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Road tests

New BMW M135i 2022 review

A UK drive in the refreshed M135i further proves BMW’s improvements have worked nicely, but be aware that your configurator choices have a sizeable influence on how the hot hatch drives

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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Verdict

A range of tweaks has made the M135i more appealing than the somewhat underwhelming hot hatch released initially, but speccing the adaptive suspension found on our test car means you miss out on much of BMW’s hard work. In this form, the M135i is a tempting alternative to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A35, but we’ll need to try a car on passive dampers in the UK before giving a definitive verdict.

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BMW has gone to surprising lengths to improve its M135i. Rather than wait until the 1 Series’ facelift - expected to arrive at some point 2023 - the German manufacturer released a thoroughly tweaked version of the all-wheel drive hot hatch earlier in 2022.

Many of the changes are inspired by the M135i’s newer, front-wheel drive sibling, the 128Ti. The hardware changes comprise recalibrated springs and dampers at each corner, revised front suspension geometry with additional negative camber (this gives a better tyre contact patch during hard cornering), and new mounts for the trailing and control arms at the rear.

The first updated M135i we’re testing in the UK features…none of these things. As BMW explained to us at the launch of the rejuvenated M135i in Leipzig, Germany, you need to stick with the standard passive dampers to enjoy all the suspension changes. Our test car has the £500 adaptive set-up instead.

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There are still differences between this version and the old car, however. All M135i models regardless of spec feature new software for the traction control, torque steer compensation system and the ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive set-up. The latter now powers all wheels more of the time (the default is just to power the fronts, much like the Haldex system used by the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R), but it still won’t send more than 50 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear of the car. 

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The most noticeable change is to the soundtrack. The augmented engine noise sent through the speakers is different, and there are now upshift pops from the exhaust system along with lift-off crackles. We’re not talking about anything particularly rude - there’s only so much you can do amidst current regulations - but the alterations bring with them a nice increase in aural drama that was sorely missing from the pre-update car.

The straight-line performance remains as impressive as ever, with 302bhp providing a 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds. Although it lacks a dual-clutch gearbox, something a few of its rivals use, the M135i’s eight-speed automatic is more than snappy enough when chopping through ratios with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and seems to know what it’s doing when left to change cogs itself. 

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The sound augmentation is more realistic than before but remains a little too vocal in Sport mode - we can’t help but feel that less is more when it comes to fake noise. The engine itself can sound and feel a little weedy as the redline is neared, so you’re better off keeping the revs lower, making full use of the punchy low-to-mid-range torque. 450Nm of twist arrives from just 1,600rpm, resulting in a very flexible engine. It’s also a power unit that can deliver its full force whether the road is dry or wet, such is the traction provided by the all-wheel drive system. 

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In the corners, the M135i stays nicely flat, even with the adaptive dampers in their softer mode, which is a better bet for a lot of UK B-roads. Turned up to the harder setting, the ride can get choppy and unsettled, robbing you of both comfort and confidence. 

Thanks to the software changes, the M135i feels a touch sharper to drive. Particularly noticeable is the reduction in torque steer felt behind the wheel of the old model, and the car also seems slightly less prone to understeer. Even so, it’s still lacking in terms of both outright thrills and engagement. Particularly keen drivers will probably be better off leaving the adaptive damper option unticked in the configurator.

The passive suspension M135i was more responsive to steering inputs when we drove it in Germany earlier in 2022, changing direction with more enthusiasm than both the outgoing car and the adaptive damper model. It also felt more stable during higher-speed cornering. The trade-off in terms of ride comfort seemed fairly small on our test route back then, but as it stands, we can’t speak for how this might work out on UK roads. 

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What we can say is that we continue to appreciate the 1 Series’ cabin. It’s a sturdy, premium-feeling space, and as it uses BMW’s older iDrive 7 set-up, the onboard tech is easier to use than in cars with the newer iDrive 8 system. The click-wheel controller remains a very useful part of the cabin, and not one we should take for granted, given that it’s been scrubbed from other smaller BMWs like the 2 Series Active Tourer and X1.

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As we’ve found with all current 1 Series models, a switch from a predominantly rear-wheel drive set-up to front-wheel drive hasn’t led to the kind of interior space improvements we might have hoped for. There are roomier C-segment hatchbacks out there, and ones with bigger boots. The 380-litre space is 20 litres up on the previous-generation 1 Series and a match for the Volkswagen Golf, but 25 litres behind the Mercedes A-Class. The latter, we should note, is available as an AMG A35, which is a more expensive but more exciting rival to the M135i.

The M135i’s cost has increased since we last tested it, in line with pricing trends we’ve seen across the industry. It’s now £40,595, for which you get a standard kit list including climate control, cruise control and heated front seats. 

There are plenty of opportunities to inflate that figure - along with the adaptive suspension we’ve already spoken about, our car has the Comfort Pack for £1,430 (which includes a heated steering wheel and electric seats), the £1,500 technology pack (includes adaptive LED headlights, a parking assistant and a head-up display), £1,350 18-inch V-spoke alloy wheels, a £750 Harman Kardon sound system and a few lower-priced items on its spec sheet to bring the total to £46,265. Specced up on the configurator today with increases to the base price and some of the options, the figure is £48,750.

Model:BMW M135i
Price:£40,995
Engine:

2.0-litre 4cyl petrol

Power/torque:301bhp/450Nm
Transmission:

eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive

0-62mph:4.8 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Fuel economy:38.2mpg
CO2:168.2g/km
On sale:Now

Now read our review of the most powerful Volkswagen Golf R ever made...

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