BMW’s M division has been catering to the top end of the sports car spectrum for decades, and with their high-revving overtly sporty demeanour there has always been a fair gap between these M cars and the top mainstream models. Not a company to leave a niche unexplored, BMW introduced the M Performance Automobile range to cater for those looking for some of the M car goodness in a more day-to-day useable package.
Enter the M135i, introduced in 2012 with a 316bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six engine, and M fettled suspension, it straddled the space between the standard 1 Series offerings and the fully fledged M models. Keenly priced and with scintillating acceleration it was well equipped to take the fight to the very competitive small performance car sector.
Since its inception the M135i has remained a performance bargain, with rear-wheel drive dynamics and that great engine it is still a unique package in a world of front-wheel drive four-cylinder alternatives.
Which one to buy?
Looks may be subjective but there is no denying the allure of a straight six engine allied to a well-balanced rear wheel drive chassis. While the M135i is well priced it is also relatively sparsely equipped as standard so with so much choice on the second hand market it is worth looking for one that has the extras you desire.
The M135i was launched in three and five-door body styles with an option of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions. The majority of cars were specced with the ZF automatic gearbox, which is smooth in operation and improves fuel efficiency. The manual cars do offer that extra level of driver involvement however.
The mid-life face lift introduced a small 6bhp power hike and a refreshed exterior with new head and tail light units. A totally revised infotainment system meant that satellite navigation became standard and a number of internet reliant services were available such as live traffic updates and music streaming. Notable extras to look for on used examples are the adaptive M sport suspension, cruise control and comfort access feature. Some European markets have the option of an xDrive M135i which offers added security in slippery conditions, although there are no plans to offer these models in the UK at present.
Driving enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that a limited slip differential was a dealer fitted optional extra for face lift models, although finding one of these cars especially in manual guise will be a challenge. Aftermarket diffs are available too.
Without quite having the polish of a ‘proper’ M car at the ragged edge, the M135i is still a well-balanced machine and more than dynamic enough for its less track-biased role. The added practicality of the five-door body style and the traffic friendly eight-speed auto make it a great choice for the family man, who can’t quite settle for a diesel estate just yet. Facelifted models don’t differ much dynamically from the earlier models, so the choice between the two comes down to how important the latest infotainment and tech systems are to your needs.
New BMWs are available with a Service Inclusive or Service Inclusive Plus plan, which cover basic servicing for the first five years or 50,000 miles, transferrable between owners. the majority of second hand models would still fall under this plan if chosen when new.
Performance and specs
Engine 2979cc, 24-valve DOHC in-line six-cylinder
Power 322bhp @ 5800-6000rpm
Torque 332lb ft @ 1300-4500rpm
Top speed 155mph (Limited)
0-62mph 5.1 seconds
Fuel consumption 35.3mpg
Gearbox six-speed manual/eight-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
• The M135i has proved to be a reliable car and no recurring issues have been noted just yet. This may be due to its relatively young age, however the 1 Series platform is generally trouble free, so running costs should be very reasonable for a car with this level of performance.
• The turbocharged engine has proved to be a reliable unit and is used in a variety of applications throughout the BMW range. These engines can use oil though, and without a physical dipstick, keep an eye on the electronic readout for when top-ups are required.
• Many tuning companies offer ECU ‘chipping’ with the promise of liberating lots of extra horsepower. Be wary of these, as warranties can be invalidated and the extra power can shorten engine component lifespans.
• Rear tyres tend to wear out rather quickly under enthusiastic driving however in general use few owners had any complaints other than a few buckled alloys from potholes.
• The adaptive suspension option is highly recommended, as over rough road surfaces the standard setup tends not to absorb bumps very well making the car feel unsettled. Run-flat rubber exacerbates the problem so standard performance tyres can help in this regard. Just remember to carry some tyre sealant with you.
2012: M135i Introduced with 316bhp turbocharged inline six cylinder engine. Available in three and five-door body styles, with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission.
2015: Facelift carried out with new head and tail lights, now featuring LED lighting. It also got a 6bhp power hike and a small improvement in fuel consumption. Revamped infotainment and Internet connectivity options available, as well as the option of an LSD.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.babybmw.net - Forum for 1 and 2 series BMWs
Summary and prices
The earliest 2012 models start at £19,000, and mileages tend to be lower than average. While there is not a huge amount of choice compared to lesser models, most M135is have been well cared for. Pre-face lift cars from late 2014 are £25,000 and up which does not seem like a massive saving over the £32,000 of a new car, however once you factor in the value of the optional extras a realistic price for a modestly optioned eight-speed auto M135i is closer to £36,000. In light of this the pick of the bunch has to be one of the earlier models, as long as you’re not after the latest in-car tech.
Undercutting its key rivals on price while offering a unique drivetrain package, the M135i is a very desirable combination of practicality and pace, with just enough of the BMW M car DNA sprinkled on top to make it an enjoyable B-road companion.
Words: John Tallodi