Sector: Lower Medium Price: £29,995-£30,525 Fuel: 35.3-37.7mpg CO2: 175-188g/km
Hot hatches of late have tended to follow a specific formula. It’s usually the one pioneered by the Golf GTI, of front-wheel drive, which makes this hotter-than-hot hatch 1 Series rather special.
The sector is advancing quickly. Power outputs rise with each generation, coming ever-closer to the limits of front-wheel drive, and in turn ever closer to the sort of figures supercars would’ve boasted about not so long ago. So the hottest cars are often four-wheel drive.
But BMW’s commitment to rear-wheel drive is entirely unique. MINI does the front-wheel drive stuff, and BMW has stuck vehemently to its core competency when even Mercedes-Benz has defected to front-wheel drive in its C-segment cars. This commitment pays dividends here.
The M135i is the first M Performance model to come to the UK, a sub-sector of cars that sit between the core models and the full-fat M cars. So it’s not an M1 or a replacement for the 1 Series M Coupe launched last year, but it won’t leave anyone feeling short-changed.
This is the only new 1 Series with a six-cylinder engine, and it comes with a pair of turbochargers to offer up 316bhp and a sub five-second sprint to 62mph with no heavy four-wheel drive system to blunt the experience.
Each squeeze of the throttle firmly pins occupants to the seat backs as the car relentlessly piles on speed. This is a beautifully easy car to drive – quick to respond, never nose-heavy, always keeping you informed, and with blink-quick gearchanges from the automatic gearbox.
That straight six adds the appeal of one of the best soundtracks under £30,000 into the mix – a metallic howl with a hint of turbo whistle while accelerating hard, a bark from the exhaust with each gear change and a symphony of crackles and pops on trailing throttle.
But the best bit is that this is entirely accessible performance. The M135i is cheaper than the Golf R and more efficient than a Golf GTi, despite having twice the power. It’s a bargain that proves being different can be a very effective quality.
BMW is finally shouting about the performance that was available in the old 135i coupe, and it’s turned the 1 Series into a near faultless package, but obviously as a company car it won’t stack up in tax and wholelife cost terms. Time to look at that opt-out deal, for a driver who really wants one.