Motoring journalists are spoilt. We get to drive countless beautiful cars (and very few bad ones, these days), and tend to become, well, jaded. We sometimes take cars for granted, even though most of those we drive we could never afford to buy ourselves. But every now and again something comes along that nudges us in the ribs, that sweeps the jaded webs from our eyes and reminds us just how lucky we are. For me, the BMW M135i was one of those cars.
It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is about the M135i that appeals to me so much. I drive more expensive cars almost every other week (I told you we were spoilt), and I had driven two faster cars in the preceding three weeks. But very few cars engage the driver as this one does, no matter the price, and very few lure out that face-splitting grin as easily or as often as the little M.
Two things make this little maestro special – the six-cylinder engine and the rear-wheel-drive setup, but not even they add up to the enjoyment of the drive. Under that bonnet is a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine that produces 240kW and 450Nm – it’s all that torque that is the beauty of a turbo engine. Turbo lag, I hear you ask? Nope – BMW has relegated that to days of yore with this much-vaunted engine.
The M135i doesn’t hang around. Off the mark it’ll head on to 100km/h in just 4,9 seconds (5,1 for the manual), and the top speed is a limited, barely applicable 250km/h. Far more important than that is the mid-range flexibility of this engine – it has great globs of torque available throughout the rev range, so when you accelerate, things start happening pretty smartly. Incredibly, the little M can be quite economical on fuel. Drive it as though you’re ferrying your mother to the hairdresser and you’ll get close to 8L/100km. Drive it as though you’re driving your mother-in-law to the airport and she’s late for her flight and you might double that.
The automatic gearbox is one of the highlights of this package. It has eight gear ratios, but that’s not the most interesting thing about it. This gearbox works in conjunction with the navigation system to predict changes. It also has paddle shifting, or you can just leave it to its job, which it does brilliantly.
Nimble, quick, light on its wheels and composed in corners, the M135i is simply great to drive. It feels small enough to throw around when the road gets squiggly, but weighty enough to hold its line and feel secure on the road. I couldn’t get enough if it, to be honest, and it is definitely one of the best handling hatches around.
Part of the appeal of the M135i to me is that it is a subtle car in appearance and in interior styling. There are no big wings or huge exhausts or bright red seatbelts – it’s refined and classy, but with the lingering presence of power underlining it all. The interior is clean and uncluttered, the materials of the best quality, and the layout easily intuitive.
Where does the M135i fall down? Well, it’s still a small car and while the front passengers have more than enough space, the guys in the back seat won’t be quite as comfortable. The boot, too, isn’t the car’s strongest feature, but it’ll do for a couple’s luggage. Other than that there is the perennial issue of spare tyres, or the lack thereof, and whether or not you are comfortable in placing your safety in the hands of run-flat technology. I would be, even though I have been let down by it in the past where I managed to cut the sidewall of a run-flat tyre, leaving it running very flat indeed.
Conclusion: When looking at cars, don’t put too much weighting on facts and figures, speeds and power, or even assume that a heftier price means a better car. If you did you might think that a 270kW hatch is better than this 240kW one, or that all-wheel-drive makes for better handling. Instead, take cars for test drives and you’ll hopefully find the car that speaks to your soul, in much the way that this one spoke to mine.
Niggles: Rear space, lack of spare wheel.
Nice touches: Beautiful gearbox, subtle looks, cracking drive, and sensational exhaust note.
- Name: BMW M135i
- Engine: 3-litre, inline 6 cylinder turbocharged petrol
- Power output: 240kW
- Torque: 450Nm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic/six-speed manual
- Price: From R567 500
- Warranty: 3-year/120 000km
- Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km
Words: Stephen Smith