BMW’s latest generation 1 Series hot hatch – the M135i xDrive – aims to take on the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A35 without its RWD armoury. Interesting.
Yes, you read that correctly, and rather than allowing this particular elephant in the room to sit back on its oversized haunches and get comfortable, let’s dive straight in by explaining this apparent madness from Munich.
Between the debut of BMW’s entry level ‘E81’ in 2004 and its effective retirement in 2014 upon the arrival of the 2 Series Coupé, the rear-wheel drive 1 Series had always been an entry point into the regularly sideways, occasionally batshit mental world of BMW.
That this particular door has seemingly been slammed shut is all the more ironic given that a) the new gen model has been given the ‘F40’ designation, as if any reference to the prancing horse could be ignored, and b) while this decision is all-but certain to piss off Bimmer and hot hatch enthusiasts, it’s unlikely prospective buyers of the premium city run-around will notice the difference, or even worse, care. BMW has its reasons though, the most significant of which being the strengthened chassis with which the 1 Series will share with a swathe of mid-sized SUVs and crossovers due to arrive in the next couple of years (like the newly-launched X1, for instance), from both BMW and sister company, MINI.
The rear-wheel drive 1 Series had always been an entry point into the regularly sideways, occasionally batshit mental world of BMW.
Still, those of you now mourning the banishment of the RWD drivetrain can still heave a weighty sigh of relief, given that the new, range-topping M135i xDrive hatchback has been designed specifically with the Volkswagen Golf R and Mercedes-AMG A35 in its crosshairs.
Power, all 306hp of it, comes from BMW’s established ‘B48’ four-cylinder (complete with TwinScroll turbocharger) and is sent to all four wheels, as is a chunky 332lb ft (450Nm) of torque. For context, that’s an identical power output to the Merc and even proffers 37lb ft (50Nm) more torque, though the AMG is quicker to the ton by one-tenth of a second at 4.7 seconds, vs the BMW’s 4.8 seconds. The VW Golf R meanwhile is only just ‘outclassed’ – we’ll say that very lightly – boasting 292hp and 280lb ft of torque, but also hit 0-100kph in 4.8 seconds thanks to being significantly lighter.
Interestingly, though all-wheel drive as standard, the M135is does feature, for the first time on a BMW 1 Series, a limited slip differential. Just don’t expect this will turn the neuankömmling into a tyre-melting hoon wagon at the push of a button though, as the system will send, at most, 50 per cent of the power and torque to the rear axle.
Power, all 306hp of it, comes from BMW’s established ‘B48’ four-cylinder (complete with TwinScroll turbocharger) and is sent to all four wheels. For context, that’s an identical power output to the Merc.
Fret not though, as the M135i xDrive does borrow the actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation (ARB) technology from the all-electric i3, meaning traction through the corners should be on point at the very least.
Petrol fans can either choose between this or a 140hp 118i, which features the same 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder you’d find in a standard MINI Cooper. Diesel fanatics meanwhile will have a 116hp 116d, a 150hp 118d, and/or a120d xDrive to choose from, the latter two of which use BMW’s 2-litre four-cylinder diesel, while the former boasts a 1.5-litre three pot. All engine options bar the range topper come as standard with a six-speed manual with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic available as an option for the 118i and 116d. Sadly, though perhaps understandably through gritted teeth, the M135i is only available with an eight-speed automatic.
Front-wheel drive? Check. No manual gearbox? Check. Deep breaths guys…
On the outside meanwhile, the 1 Series is a little more ‘mainstream’ than we’ve seen in years gone past, featuring as it does much wider air intakes in the front bumper, re-styled tapering headlights, and a more modest hatchback rather than bread van-style profile on its new 19in alloys. Inside is very BMW – i.e. hardly drab but not quite Garmisch levels of quirky either – as the ‘driver-orientated’ cabin features a dashboard more dominated by infotainment screens than we’ve previously seen. There’s also more interior space, BMW providing an extra 33mm of knee room in the back and 19mm more head space (that panoramic sunroof is available as an optional extra too), while boot space has increased to 380 litres, up 20. Much like the ARB tech, BMW has also borrowed, essentially, the same steering wheel you’d find on the M850i Convertible. Whether owners of the $135K flagship drop top would like this detail bandied around though is another matter.
Take a look at the price tag and you’ll see that’s also very BMW too, figures for the ‘base’ 118i starting from around the $30K mark (there’s no word yet on the M135i). Front wheel drive may have closed the door on one entry level BMW staple but some things don’t change.