x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Road Test: BMW's 135i is a tempting beast

BMW's latest pocket rocket is so good, it could tempt David Booth to spend his own money.

BMW's 1 Series M Coupe might have an awkward name, but it's a car that goes back to the company's roots. Courtesy of BMW
BMW's 1 Series M Coupe might have an awkward name, but it's a car that goes back to the company's roots. Courtesy of BMW

I hate indecision. I like mine to be a simple world of black and white. Be it the world of politics or automobiles, I despise the confusion that comes with ambivalence. Life burdens us with hundreds of decisions every single day; vacillation just makes the day that much longer.

Which made my recent waffling over my favourite car a few months ago mildly disturbing. Having tried to decide upon my current favourite car - or at least my current favourite car that I might afford - I tested the contenders, and, after much deliberation, found myself unable to decide between Mini's Cooper S and the BMW 135i. So in a completely atypical decisison, I simply declared the whole process a tie. For anyone looking for a definitive winner (other than BMW, of course, since both cars are built by the Bavarian firm) from a usually decisive voice, it must have been a disappointment.

BMW has, however, ended my suffering. It did so by simply offering up an M version of its top-of-the-line 135, the awkwardly named 1-Series M Coupe. For a few enthusiast magazines from England, there's disappointment that the M Coupe's upgraded engine, rather than being a bespoke fettled item from the M department, is simply a semi-garden-variety twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre liberated from the Z4 iS. Despite an upgrade from single-turbo'ed 300hp to twice-turbocharged 335hp, the end result is seen - at least to some - as somehow lacking.

What a load of rubbish! When did 335hp in a 1,525 kg package become anything less than exquisitely sporty? Have we lost all sense of reality? To put it into perspective, the 1 Series M Coupe (and, yes, that does seem an awkward moniker compared to simply calling the little beast an M1, but there has already been an M1 and that was a mid-engined financial disaster built in conjunction with Lamborghini between 1978 and 1981) tops out at "only" 250kph because BMW has limited it so. It also scoots to 100 kph in less than five seconds. By any measure, that's more than enough oomph.

It certainly has enough to get me seriously - as in way, way too - sideways at Monticello Motor Club's decreasing radius Turn 9; my optimistic decision to turn the DCS traction control system completely off suddenly seeming very foolish.

Indeed, the M Coupe's power delivery is deceiving. Unlike the M Division's traditional, naturally aspirated engines that need much sound and fury before they start producing tire-shredding horsepower, the M Coupe's twin-turbo 3.0L starts acting wild as low as 3,000 rpm. By then there's 500Nm available, and while those 500 torques may be available only for short-term overboost, it's more than long enough to get the car completely sideways. As to the assertion - again, credit some of those "enthusiast" books - that plumbing turbochargers into the exhaust system reduces the glorious engine note common to the M Division's cars, I beg to differ. Yes, the 1 Series M Coupe's howl is muted compared with the glorious sound of one of the early M3's screaming sixes, but I'll take even this somewhat muffled version of BMW's iconic inline six over the decidedly less-attractive note of the M5's V10, even if it is allowed full bellow.

The M Coupe further reminds me of earlier M3s (remember that the current M3 is powered by a V8 rather than the aforementioned inline six) by being available in six-speed manual format only. Not automatic transmission. Not dual-clutch, self-shifting SMG thingie. Slick-shifting with pleasantly short throws and a relatively light clutch, this latest M product is a throwback to the era of the classic "driver's" car.

The same applies to the chassis, which, unlike some M products, is wonderfully devoid of electronic adjustability. You can alter throttle response at the touch of the button and enable a more "liberal" interpretation of traction control, allowing some sliding (and, of course, switch it off as I foolishly did), but the suspension damping remains unaltered. But thanks to M3 suspension (including the M3's five-link rear suspension and M Variable Differential) and steering underpinnings, adjustability is simply not required. Indeed, thanks to the 1-Series' shorter wheelbase, the M Coupe may actually be more agile than the pricier M3. Those flogging (or, in my case, abusing) the car on a racetrack will find the suspension a little softer than other full-blown M cars, but in even the most spirited driving on the street the 1-Series M remains taut and precise.

The same simplicity applies inside the M Coupe. Yes, there's an iDrive system, but it is a blessedly simple version. There's also a welcome minimisation of the buttonry on both the dashboard and steering wheel. Gadget geeks may lament the basic nature of the interior, but for those whom complication just distracts from the art of driving, it's more than welcome.

This is the spiritual descendent of the original six-cylinder E36 and E46 M3s. While current M cars have certainly pushed the performance envelope, I, for one, prefer the simplicity of this new M Coupe and its return to BMW's roots. This is the car I would definitely own were I - Gasp! Shock! Horror! - suddenly forced to pay for my own car.

At last, the dithering has ended. A decision has been made.