BMW sensibly left well alone when it came to updating the M135i model, one of the stars of the range and our favourite of the BMW M Performance Vehicles to date. Detail changes here and there, plus the worthwhile facelift, make it one of the most enjoyable hot hatches money can buy. Shame adaptive damping isn't standard-fit though.
In the metal 4/5
The previous BMW M135i was the best-looking model in the 1 Series line-up, and nothing has changed on that front. The 'M Performance Vehicle' comes with all the same visual updates as the rest of the facelifted range, such as more attractive headlights, larger kidney grille openings and those distinctive rear lights, but it gets its own makeover that, arguably, has a larger effect on its appearance. A deep front bumper is punctured by large air intakes and the mirror caps are finished in 'Ferric Grey', as are the model-specific 18-inch alloy wheels. At the back there's also a new bumper, with a darkened lower section and a black chrome exhaust outlet on each side. Buyers of the M135i also get a few exclusive colour options.
Inside, there's plenty to remind the owner that they've bought the M135i, including bespoke door sill plates and the car's name in the instruments. 'M' styling is found in the tactile leather steering wheel and gear lever, while there are decent sports seats and unique trim as standard too.
Driving it 5/5
Technically, there's little different about the new M135i. The charismatic turbocharged six-cylinder engine remains a defining point of the car, as does its rear-drive chassis. Peak power is up marginally, to 326hp, while the engineers have tweaked the engine calibration to give the car even more aural appeal. Notably, when the engine is warm, on start-up it will rev gratuitously for a brief second before settling into an idle, while in Sport and Sport+ modes an artificial 'overrun burble' has been added. It's quite subtle really and this engine already sounded great. It goes like stink too, mostly feeling like a big-capacity naturally aspirated unit, instead of one relying on turbocharging. The way it relishes revs enhances that feel.
And the chassis is more than up to the job. Upgraded brakes are perfectly modulated, the standard Variable Sports Steering feels direct and makes the car easy to place, while the damping is sublime. There's a 'but' and that's because the test cars all came with adaptive damping, which is a costly option. It means the M135i can comfortably cruise on the motorway in Comfort mode, yet wheel and body control can be ramped up a notch in the Sport and Sport+ settings. It's remarkably effective and we'd really like to try this car with its standard passive damping before giving it five stars.
Our test cars were also, refreshingly, fitted with the standard six-speed manual gearbox and this adds to the joy of driving this car. For 2015, BMW has shortened the shift so it's more satisfying to use, and while the clutch is a little 'springy', overall it really enhances the appeal of the M135i. Shame then that only 25 per cent of all buyers of this model opt for it.
What you get for your money 3.5/5
There's no other word for it: the BMW M135i is expensive. The three-door manual model costs €52,390 on-the-road, clearly showing that this is not in the same league as any of the current front-drive hot hatches. Audi's TT is probably its closest rival until the new RS 3 Sportback arrives, but that has four-wheel drive... Thankfully the M135i gets enough extra equipment to help justify its premium price, but it's also expensive to run. Only those that truly get the M135i will commit to all this.
There's been a lot of talk about the forthcoming BMW M2 Coupe, but everybody in BMW we asked about the 2016 range-topper remained tight-lipped. Some suggested that the M135i and M235i are doing so well it'd be silly to tempt buyers away with another option. Nonetheless, we fully expect to witness the M2 unveiling later this year or early in 2016. It's highly probable that BMW will fit a development of the M3/M4's twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine, though will the M division allow its 'baby' to outgun big brother? Unlikely. Then again, rumour has it that the water injection system found in the M4 MotoGP Safety Car will soon find a home in a road-going model...
As far as we can make out, the rear-drive BMW M135i hatch, fitted with a manual gearbox, has no directly comparable rival. It makes for a rapid, fun and high-quality alternative to the front-drive hot hatch brigade for those that appreciate the engagement of a rear-drive chassis and have a little more money to spend. Nothing has changed on that front really and the updates make it more appealing than ever.