THE newest generation of the brilliant BMW 1 Series features many exciting changes, but are these changes enough to raise the bar set by the previous version. and more importantly, what do the new 118i and M135i have to offer.
At the top of the 1 series ladder is the M135i. It discards a few of its well known traits and replaces them with something new, including giving the M140i badge the boot and ditching the turbo 6-cylinder for a boosted inline 4-cylinder.
The biggest switch is neither of these things though, rather it’s the change from rear wheel drive to not front wheel drive, but to an on-demand all-wheel drive system, thanks to xDrive. That makes it an Australian first in its hatchback class.
Starting at $63,990 (plus on-roads), the M135i now competes with both the Audi’s S3 hatchback and the Mercedes-AMG A 35, respectively. It’s kid brother, the 118i doesn’t gain AWD, and is instead a front-wheel drive offering.
It misses out on some of the feature set seen in the M135i too, but is reasonably priced for what is essentially the entry level BMW. Priced from $42,990 (plus on-roads), that puts it up against the Audi A3 and the Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Like all BMW variants in Australia, the 118i is kitted out with M Sport gear, so internally and externally, both cars are almost identical. The most notable differences are the satin-finished grille and big M Sport 4-pot callipers on the M135i.
An array of BMW M additions and options also adorn the sportier variant, including M Sport sports seats and seatbelts, tailgate automation and high beam assist system.
And although the 118i sports similar seats, an M-badged sports steering wheel and the signature M badge on the fenders, it feels and drives very differently to the M135i, but at the price difference between the two, it’s clear why.
Under the bonnet, the M135i is powered by BMW’s new 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, making 225kW and 450Nm. Official fuel consumption figures according to BMW put it at 7.5-litres/100km, but we could only manage 9.1-litres/100km in the M135i.
That’s possibly due to the fact that it was endless fun to drive. 0-100km/h in a mere 4.8 seconds ensuring the new generation of M135i is not too far behind the previous generation M140i, with a gap of just two-tenths of a second to the 100km/h mark.
The 118i on the other hand feels exactly as you’d expect a turbocharged 1.5-litre 3-cylinder to feel, with 103kW and 220Nm. Consumption in the 118i is rated at 5.9-litres/100km. We were close to the marker in the 118i, with a 6.2-litres/100km.
Off the line, (even in Sport mode) the 118i is slow to react with a significant amount of time lost between stomping on the accelerator and the car actually taking off, with 0-100km/h at 8.8 seconds. The lack of power in comfort mode makes it feel pedestrian.
The transmission in both variants feels amazing, and the dual clutch 8-speed in the M135i is quick, responsive and tears through the gears. Along the way, it lets off little pops and crackles through the exhaust, during downshifts.
The M135i also benefits from the wheel-mounted paddles, unlike the 118i which doesn’t receive the same luxury. But the dual clutch 7-speed in the 118i is also quick and responsive, with a more refined, comfortable drive, and smoother, quieter gear changes.
Overall, both cars drive like a dream, with the M135i benefitting greatly from the xDrive system, which allows you to flat-foot through corners without fear of understeer or oversteer.
Inside, each car is equipped with the latest in BMW’s technology, sporting digital clusters, BMW’s signature 10.25-inch infotainment unit and an array of buttons for climate control, audio and driving modes.
The M135i also came equipped with a Harman/Kardon sound system. Unfortunately though, the interior is where we feel BMW falls short, compared to its competitors.
You can sit in a brand new BMW 118i today and tomorrow sit in a brand new BMW X6. They’re two completely different classes of vehicles, yet the interior in both is very similar. There is little to no difference between the two.
And that’s regardless of the fact they are worlds apart in terms of performance, class and luxury. We know this because we’ve also tested the 2020 BMW X6 xDrive30d.
Boot space has been upped to 380-litres in both variants, with a 60-40 split, and there’s additional storage spots in the front of the cabin. Our M135i came with the automatic tailgate and it isn’t until you use it often that you realise how much more convenient it is.
Legroom isn’t a problem, and that might surprise some, considering both cars look quite small and cramped from the outside. But they’re both able to fit people over 1.8m tall fairly comfortably.
Both M-Sport front seats also come with cushion extenders and electronic adjustment with positioning memory. Unfortunately, the 118i only receives the extenders with manual adjustment available.
BMW are no strangers to the latest in safety technology either, and both cars come equipped with six airbags, attentiveness monitors, dynamic stability control and traction control, as well as a plethora of other safety features.
First and foremost, we think both are great cars, but we feel an obviously bias towards the performance oriented M135i. That said, if you’re not looking for power and just want a luxury hatchback that’ll serve for daily driving purposes, the 118i is more than capable.
The M135i definitely fulfils the hot hatch category requirements with its size and performance, but appeals more to the enthusiast rather than your average person. It’s an average hot hatch, and while not considerably special, it’s definitely not bland.
It delivers similar performance to its predecessor, while also being safer thanks to the addition of the bigger M-Sport brakes and also more practical, mostly thanks to the comfort-access features, keyless entry system and automated tailgate.
BMW offers a 3-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and a 5-year/80,000km service package that starts from $1,465. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Our 2020 BMW 118i M Sport and M135i were supplied by BMW Australia. To find out more, contact your local BMW dealer. Pictures courtesy of J_Hui Design/Photography.