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BMW M135i xDrive International Drive: hot hatch goes AWD

By Tim Robson, 17 Jul 2019 Features

BMW M135i xDrive International Drive

BMW plucks FWD parts from the shelf to build a better 1 Series mousetrap, but what has it lost in translation?

Overall Rating

5 0 5

Plus & Minus

  1. Lovely interior; spicy engine; decent interior space

  2. Dim-witted steering; adaptive damping not firm enough; styling has taken a hit

  3. The Wheels Verdict: The third-gen 1 Series hopes to convince you that a front-wheel-drive BMW can be a good thing, but the jury is out as to whether the sportiest M135i is able to wave that flag. Final verdict when it gets here in December.

WHAT IS THE BMW M135i xDrive?

The third-generation 1 Series is the opening act for BMW’s passenger car range, and the five-door, five-seat M135i xDrive will top the model tree when it arrives late in 2019.

BMW M135i xDrive REVIEW

There’s really nothing like an enthusiast scorned, and BMW’s about-face on about-facing the third-generation 1 Series’ driveline has the internets up in arms. And then there’s the exterior design. Bless my good giddy aunt, but the kids are riled. Riled!

Honestly, though, switching the 1 Series to FWD was as good as signed off when BMW bought Mini in 1994. The gains for a car that spends its life in the ’burbs starring in insta pics and doggo playdates  were, from an engineering and cost viewpoint, too great to pass up this time around – and it didn’t swap out in 2011 for the second-generation only because, according to powertrain chief for the 1 Series, Christian Bock, it was going to cost more to go FWD. “We had the engines and rear-drive platform already,” he said, “so it made sense then.”

It makes sense now, too – it streamlines the 1 onto the widely used UKL2 platform, uses a common 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine tuned to (a Mercedes-AMG A35-matching) 225kW and 450Nm and adds moderate AWD capability from the X range for added zing.

The move to make a more roomy, wordly entry-level car has, though, yielded an interior design best described as prosaic. The hatch silhouette does nothing to move the game on, and the enlarged kidney grille looks even more out of place here than on other, larger Bimmers. The interior is far nicer, and to my eyes pips the newest A-Class for multimedia screen integration and storage.

On billiard-table German roads, the M135i uses its torque well, and its around-town manners are excellent. It’s stable at speed, though a slow steering rack and artificial weighting dull the fun. The chassis tune, too, feels overwhelmed at big speed and under load. Adaptive dampers are an option, but even in Sport mode, the outside front cried uncle far earlier than it should have.

Final judgement should be passed on our rougher roads, and the softer tune may work well there. It also pays to keep in mind the target audience of this car which isn’t the frothing online hordes so busy throwing shade at BMW.

BMW M135i xDrive VS RIVALS

Mercedes-AMG A35, Audi S3, Volkswagen Golf R, Ford Focus RS


Model: BMW M135i xDrive

Engine: 1998cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo

Max power: 225kW @ 4500-6250rpm

Max torque: 450Nm @ 1750-5000rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, Torsen LSD, AWD (max 50:50 split)

Weight: 1600kg

0-100km/h: 4.8sec (claimed)  

Economy: 7.1L/100km

Price: TBA

On sale: Q4 2019