The thing about the M140i is it makes purists uneasy. It’s that M badge they’re fiercely protective over, and for good reason.
The letter was once reserved for the company’s finest, not it’s cheapest performance cars. Now, desperate to lure as many new buyers as possible, BMW’s M Performance 1 Series proves things have changed.
Think of the new sub-brand as a stepping stone, like Audi’s S badge, and perfect Bang For Your Bucks fodder at less than $65K. Sure, it looks like a Toorak Nan’s runabout, however, underneath its boxy body is BMW’s latest weapon. Pinched from its new modular engine family, a new turbo 3.0-litre inline-six puts another 10kW/50Nm on the tin.
All up it equals 250kW/500Nm, which is enough to kick a classic M3 in the teeth. The new engine, codenamed B58, makes the M140i BFYB’s fourth most powerful. Truth is, though, it feels much more than that. Its potential is revealed on the dragway.
The car’s angle tweaks a few degrees under full throttle at low speeds, but once it’s off, acceleration is sweaty palm, eye-widening stuff. It erupts like a V2 rocket, and at the strip’s end carries an extra three clicks on the Holden Commodore SS-V Redline Ute.
And that’s pushed by a 6.2-litre V8 with a nudge over 300kW. But the BMW’s engine isn’t all brawn, it’s a refined unit. As thrust surges down low and builds into a heady charge by 6000rpm, revs rise so freely the 1500rpm gap from its power-peak to the 7000rpm redline vanishes in a blink.
There’s no suspension upgrade accompanying the extra power. So the 245mm-wide rear Michelins struggle to manage in anything but a dry, straight line, instead relying on a measly inside-wheel braking system to quell single spinners. Yep, that’s right, still no LSD.
If you want one, BMW Australia sells them as an option. For $4735. Before installation. Adding woe is the fact the wheel-braking function is only available when stability control’s turned off. And even when it works, you feel it clumsily pinch at the inside wheel.
Then again, its job would be a little like trying to plug a dam with a cork. You really have to wrestle a good laptime from it, as the variable steering doesn’t tell you much on the way into the corner, and it’s clear the M140i could do with a sharper front-end.
The brakes, while up to the abuse, could do with more feel under pump. There are piles of mid-corner grip and it rewards clean driving. And despite a slight lack of feedback and poise, the BMW is seriously quick. That laptime, for one, is a huge surprise and achievement.
It also points to how potent and well setup the rear-drive chassis can be. No matter which way you look at it, the engine dominates the M140i’s personality. If it wasn’t for the A45 AMG’s pesky launch control, this BMW would have ruled every straight-line test.
It’s unhinged character calls for courage, though, cause it might otherwise rip your face off. If it were up to us, we’d ask for an LSD or more stability before power. But this is Bang For Your Bucks after all.
And the M140i’s meek looks, and somewhat underdone package, reward it with an asking price that’s $10K cheaper than a M240i – the next model in BMW’s range armed with the B58 engine. And it drops the little Bavarian bullet in third place up against the formula. A solid result.
Engine: 2998cc inline-6, DOHC, 24v, turbo
Power: 250kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1520-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 4.65sec (2nd)
0-400m: 12.76sec @ 180.53km/h (2nd)
Lap Time: 1:37.8sec (1st)
Bang Index: 128.5
Bucks Index: 104.3
BFYB Index: 118.8
Warren Luff says
“A very easy car to drive on the limit. It’s more of an understeer based car. From the moment you clear the brake it’s all about trying to balance the understeer to get the car to rotate as early as possible.
While it’s not as fun around the confines of Winton as some of the other cars, it does produce the laptime. It’s got a great engine; gearbox is really good.
Brakes aren’t too bad. Probably one of the downsides of the chassis being so stiff is in all the tight stuff it’s very easy to get the ABS on the way in which generates even more understeer.”
David Morley - 3rd: “Liked this car a lot. But I’d still have an M2.”
Dylan Campbell - 2nd: “If only it looked better I’d probably buy one. It’s all the car I’d need.”
Louis Cordony - 4th: “A menacing little sleeper. BYO brave pills.”
Tim Robson - 7th: “Wicked engine, but it and the chassis have commitment issues.”
Want more? Check out the rest of 2017 Bang For Your Bucks