Same su­per han­dling, more grunt

BMWIS poised to lay claim to of­fer­ing the most pow­er­ful small hatch­back in New Zealand – the M135i. Rob Maet­zig heads to Aus­tralia for a pre­view drive

Kapi-Mana News - - MOTORING -

There was a lot of se­cret-squir­rel stuff go­ing down in Mel­bourne last week.

Each day it in­volved small groups of mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists be­ing picked up from the air­port and de­liv­ered to a seedy area in the no­to­ri­ous Dock­lands area.

Once the writ­ers stepped out of the ve­hi­cles, they were handed en­velopes marked Top Se­cret. Inside each was a grainy pic­ture of a man, with the cap­tion: ‘‘This man has the keys to your car’’. The man, found be­hind a nearby shed, handed over two sets of keys.

And the cars? The only two ex­am­ples in Aus­trala­sia of what prom­ises to be one of the most ex­cit­ing per­for­mance cars to en­ter the mar­ket in 2013 – the BMW M135i hatch.

The se­cret-squir­rel stuff was a fun way of over­com­ing the fact there are just two of the Bim­mers in this part of the world, which has pre­vented BMW from hold­ing a tra­di­tional me­dia launch for a larger group of jour­nal­ists. In­stead, each day four jour­nal­ists headed off on a drive into the in­land hills where they could try out the per­for­mance po­ten­tial of this lat­est ad­di­tion to BMW’s M lineup.

And that per­for­mance po­ten­tial is con­sid­er­able.

BMW has taken a stan­dard 1-Se­ries five-door hatch and shoe­horned a 3.0-litre twin-scroll tur­bocharged six- cylin­der engine un­der its bon­net.

This engine de­liv­ers 235 kilo­watts of power and 450 new­ton me­tres of torque: suf­fi­cient to get the M135i to the open road speed limit in a blis­ter­ing 4.9 sec­onds and on to an elec­tron­i­cally-lim­ited top speed of 250 kmh.

The engine is mated to BMW’s im­pres­sive eight-speed au­to­matic with Step­tronic and when the car ar­rives in New Zealand early next year it will re­tail for $85,900. Those wish­ing for a six- speed man­ual ver­sion will be able to buy one to or­der for $3100 less.

Both cars avail­able last week were au­to­mat­ics, which I was happy with. As own­ers of other BMW prod­ucts have dis­cov­ered, it is a lovely trans­mis­sion that op­er­ates in­tel­li­gently and quickly – whether pow­er­ing up those racer roads in the Vic­to­ria hin­ter­land moun­tains or de­cel­er­at­ing down the other sides.

The M135i’s M-spe­cific sus­pen­sion tun­ing means the hatch rides and han­dles well, helped by its 18-inch al­loys fit­ted with high­per­for­mance tyres.

The ve­hi­cle has in­di­vid­ual con­trol of the sus­pen­sion and damp­ing sys­tems as well as the spe­cific elasto- kine­mat­ics of the front axle, all of which con­trib­ute to pre­cise han­dling in a big-en­gined, rear-drive sort of way.

There are big brakes, too. The M135i is fit­ted with BMW’s M Sport brake sys­tem as stan­dard, fea­tur­ing four-pis­ton fixed calipers on the front axle and twopis­ton fixed calipers at the rear.

Vis­ually this ad­di­tion to the M Sport lineup doesn’t look that dif­fer­ent to a stan­dard 1-Se­ries, even though it is fit­ted with the full suite of M aero­dy­namic add-ons and sits lower.

But the hatch’s per­for­mance cre­den­tials quickly be­gin to show them­selves the mo­ment you step into the ve­hi­cle. Leather sports seats are very form-fit­ting and thank­fully have full lum­bar ad­just­ment and there are other visual clues in­clud­ing M door sills, an M leather steer­ing wheel and an­thracite roof lin­ing. When you start the M135i, put the trans­mis­sion into drive, and hit the ac­cel­er­a­tor, the big in-line six up front be­gins to growl a glo­ri­ous engine note as the car takes off.

The M135i is easy to drive in the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, but frankly there are other 1-Se­ries mod­els on the mar­ket to fill that role. This car’s forte is as a per­for­mance ma­chine.

The rear-driven 1-Se­ries is one of the best-han­dling small cars on the mar­ket, and this M ver­sion takes things up an­other level. It feels bal­anced, tracks very nicely, and it fea­tures BMW’s Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence Con­trol which of­fers four driv­ing pro­grammes, from very eco­nom­i­cal to very sport­ing.

Su­per-hot hatch­backs al­ways seem to work well in the New Zealand mo­tor­ing en­vi­ron­ment, be­cause they are com­pact enough to be at home on our of­ten chal­leng­ing lo­cal roads.

When the new BMW M135i ar­rives in four months, it will im­me­di­ately in­stall it­self as one of the best of that fleet, not the least be­cause it will be the most pow­er­ful. The con­cept of putting a big six-cylin­der engine into a small­ish rear- driven hatch­back is very ap­peal­ing.

Fast hatch: The M135i sports a 3.0-litre tur­bocharged six-cylin­der engine.

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