If driver involvement and excitement is what you value above anything else in a hot hatch, then the BMW M135i has been the go to option since it was launched in 2012. This moderately updated version has received minor mechanical tweaks and a well overdue exterior makeover, but is it enough to keep the likes of the VW Golf R and Audi S3 at bay?
Against such rivals, the BMW is able to play a number of trump cards. Firstly, its more direct rear-wheel drive chassis means it keep its USP in the hot hatch arena and whereas the Audi and VWboth use 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines, the BMW comes with a sonorous 3.0-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine up front.
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For the revised model, BMW has transplanted the uprated 322bhp engine from the drop-top M235i, so there’s 6bhp more than before without any affect on the claimed 35.3mpg economy figure.
The engine remains turbocharged, but you wouldn’t know it. Pile on the revs and it spins progressively all the way to 7,000rpm with ever-increasing shove towards the top end. The maximum torque of 450Nm is available from only 1,300rpm, so a boot of throttle at crawling pace in third gear will see you pick up pace without breaking a sweat. And it sounds fantastic. There is some exhaust trickery going on, with noise pumped into the cabin via the speakers but its very well executed.
As standard, BMW will fit three pedals and a six-speed manual gearbox and we see little reason to change that. Okay, so the auto is marginally quicker from 0-62mph at 4.9 seconds – a 0.2 second advantage over the manual – but there’s a far greater sense of connection with a gearlever in your left hand. The shift may be a little springy and a touch too light but on the whole it’s accurate and works beautifully with the rear-wheel drive chassis.
And the faultless setup extends beyond rear-wheel drive and a manual gearbox. Weight distribution is perfect 50:50 front to rear, so no matter how enthusiastic you are with the throttle the M135i never feels uncontrollable or out of its depth. It hits an absolute sweet spot with the amount of power, adjustability and balance, enabling you to really use all it can offer without fear of the back end breaking away.
We could do with some more feel through the steering wheel – a common complaint with modern cars - but the chunky leather clad rim sits perfectly in your hands. On longer drives its forgiving and placid nature when you’re just sailing along with the adaptive dampers set to comfort is a real plus, too
It may have the ability – much like the rapid Golf R – to transform itself from hair-raising hatch to comfortable cruiser but the VW is certainly the more capable when it comes to transporting people. The BMW only offers space for two in the rear, while the versatile Golf can easily accommodate three.
On the outside, slimmer LED headlamps and tidier M-specific bumpers make the M135i far easier on the eye too, although a pair of oversized rear lamp clusters can make it look a little ungainly from the rear.
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