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BMW 135i M Sport Coupé

Click to view picture galleryThere’s downsizing and then
  there
s downsizing for performance.
  BMW
s 135i Coupé may be compact
  but it packs a knockout punch.
  So is it, effectively,
an M version
 
of the One Series?

IT'S NO LONGER FINANCIALLY SUFFICIENT TO BE A PRODUCER OF A 'STANDARD' RANGE OF CARS. In today's cut-throat automotive world, most manufacturers try their hands at everything, in all categories; going out of their way to expand the target groups to include everyone and their grandmother. Cars today are no longer built with the passion of yore but rather with an accountant sitting next to the designer telling him how to draw the car to maximize profit.

BMW is a perfect example of having a car in almost every segment. And while the new X6 may draw fire for being an unnecessary foray into extreme niche marketing (the award for this should, perhaps, go to the Hummer H2), BMW has always been successful in motorsport — and very generous in returning the knowledge gained in such activities to the general public through the brilliant technology engineered into their cars.

Which is why BMW currently builds some of the best cars on the planet — albeit lacking that crucial final two-seater to crown the marque's current sports car line-up. There has been much talk of reviving the M1 but, seriously, can't they do better than that? Having a 30-year-old car as inspiration for future projects seems too retro, and BMW can certainly do better than that.

Which is where the BMW 135i Coupé comes in. More than addressing the foregoing, it is here to put smiles on faces. In particular the faces of those with trouser pockets lined with gold — because the 135i is expensive for such a small car. Not that cost has ever dissuaded buyers of BMWs to shy away from spending lavishly on their 'babies'. I don't think any automotive marque has owners so fearsomely protective of their brand as BMW owners. Even the rabid advocators of Fox News' reputation as a "fair and balanced" news source come off as tolerant in comparison.

The most famous engine belonging to BMW is their inline six-cylinder 3.0-litre — the powerplant that earlier this year won the International Engine of the Year award for a record-breaking fourth year in succession. In addition to powering the 135i, it's also to be found under the bonnet of the 335i and the X6 xDrive.

When hearing the news that BMW would mount two turbochargers to this magnificent piece of engineering, my bet is that many BMW aficionados choked on their morning Red Bull! Completely unnecessary, I might add, as the turbos actually make the car more fuel efficient (21.7, 30.7 and 40.4mpg respectively for town, combined and extra-urban cycles) while at the same time generating seamless amounts of power. With one turbo covering the lower register and the other the higher, maximum torque can be found from an incredibly low 1,300rpm.

With 306bhp available in this compact coupe, there is a tremendous capacity for speed. Effectively, this is really an M version of the 1 Series as it is only half a second slower to 62mph than the new M3 (5.3 seconds vs 4.7). In anybody's book, that's pretty fast. Add to that the familiar BMW layout of front-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive and you have a very entertaining vehicle. BMW have clearly prioritised driving over passengers and luggage since much space is taken up by the transmission tunnel, making the car a strict four-seater.

Due to cost constraints, BMW has not equipped the 135i with a mechanical limited slip differential. Not a problem — when using all 295lb ft of torque to reposition the car in a bend, the result is decidedly appealing and the tail happily breaks into a slide. It should be noted that the car needs a serious amount of provocation before this is possible as the grip is enormous and the Coupé's rigidity makes for very little body roll.

There are many factors at play here. Certainly you would want the best possible car money can buy; especially so when laying your hands on a 135i, which is more or less equivalent in price to a 525i (£29,755 vs £30,865). This mean you're not merely looking for transportation; you want a quick, sporting car with 2+2 capabilities — and, yes, the 135i is very quick in a straight line. It's also very fast in bends, too, although that 'ultimate driving machine' feeling of immediacy, accuracy and fun is never wholly there.

To make a somewhat unfair comparison with Porsche's Cayman S: despite the fact that the Porsche is down on both power (11bhp less at 295bhp) and torque (44lb ft less at 251lb ft) against the 135i, it is the Cayman that is so much more fun to drive. Granted Porsche's 'junior' 911 is 50 per cent more expensive (£44,250 vs 30K for the 135i) but if the BMW were shod with less rubber then we could definitely be on to something.

The 135i is comfortable on long cruises, easy to get about town in, the 370-litre boot will manage luggage for four on a long weekend trip and it is as silent as any modern-day luxury car. This is a car that wants to do it all, but in the process it automatically excludes itself from a lot just by trying its hand at everything.

Having trouble following my reasoning? Well, it's not a sports car, nor is it a GT. And neither is it a luxury limousine. It has some of all these qualities but it never quite excels at any one thing, which is a shame. Now if BMW could just make an M1 from the current 1 Series it would, in my opinion, be the sports car missing from the BMW line-up. Imagine giving the 1 Series a CSL work-over with carbon-fibre roof, plastic boot lid, cardboard boot floor and Alcantara-trimmed bucket seats. And with the AirCon and radio as optional extras. Dynamite!

The 135i Coupé is certainly not cheap to buy, especially when fully kitted-out — tick most of the optional equipment boxes and you can easily add another £9,000 to the price. But then BMWs are supposed to be expensive; that's part of the appeal. I don't imagine potential Ferrari owners argue about their Ferrari bags being an optional extra (and just as expensive had they bought them direct from Louis Vuitton!) when they're about to hand over a six-figure cheque for one of Maranello's finest. Because for big-spenders if it costs extra, then it means you get a 'better' car — and therefore enhanced bragging rights over anyone with the same (but not so well spec'd) model.

Design-wise, the 1 Series can look rather good — if you can avoid looking at it directly from the front or side. Angles are definitely easier on the eyes as that distracting concave contour running along the door sill is then no longer the optical focus.

However, inside the cabin it's a proper driver's car. I love the feature of the dash slightly turned towards the driver; more car manufacturers should learn from that. With a plush blend of fine leather and top-dollar 'toys' like active steering, powered glass sunroof, pop-up navigation screen, USB connection for iPod (a pricey £250 extra) and lots more, the only thing letting on that you're in a small car is the size of it.

If you think my words have been overly critical and that I don't like the 135i Coupé, then think again: I do. No car is perfect — it only seems that way when you're in love. And when tasked with evaluating a truly sporty BMW, one has to remain as un-infatuated as humanely possible. The 135i Coupé deserves — or rather, demands — no less. — Jens Trulsson


More of Jens' car reviews can be found at thecartorialist.com.

BMW 135i M Sport Coupé
| £29,775
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
Overall MPG: 30.7mpg | Power: 306bhp | Torque: 295lb ft
CO2 220g/km | Insurance group 17