What are you driving?
The BMW M140i Shadow Edition. It's essentially a run-out version of the high-performance 1 Series, which - as a range - has just received its second facelift in order to try and keep it fresh until an all-new model arrives some time in 2018. So, having been updated in 2015, BMW has tweaked the light clusters, bumpers and the dashboard design for the 2017MY to inject a bit more life into the old warrior. In terms of cabin architecture and connectivity, it's pretty much what happened recently to the 2 Series and its M240i range-topper also.
The Shadow Edition trim, available on both M Sport cars and this M Performance hot hatch derivative, adds some darkened styling to the bodywork and a few extra toys. For the M140i, that means black kidney grilles, black exhaust finishers, black door mirrors, black inserts in now-LED headlights and black rear LED light clusters. Lots of black, then. Oh, there can be even more, if you choose to have the 18-inch M light alloy wheels in Jet Black, as on our test car, but Orbit Grey is also an option. Finally, the Shadow Edition benefits from standard-fit items that aren't on the regular M140i, which are rear Park Distance Control, a Harman Kardon uprated sound system, sun protection glass and cruise control.
The premium for all the shadowy exterior tinting and these four toys is €2,300 over and above the €55,210 of the regular three-door manual M140i. You can go and add the eight-speed Sport automatic transmission and a set of rear doors to BMW's hot hatch, too, which would push the price of a self-shifting five-door M140i Shadow Edition to €58,915. Our three-door test car was a bit shy of that figure, but the auto is worth having because it cuts the 0-100km/h time by two tenths to 4.6 seconds, while also improving the economy and emissions - the latter, usefully, by enough to move the auto M140i into the lower Band D bracket, saving you €170 per year road tax over a manual.
Name its best bits
The chassis, the chassis, the engine and then the chassis. Again. Swamped by a plethora of 300hp+ front- and four-wheel-drive hyper-hatch rivals, it's sometimes easy to forget that BMW does the only rear-wheel-drive performance car in this class - and it's also very easy to think its RWD set-up denies it the ultimate in cross-country pace, thanks to its relative lack of traction compared to something like a Mercedes-AMG A 45. But nothing could be further from the truth.
While you treat the throttle of the BMW with respect in the lower gears when exiting tighter curves, you can nevertheless get on the power far earlier than you might imagine thanks to enormous levels of mechanical grip and oodles of useful feedback. You'll feel the balance of that crisp, eager chassis through the base of your sports driver's seat, you'll feel the bite of the front tyres through the rim of the (slightly too fat) M Performance steering wheel, you'll love the instant, zingy throttle response and the meaty, trustworthy brakes slick, seamless action of the automatic transmission and the chunky, precise thrown of the manual gearbox and the way the pedals are set up perfectly for heel-and-toe... and you'll absolutely adore the way the mighty 3.0-litre turbo engine hauls clean and hard from anywhere on the rev counter from idle to redline, singing its soaring, sweet, six-cylinder song as it goes. Sure, there are empirically quicker hatchbacks out there, but there are very few, if any, that can out-handle an M140i when it's on a charge. What a sublime little thing it remains, even into its dotage.
Anything that bugs you?
Even with optional Adaptive M Sport suspension (€1,238.91), the ride is always firm on the M140i Shadow Edition. In Comfort mode, it will just about traverse a lumpen country road at speed without bump-steering uncomfortably, but Sport+ is just too much for most rutted tracks; you'll need to either fiddle with the custom settings or simply avoid any tarmac that's less than glass-smooth. This doesn't make it ideal for crawling around the sort of crumbling, cruddy roads that you'll find in urban areas, obviously.
And while we've kind of grown accustomed to the 1 Series since it first shocked us with its less-than-alluring appearance in 2004, it remains a car that you couldn't exactly call handsome. Mineral Grey metallic paint (€908.55) and the Shadow trimmings don't transform it into a swan, although there's certainly a mean purpose about the BMW's appearance and its stance. Let's leave it at 'distinctive' for the M140i's looks, then.
And why have you given it this rating?
It might be getting on a bit, and it might be shown a clean pair of heels by any four-wheel-drive hatchback worth its salt once the weather turns foul (which is depressingly often here in Ireland), and it might have suspension that's not the most compliant for our road surfaces... but the BMW M140i remains a very, very special car. It's unique in its class for having rear-wheel drive and we won't just praise it for that for some ludicrous claim that you can oversteer off every wet roundabout going (as most sane people will never kick the back end out on the roads); we praise it because that balanced beauty of a platform underneath the M140i makes it one of BMW's most rewarding cars for keen drivers at any price. Some accolade, especially from this company.
Problem is, we know you're just going to buy a 120d M Sport Shadow Edition instead, due to the price and running costs of the M140i.
I want to know more
If there is anything specific you'd like to know about the BMW M140i Shadow Edition that we've not covered, feel free to send us a question via the Ask Us Anything page.
Audi RS 3: has improved immeasurably in its 400hp guise and you can even have it as a Saloon, as well as a Sportback, but the BMW is still the defter machine.
Ford Focus RS: a simply fantastic contrivance in terms of driving thrills, the Ford lacks for a little of the BMW's star quality when it comes to interior finishing and prestige.
Honda Civic Type R: outlandish looks will not be to all tastes. Possibly one of the finest front-wheel-drive, turbocharged chassis ever made, however.