The price goes against it but the BMW is the better driver’s car despite some worthwhile recent updates for the Benz.
A base price over $60,000 brings expectations beyond a Golf GTi for hot hatch buyers, and $62,900 does not shape up well against the cheaper Benz. But the BMW approach is a classic for the class, jamming a big engine into a small body. Equipment has improved over time and includes a rear-view camera in all 1 Series variants.
The ugly jutting nose of the early 1 Series has been smoothed — Aussie-born stylist Calvin Luk did it in Germany in his first major job for BMW. It’s a worthwhile facelift that makes the car look less dumpy, while the cabin is open and airy with a big infotainment screen and adjustable sports seats in the 135. As an M-Sport model it’s not as in-your-face as the full-on M2 hatch that’s coming soon.
The turbo six was a superior engine to begin with. The 3.0-litre’s outputs increase (now 240kW/450N). With the eight-speed sports auto and rear-drive it clocks just 4.9 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint. Power delivery is linear and impressive with incredible flexibility, though the claimed 7.9L/100km, a reasonable thirst, will head skyward if you get keen.
BMW is not as generous with airbags as Benz and the 1 Series lacks some of the latest active safety gear found on its rival. Still, it’s an impressive overall package that earns five stars from ANCAP. And the M-Sport suspension, electronic differential lock and bigger M-Sport fourpiston brakes give the car a greater safety margin for keen drivers.
It’s an old-school rear-drive experience that’s still incredibly rewarding and fun. The M135i can take a little taming but when you move to the Sport+ settings and uncork the full 240kW it’s a ripsnorter. The suspension is firm but not jarring, the brakes are great and the eight-speed auto is sweet. It’s also easy to park.