. After paying so much for the car, at least the baseline would be better quality materials to be used at the dashboard and door which most people will feel and see.

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Fortunately, the saviour is the seats are made of good quality leather (not nappa though) and good leather steering on the airbag which brings back the quality at least to the driver.

Other than that, the in-cabin NVH (noise/vibration/harshness) is pretty good and is expected for the luxury hot hatch segment.

Some special note for people whom are shorter than 1.7m in height. Take note that you may not adjust the front seats much to the front so please test the seating position. The steering can be used to bridge that gap but can be irritating at times especially the steering may hinder with the exit.

The rear middle seat hump is still pretty significant and not the most comfy for people to be seated at the middle. Again understood that the AWD drive shaft needs to be there but it's a point for buyers to note.
Again the head space is generally good but doesn't sit low for driver whom prefer a lower sitting position.
The M-sports seats does a good job holding the body during heavy cornering and the B-pillar viewing angle is decent which is good for driver.

PetrolHead Point of View

The Good

  • Relatively good punch still as a performance car
  • Very good M-performance brakes
  • Body roll is decent (can be better though) for a performance/practical hatchback
  • Very good sport seats that hold the body well during spirited drive
  • X-Drive feels very front biased but still provide a good AWD grip nevertheless
  • B-pillar viewing is very good
  • Exhaust sounds very bassy and decently loud and strong

The Not-so-Good

  • Butt feel is lacking as a M-performance car though torque is high
  • Turbo lag is noticeable
  • 0-100km/h didn't go according to specs (this could be due to various environment conditions as well)
  • One can feel the body roll though hard cornering
  • ZF Transmission is tuned decently but still lacks the urgency to shift. A DCT is still more desirable
  • Position of the seats can be improved to sit lower and accomodate shorter person
  • Pricing is higher than Mercedes AMG A35
  • Not a true blue M-series car

Average Buyer Point of View

The Good

  • Ample space for boot for practicality
  • Power is adequate for normal consumers and feels zippy and quick enough\
  • Good head room for taller drivers/passengers
  • Good viewing angle of blind spots even though sports seats are used
  • Good I-Drive system that is easy to use
  • Wireless Charging

The Not-so-Good

  • Rear middle hump can be made lower for better comfort for 3 pax seating
  • Android Auto support should be available by default
  • Interior trims can be better for the price of the car
  • Center console's piano surface can be eliminated for less fingerprint magnet
  • Cup holder position is somewhat weird

Ratings

Torque & Acceleration (aka backside feel)
3.5V out of 5

Handling
3V out of 5

Interior
3.5V out of 5

Exterior Look
3.5V out of 5

Practicality
3.5V out of 5

Retail Price

SGD$235,000 with COE