The BMW M135i is the new top model of the new third generation BMW 1-Series. It is fundamentally different from the predecessor model and the first car on this platform architecture. More than enough reason for us to take the M135i out for a test drive on twisty roads in the countryside near BMWs home turf Munich.
First shown at the BMW NextGen event in Munich last month the new 1-Series comes with two different petrol engines and three diesel engines. Ranging from the three cylinder 116d diesel with 116hp to the M135i petrol engine with 306hp.
Most significant change is the move away from BMW’s typical rear-wheel drive to a front-wheel drive architecture. The new front-wheel drive architecture is up to 30 kg lighter, offers more space in the back but also makes the 1-Series more cost effective aligning it’s architecture with the Mini and BMW 2-Series models.
The direct result of the new FWD setup and new exterior design is more space for the rear passengers and luggage with exterior dimensions remaining largely the same. But it comes at a price of fundamentally different driving dynamics but more on that later.
The exterior is instantly recognizable as a BMW. The new 1-Series is only available as a five door variant. The kidneys have been super-sized as on other recent BMW models which is very much up to personal taste. The wedge like side silhouette and muscular rear shoulders and double tail pipes give the new M135i a sporty appearance.
Inside the changes are fairly conservative with still plenty of buttons that competitors got rid off completely. The ergonomics and seating position are very good and the materials used give it a premium look and feel. The infotainment system is ram-packed with functionality but it is the usability that shows the limitations of the iDrive system. With over 1,000 options and functions it is hard to find what you are looking for and it is time BMW redesigns the iDrive software and menu structure from scratch to fix this.
Ticking some of the optional extras on the order sheet you can transform the 1-Series in a compact luxury car with adaptive cruise control, ambient light and panoramic sunroof to name a few. The head-up display in particular is a great addition to the new 1-Series which not only shows things like your speed and navigation instructions but also the current speed limit and the next upcoming speed limit. The digital key allows you to unlock your car with the smartphone even when your phone battery is out of power. The wireless charging bay is a bit narrow though and barely fits an iPhone X with a cover.
The 2.0 liter four-in-line turbocharged engine produces 306hp and 450Nm of torque. Firing up the engine you will hear some pops and crackles but they seem to be limited to lower range of the rev range. The eight speed steptronic transmission along with other parts of the M135i can be changed between ECO PRO, Comfort and Sport settings. The new 2020 BMW M135i accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds, 0.1 seconds slower than the 2016 M135i with 3.0 liter six-in-line. The top speed is limited at 250 km/h.
Handling wise a lot of effort has been put in creating a rigid chassis with good cornering capabilities. A new ARB system with BMW Performance Control which brakes the inside wheel in a bend to improve cornering comes as standard on the M135i. The M135i comes with all-wheel drive which distributes maximum 50% of the torque to the rear wheels. In Comfort and Eco Pro modes it will however primarily transfer power to the front. And even in Sport mode it feels very much like a front-wheel drive car. Especially under strong acceleration there is more torque steer than I would like despite the electronic and mechanical measures to counter it.
M sport steering and newly developed M sport brakes with smaller one-piece calipers from Brembo come as standard on the M135i. The suspension is very sporty even in comfort mode. Short bumps are transferred properly through the cabin. Interestingly enough this even goes for the 118d model which I also drove briefly – which should be more trimmed to comfort than the M135i. The upside is that you can steer the new BMW 1-Series through bends very rapidly with only ever so slight tendencies to understeer, steering inputs are direct only the tendency to the before-mentioned torque steer is annoying. The driving dynamics are very similar to that of a Mini Cooper S.
Sound wise the four cylinder can in no way match for its six cylinder predecessor. Inside the sound track is not too bad but outside the car it is pretty quiet and unspectacular except for the pops when you start it. Overall the effect is very similar to the Porsche 718 Cayman versus its predecessor.
Overall the new BMW M135i looks cool, can be extremely well equipped and is very efficient but the new drivetrain architecture and four cylinder engine have a significant impact on the car’s handling and sound.