Colin-on-Cars reviews the BMW M135i xDrive

Own the road, is an often misused and misinterpreted expression beloved of owners of cars much quicker than their talent pool who fondly image a sense of entitlement comes with the purchase.

This is so very sad when it is the perfect expression to describe the feeling of driving a car designed to work with you and to make each kilometre a meaningful and pleasurable experience – it certainly does not mean behaving like a hooligan and doing stupid things.

The BMW M135i xDrive is just such a car. A selfish little beast in that the rear seating is little more than a token gesture and it is purpose-designed for someone intent on making driving a real pleasure. Anyone along for the ride is just. . . well, by permission just along for the ride.

The 225 kW M135i is such a step to the left of its 1 Series siblings it ought to be a new class altogether and in the wider context now falls within the term ‘pocket rocket’ that was originally conceived with the likes of the first Golf GTi. As they have all grown dimensionally to meet the 1 Series (which, incidentally in its latest guise is slightly shorter, albeit wider, than its predecessor), it fits that generic description.

It butts heads with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf R, the Audi S3 Sportback quattro and the Honda Civic Type R and is the most expensive at R773 788 with the others under the R750 000 mark. In terms of performance is gives away three kilowatts compared to the group but, at 450 Nm, has 50 Nm more torque and it has an 8-speed auto box versus seven on the Golf and Audi and the manual shifter for the Honda.

Really very little in it so the choice of weapon will come down to brand preference or simply which car feels most comfortable to sit in.

On that score, the interior is roomier than its predecessor, especially in the rear compartment. Getting in is easier and knee room for the rear passengers has increased by 33 millimetres (but still, not great for adults).

The rear offers a full 19 millimetres of extra headroom if the outward-opening sliding panoramic sunroof is specified. Rear passengers also enjoy 13 millimetres more elbow room, while the driver and front passenger can look forward to an extra 42 millimetres in this respect. The load compartment capacity of 380 litres is 20 litres up on the previous car’s, and folding down the rear seat bench increases this to 1 200 litres. In addition, the minimum width of the boot has increased by 67 millimetres.

The BMW 1 Series is, as mentioned five millimetres shorter than its predecessor at 4 319 millimetres. In terms of width (now 1 799 millimetres), it has grown by 34 millimetres while its height (1 434 mm) has increased by 13 millimetres. At 2,670 millimetres, the wheelbase is 20 millimetres shorter than that of the second-generation model.

Even so, Mrs W did remark the low seat position meant getting and out often involved her head unexpectedly meeting the door sill.

The changing kidney grille also made its appearance on the series, being larger and, for the first time in this model range, the two kidneys now merge in the middle. For the M135i xDrive, the grille’s classical bars are replaced with a three-dimensional mesh design and the headlights are now angled in design.

From the side it is clearly BMW from the shark nose, a strong wedge shape and a slim window graphic culminating in the C-pillar with traditional Hofmeister kink. The 100 mm angle-cut tail pipes on the M135i simply emphasise the fact this is a hasty fellow.

BMW’s cockpit design is, and has always been, for the driver and in the M135i this is no different where access to the optional infotainment features of the BMW Operating System 7.0 – using gestures, if the relevant option is specified – is via a grouping of two displays, each of which have a screen diagonal measuring up to 10,25 inches in the case of the BMW Live Cockpit Professional.

The M Sport model has accents in satin-finish aluminium, a front apron with specially shaped air intakes and BMW M rear apron a BMW M rear spoiler in body colour.

Equipped with BMW xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive, the M135i also benefits from the ARB (actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation) technology familiar from the BMW i3s that allows wheel slip to be controlled much more sensitively and swiftly than before.

Eliminating the long signal paths means information is relayed three times quicker, while the driver perceives wheel slip being brought under control up to 10 times faster. Actuator contiguous wheel slip limitation works in close tandem with the DSC system to bring about a clear reduction in the power understeer normally experienced in front-wheel-drive cars.

The ARB technology is assisted in its task by BMW Performance Control (yaw moment distribution). This feature, gives it more agile handling by applying the brakes as required at the wheels on the inside of the bend before the slip threshold has been reached.

The M Sport suspension with a 10 mm reduction in ride height can also be specified with the Adaptive suspension with VDC (Variable Damper Control) as an option.

There is no question the M125i is a quick car – 0-100 km/h in 4,9 seconds and limited to 250 km/h – and it is all too easy to scoot to the upper reaches of that speed without being aware of it. Power and acceleration, especially in Sport mode, seem to just keep feeding in.

When it comes to passing that pesky truck, there is satisfying ‘Blat’ as the gearbox quickly drops a cog to allow you to blast past. Moreover, there is enough instant grunt to produce a little twitch of torque steer from the front wheels.

In the twisties, the slightly wider configuration did improve handling but it can be a bit twitchy on turn-in, although the systems all work suitably seamlessly to keep this to a minimum and under control. 

The M135i xDrive has a mechanical Torsen limited-slip differential integrated into the eight-speed Steptronic Sport transmission and features a Launch Control mode that puts the full peak torque of 450 Nm on tap in first and second gear.

As usual, there are a host of optional choices for buyers including the BMW Digital Key and the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant. The BMW Digital Key enables users to lock and unlock the vehicle from a smartphone using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology on Samsung Galaxy models running Android 8.0 and above.

The Intelligent Personal Assistant is ‘woken’ with the prompt “Hey BMW”, after which drivers can operate their car and access its functions and information simply by speaking. The BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant is a digital character with his own personality, who can learn routines, preferred settings and habits – and subsequently apply them in the appropriate context or engage in casual conversation. One unique feature over other digital assistants is that drivers can give this one a name of their choice.

The bottom line, though, is the M135i xDrive is an exhilarating drive for people who take their driving seriously. It is not a toy for poseurs who should remember when showing off, physics will win! 

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