A surprise victory, and almost one that didn't happen. When BMW first offered us a facelifted M135i for this year's Bang for your Bucks we initially declined.
After all, for a facelifted car to be eligible for BFYB it must have a significant mechanical upgrade and an extra five kilowatts and a few cosmetic tweaks doesn't cut the mustard.
Then the price was announced. With the new M135i having received a substantial $2500 price cut, it was accepted into the fold, as it was reasonable to assume that its sharp new $62,900 sticker would substantially alter its BFYB score compared to last time it was present in 2013 (when it managed fifth outright).
Its two-door sibling, the M235i, managed a podium placing in the $50-100K class at last year's event, so being almost $20K cheaper surely this hottest of hatchbacks would be in with a shout?
So it proved, and satisfyingly BMW's pocket rocket won through sheer speed. Its 4.84sec sprint to 100km/h was the class of the entire field, and while it had to give best to Ford's supercharged Falcon XR8 over the quarter mile, the M135i was the only other car to dip under the 13-second mark (the first time it’s done so in our hands), its 12.98sec at 177.57km/h good enough for second place.
Similarly, it was one of only two cars to beat 1:40sec around Winton, its 1:39.8 just four-tenths slower than the hardcore Megane RS275 Trophy-R. And in every other category – from braking to corner speed to V-max – it was consistently at the pointy end, which speaks of a car that’s a jack of all trades, and coming close to mastering a few as well.
From behind the wheel, its impressive numbers are no surprise, especially when you consider the mechanical package. The howling 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six and eight-speed ZF automatic is a marriage made in heaven, the combination of a massive powerband and closely-stacked ratios ensuring that acceleration is relentless.
With 240kW and 450Nm from 3.0 litres and a turbocharger, the M135i almost looks a little underendowed these days – remember Audi and Mercedes-Benz are extracting more power and torque from significantly less capacity – however more power would be unlikely to improve the package until BMW sees fit to install a limited-slip diff.
Like the Lexus RC350, the M135i is a car that’s crying out for the rear wheels to be connected by a big chunk of metal. One is available through BMW’s M Performance parts range at a hefty $4300 (plus GST and installation), but it really needs to be standard issue. As it stands, too often traction is kept in check through constant electronic interference.
Disable DSC (BMW’s name for ESP) and its behaviour becomes scrappy, with the inside rear wheel spinning away power, resulting in messy half-slides. The M135i can be steered on the throttle, but it’s far from a pleasurable experience; more often than not drifts are a stilted, jerky affair as the open diff desperately tries to decide where to send the power.
It’s all the more frustrating as the rest of the dynamic package is so good. The Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber offers plenty of grip and holds up brilliantly, the chassis is adjustable and transparent in its behaviour and the variable-ratio steering is sharp and accurate.
If we’re nitpicking, the steering feels a little artificial in its weighting and the brakes could be more durable – they started wilting on the second of Luffy’s flyers – but overall it’s an extremely impressive package.
Its talents were reflected in the judges’ rankings, with Morley, DC and Luffy all placing it second, and it’s fair to say Jez and yours truly probably would’ve followed suit but for the lack of an LSD.
At $62,900 the BMW M135i is a long way from bargain basement, but against its price peers, it’s the best value performance car you can buy in Australia today.
0-100km/h – 4.84sec (1st)
0-400m – 12.98sec @ 182.21km/h (2nd)
Lap time – 1:39.8sec (2nd)
Bang Index – 146.8
Price - $62,900
Bucks Index – 105.6
BFYB Index – 191.4
Campbell 2nd – “Bit of a monster, really. Great grunt and grip and keen for a play.”
Morley 2nd – “Ball-tearing engine on a supple but accurate trolley. Hard to fault.”
Newman 3rd – “A serious weapon. Needs an LSD, but everything else is bang-on.”
Spinks 4th – “Shame LSD isn’t standard, but sweetly balanced and cracking in-gear pace.”
Luffy 2nd – “Such a great all-’round package. It gives you confidence to keep pushing on and it’s very neutral in both the front and rear. Ergonomically it does everything right. The only downside is that the brakes started to go after a couple of laps, but they still had a fair amount of feel. Just a fun car and a real sleeper – you don’t expect it to be as quick as it is.”