2019 BMW M135i xDrive performance review

It’s finally bowed to FWD pressure, but despite its vanilla exterior, the new BMW M135i xDrive proves the Bavarians are fast learners

2019 BMW M135i xDrive performance review

Ahhhh, marketing types… swan in, create an entire language/direction/concept, collect cheque and disappear, not worrying for a second about what kind of life your campaign/missive/communiqué will have.

BMW has long used the ‘sheer driving pleasure’ tagline, along with the tacit claim that if it isn’t rear-wheel-drive, then get off our lawn.

2019 BMW M135i xDrive rear

Well, um. That’s awkward.

Meet the third generation BMW 1 Series, shown here in its hottest M135i xDrive guise. It isn’t rear-wheel-drive. In fact, it’s barely all-wheel-drive if we’re honest. Yes, BMW has bowed to the gods of manufacturing economy and plonked the 1 Series atop the same UKL2 platform that underpins things like the Mini Countryman and the fraternal X1/X2 twins.

No pricing has been released yet, but figure it coming close to the $60,000 mark of its predecessor. For that kind of money, it’ll likely undercut the similarly powered but potentially better-equipped Mercedes-AMG A35 that’s due around the same time.

Then there’s the evergreen Volkswagen Golf R or Audi S3, both of which offer a little less mumbo than both the Bimmer and the Merc, which share exactly the same 225kW and 450Nm headline numbers.

2019 BMW M135i xDrive performance

The new 1 Series body is five-door only, and has - unfortunately - morphed from distinctive to derivative in a single stroke. Up close, it’s possible to see finer body details that give those slab sides some depth and contrast, but really, this is a BMW that will fade into the background rather than step forward, whistling tunelessly.

The jury, too, is out on that snout, though the grille treatment on the M135i is darker and less overt than on the more conventional cars.

A 2.0-litre four-cylinder single-turbo petrol engine replaces the 3.0-litre six-potter of the outgoing M140i, sending its 225kW and 450Nm predominantly to the front wheels and nominally (up to 50 per cent on its best day) to the rear end.

2019 BMW M135i xDrive engine

BMW has added some trickery in the form of a new anti-slip device that’s been plucked from the i3s. It gives a whole new level of fine control to the slip-sniffing computers by deleting the chassis control unit altogether and shortening the paths that the signals from the tyres have to travel before the 0s and 1s cut in.

Likewise, a brake-controlled yaw control system helps to calm the farm, while a Torsen mechanical limited slipper does its slippy stuff as well.

Picking adaptive dampers adds comfort and sport driving modes (but no others), while you’ve got paddles to override the eight-speed conventional auto’s wishes.

2019 BMW M135i xDrive gearshifter

Suspension is strut front and multilink rear with loads of chassis bracing, with a specific spring/damper tune for each 1 Series variant. Adaptive dampers are an option and the M135i rides 10mm lower than the stockers on its Pirelli-shod 18s.

Big front brakes introduce a new tech for the Bavarians, too; gone are the nasty looking sliding caliper of yore, replaced instead by simply ginormous rotors and a slimmed-down four-piston one-piece caliper. The piston housings are steel for better heat management and allow the whole lot to slip under those multi-spoke forged alloys.

Slide into the M135i and it’s all clean, neat and modern, with just a hint of the brand’s DNA. The suede-adorned seats are – just – low enough in the bodyshell to connect with the car, while the chunky steering wheel sits in front of a digital dashboard that’s pretty busy at first glance.

The switch to a sideways engine nets a raft of rear seat room, even though the car itself is now 20mm shorter overall.

2019 BMW M135i xDrive interior cockpit

It’s also 34mm wider and on average 30kg lighter, so the 1 feels decently planted rolling out of the shed. An overly enthusiastic exhaust barble can’t really be heard from within the car, but the two-litre motor moves off sufficiently well.

It’s got a decent, if not love-handle quivering turn of pace when prodded, with a surprisingly planted and supple ride in both modes. The electric steering carries an artificial weight that doesn’t really translate to genuine feel and it’s a bit slow-witted, but it permeates a big-car feel, which I liked at 210km/h on the ’bhan.

Those adaptive dampers, though, are far happier at five- or six-tenths. Push the friendship even in sport mode and the car’s composure unravels pretty quickly, falling through its front travel when you’re loading up the outside tyre. I reckon it’d be ace on a choppier, slower surface, though, of which I found exactly none in Bavaria.

2019 BMW M135i xDrive handling

We’ll need time on home soil to get a better read on the M135i; Chermany’s glass-smooth roads don’t do much to expose a chassis’ flaws.

On first blush, though, the M135i should acquit itself pretty well, but its underdone exterior demeanour and potentially suspect chassis balance may ultimately play against it.

2019 BMW M135i xDrive ride and handling

Engine: 1998cc inline-4cyl, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 225kW @ 4500-6250rpm 
Torque: 400Nm @ 1750-5000rpm
Weight: 1600kg 
0-100km/h: 4.8sec (claimed) 
Price: $65,000-70,000 (est)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


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