A new Series 1 for a all new BMW M135i

BMW M135i here, BMW M135i there, you can hear that everywhere. But what does that really mean? First of all, a « BMW », Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works), that you knew. It is muscular, like « M » and Motorsport (BMW’s sports department), but not really. Oh, yeah? Yes, when the « M » is followed by the designation of the range, it is a chassis, transmission and body kit but not a real car entirely revised by BMW Motorsport GmbH. To be honest, we only knew one BMW 1 M. It was in 2011 and since then we’ve been satisfied with M100 and a few. Okay, fair enough. Finally, we can read « 35 », which means powerful for its size, and « i » for gasoline. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? So once is not usual, let’s start with what I particularly appreciated about this new BMW.

A young and connected BMW (okay, that’s trendy)

When I enter this new Series 1 (F40), I am satisfied. The M steering wheel is beautiful (as always), the rim is thick, almost greasy (as always), and it really makes you want to drive (as always). No Alcantara on the wheel, some people will regret it, not me, it will avoid pilling.

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I turn my head to one side and to the other. The whole cabin is pleasant. We feel that BMW has tried to produce something cosy in which you will enjoy spending time. It’s a cool everyday car. The design is simple, sober and pretty, despite an incalculable number of buttons. Alert too many pimples, it looks like a teenager’s face. We want to do drive, not press stuff.

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The materials are generally well chosen, full plastic or almost so, but everything seems to be of good quality: enjoyable to touch and look at. Especially the automatic gearbox stick which has not changed much but has become more pleasant to hold in your hand. Less hollow and cheap plastic I mean.

Under my buttocks, an M Sport seat firm but not too tight. However, what I really like is the bucket spirit of the seat shape, which fits very well with my body shape and holds me perfectly. Best of all, BMW has put aside the leathers to try out the technical fabrics. Verdict? It’s very agreeable and so pretty. The blue and black weave gives relief to the interior, making it much more contemporary than it was before. Anyway, we still have Alcantara on the edges of the seats. Okay, okay, it’s a sports model, why not. Luckily, BMW haven’t done it too much. The seats are stitched in blue (for once no red, yes!!!), and light Motorsport strip is visible on piping, carpets and belts. It’s subtle and therefore very good.

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I start driving and go through a tunnel. Wow! Wow! I discover a band of openwork leds that pass through a rod that runs through the doors to the dashboard. I love it, it’s very well done and very beautiful, for once.

Also, I almost forgot, you can talk to your car (it didn’t work during my test because you had to set it up and get into the meanders of the touch screen),make it do manoeuvres by itself and open it with your smartphone. Practical for a car that wants to be urban and trendy! And yes, customers want all the technology possible today. At least as many gadgets as on their new phone. Series 1 (F40) 2019 has it all, of course. I don’t really care.

A BMW M135i with a 4 cylinder (why not?)

After a few kilometers onboard the new M135i in regular mode, I feel a smooth, comfortable and satisfaying engine. The eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission is also very soft and pleasant. Although I feel a little bit of stiffness when I encounter some irregularities (more irregular than usual), probably due to the huge but pretty 18” rims.

I also notice a particular concern for soundproofing. It does the job in an astonishing discretion. Honestly, for the segment, it’s quite impressive. In the city, you feel inside a cocoon in which daily journeys become almost pleasant, hardly disturbed by school outings.

In any case, the engine will not disturb the quietness of the cabin. The new emission standards and the future limitation of noise levels have simply killed the sound of this car. The 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine makes very little sound. From the outside, at a slower pace, you can hear clattering. It almost sounds like a diesel engine (argggg it hurts when I write it down). From the inside, we hear almost nothing, except when we start to accelerate the rhythm.

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Quickly I realize that the engine is a good 4 cylinder. It’s brave, willful and pretty cool to drive. BMW remains an excellent engine manufacturer and that’s good news. It goes up in high RPM without blinking and without much show its turbocharging. Too bad it’s so linear.

I switch to Sport mode, the exhaust makes a strange electronic sound. That’s the exhaust valve that you can hear from the outside. On closer inspection, it seems that the left exhaust is always closed and only opens in sport mode… weird. Anyway, exhaust pipes are open now, the sound gets stronger (finally)! It makes some cracklings but it seems a bit artificial.

On the road, the car is fast, 0 to 100 in 4.8 seconds, but 0.4 seconds slower than the latest generation M140i xDrive. Oops… We have the bad habit of seeing cars getting more powerful and faster; however, the problem is not really there. Behind the wheel, and even with 306HP, I don’t feel much. I see the very confusing gauges counter (Live Cockpit Navigation Pro on all new BMWs) going up, up, up, up, I look at the head high speedometer (which, thanks God is still there) and the number given is just astonishing. Nevertheless, I don’t feel much and I don’t really hear the exhaust even at 6250 RMP.

At this speed, the gearbox in sport mode and manual gives strange jolts. This is the kind of thing we encountered in 2000-2010 when single-clutch gearboxes were not yet sophisticated enough to withstand violent flying shifts. Here, I think these jolts are rather voluntary in order to give the car a little more character. I‘m not sure it works very well.

A BMW front wheel drive… (mmmmm let’s try it)

Almost all petrolheads hate traction cars. You know them, they all trolled BMW on Twitter when they announced that the new Series 1 (F40) would be a traction. However, the Mini Coopers or Lancia Fulvia Coupé were fast, efficient and fun traction cars that won everything in rally at their time. Traction does not always mean boring.

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About the M135i, it performs really well on small windy roads. Based on a traction platform, it has an xDrive mode device. The 4 wheels give a lot of grip, which removes absolutely all apprehension. All head to tail apprehensions but not tracing straight ahead. Indeed, if you are too greedy on the front axle, you will feel understeer. Yes, you read it right, a BMW that understeers. That’s the real novelty.

The front axle suffers to transmitted all the power to the ground and therefore unusual vibrations are felt in the direction. But what bothers me the most is the lack of feedback from the road. In fact, I think BMW wanted to make the BMW Series 1 too much comfortable and therefore the M135i not very sporty. The M Sport elements added to the car make it dynamic (oh yes, it is), quite efficient, but not really sporty and even less fun. Any clue confirming which? The Active Sound Design (ASD) system that works very well. Indeed, in Sport mode, the system amplifies and modulates the sound of the engine for a sporty or even very sporty feeling. But it’s just an impression.

A BMW M135i that looks like a X2 (no way!)

In fact, I tried to believe BMW when they say it’s always a cool little hatchback. So it’s still a hatch but it’s become much less cool.

First of all, because it no longer looks like a small shooting break or a coupe with a big butt. Because yes, the original Series 1 was a UFO in hatch production. The only hatch that looked (even in the 116d version) like a strong little car, almost like a sports one. And we all loved that, it made all the difference with the others Volkswagen Golf, Renault Clio or Peugeot 208.

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BMW Series 1 E87 2007
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BMW Series 1 F20 2012

So why did they make it so “normal”? The answer is very simple: the BMW M135i shares the same traction platform as the infamous BMW 2 Series Active Tourer (don’t tell me you like this car?), but also as the X1 and X2. As a result, it almost makes sense that the 2019 BMW Series 1 (F40) looks a little like these other models.

Logical yes, but just as unfortunate. If I buy a Series 1 (F40) and especially an M135i it’s not to have the same car (or almost) as everyone else. Aesthetically, of course. I must admit that I still doubt a few micro-seconds when I see a new compact BMW. Series 1 and X2 are easily confused in traffic.

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BMW X2

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Let’s face it, the line of this new Series 1 is a little caricatured. It is 2.3 cm wider, 1 cm lower and curved on all sides. It looks like someone put a straw in the exhaust pipe and blew in it (tribute to David). The fenders, hood and bumpers have inflated, which unfortunately makes the whole thing lose a lot of dynamism. Not to mention the plastic exterior details that do not match the elegance of the interior. At the rear, for example, the shiny black air extractor seems cheap. We find something similar on the new Peugeot 208. Except that on the BMW, the exhaust is transverse, and it protrudes under the plastic cover.

#FunToDrive Score
BMW M135i : 73/100

I have always loved BMWs, especially their engines. Here it doesn’t change, the engine is a good one. The chassis is very well made, the undercarriages are also sharpened. The engineers did an excellent job, really. Everything is almost perfect, even the eco mode which, for once, is sober like a camel.

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So what’s wrong with that car? I have the impression that not all the pieces fit together perfectly. Independently, they are very good (except the front axle), but together they don’t really deliver what you expect from a sporty BMW. 

This M135i is a good car and even a Mr. Average very good car. It will be perfectly suited to all those who want a comfortable, practical, technological and fast car, but it will probably leave the classic BMW enthusiasts disappointed. Indeed, it may be a little too rational, it lacks the little touch of madness that has always characterized BMW cars.

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It’s hard to admit, but that’s the way it is. BMW tried to rationalize its small car to sell it better. So we can say that it’s an M135i for everyone, at least for those of them who are in a hurry. Let’s hope that the new BMW Series 1 will find its audience and that we will have, thanks to that, new BMWs completely crazy as we always loved them.

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BMW M135i : is it the one for everyone?

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