Andrew Chesterton has broken free of the city confines in BMW's M140i, a compact hatch combining five door practicality with six cylinder turbo performance. His road test and review includes specs, fuel consumption and a final verdict.
In these traffic-clogged and camera-festooned times, it takes a special kind of car to make you actually want to fight your way out of the CBD in search of some twisting tarmac on which to play a thrilling game of demerit-point bingo with the local constabulary.
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A potent blend of premium and punch, the brand's pint-sized performance car feels bigger, better and brawnier than most of its more accessible, non-premium rivals. To park one in your driveway, however, will require a not-insignificant $64,900 investment.
That money puts the M140i into pretty weird space; above the VW Golf GTI and Ford Focus RS, but significantly cheaper than its fellow performance Germans, like the Mercedes-AMG A45 ($77,900) and the Audi RS3 ($78,616). In fact, its only real price rival is the slightly slower Audi S3 ($62,900).
Launched here with the rest of the updated 1 Series range in October 2016, the M140i fills the hole vacated by the now-defunct M135i, and wears a $2k price premium over the car it replaces – an increase BMW explains away with a modest power boost and more than $3,500 worth of bonus standard equipment.
The lightest brush of the accelerator results in a startling leap forward, like it’s always straining on its leash
Predictably, it sits at the very top of the 1 Series tree, above the entry level 118i and 118d, and the mid-spec 120i and 125i in BMW’s smallest model range.
Whichever way you shake it, though, the M140i is a lot of German bang for a comparatively small amount of bucks. So is it as good as it sounds on paper?
While German rival, the Mercedes-AMG A45, wears its performance credentials out in the open with huge and shouty wheels, grille and body styling, you need to look a little closer to uncover the M140i’s hidden potency.
At a glance, it looks like a well-optioned 125i, with its subtle front end and side skirts that lead to a shapely but understated behind. Even its lightweight 18-inch alloys sit sweetly in its wheel arches, barely demanding so much as a second look at a traffic light. In fact, only its blue, M-stamped brake calipers and burbling twin-tipped exhaust hint at its performance credentials.
In our opinion, though, the M140i isn’t the best looking performance hatch on the market, having fallen victim to the 1 Series’ design language that we think leaves it looking a little too long in the front and high in the back.
Inside, our test car was fitted with BMW's understated black-on-black-on-black colour scheme, with the carbon-fibre-look (and worryingly easy-wearing) trim element the only splash of colour in the interior. But every critical interaction point melts to the touch, and every switch and dial lives exactly where you’d expect it to.
Price and features
The M140i rules the 1 Series roost, so you can expect a healthy level of standard equipment.
Outside, you’ll find lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels hiding blue M Sport brake calipers, a twin-tipped and black-chromed exhaust and a full complement of understated styling extras including side skirting, black high-gloss 'kidney' grille slats, and tiny rear roof spoiler. The road ahead is illuminated by BMW’s top-spec lighting system, which includes adaptive headlights made up of 14 individual LEDs for high and low beam.
Inside, expect dual-zone climate control, proximity access, leather-trimmed seats that are heated in the front and a nav-equipped 8.8-inch multimedia screen paired with a (very good) 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo. BMW has also updated its iDrive system to make it more intuitive (we already liked it, and the updates have done nothing to dampen that enthusiasm).
Under the bodywork, BMW has fitted the full range of M-stamped goodies to the M40i, including adaptive suspension that’s been dropped by 10mm, performance brakes and a four-mode (Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+) customisable drive program system.
Engine and transmission
While most in the hot hatch world make do with a four-cylinder engine, BMW has shoehorned a turbocharged, 3.0-litre straight six into the M140i’s engine bay, generating 250kW at 5500rpm and 500Nm from an accessible 1520rpm.
That power is fed through an eight-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is a no-cost option) and sent to the rear wheels. Engage the as-standard launch control, and BMW says you’ll be clipping 100km/h in 4.6sec.
Fuel use is pegged at a claimed/combined 7.1L/100km, while CO2 emissions are a claimed 163g/km.
Heavy rain had turned the roads into a slippery ice rink of standing water - a recipe for disaster in a bristling rear-drive performance hatch - as we pointed the M140i's nose out of the city in search of some driving roads worthy of its attention
But despite the dodgy weather, it’s here where the M140i shines. The performance hatch sails dangerously close to annoying in the CBD, where it feels so tightly wound that even the lightest brush of the accelerator results in a startling leap forward, like it’s always straining on its leash. But find the right stretch of road and those annoyances suddenly seem petty.
A combination of standing water and fear kept us from exploring anywhere near the BMW’s limits, but nothing we were brave enough to throw at it unsettled it in the slightest. There’s so much useable, accessible power that you can’t help but smile as you teleport from one bend to the next, snapping downward through the gears, exhaust popping merrily, before standing on the hugely effective brakes as the BMW turns in with joyous precision.
It’s not perfect - we’re convinced second gear is too short to be of any use, near bouncing off the rev limiter no matter how much you slow before shifting down, the body styling is a little drab and it can grate your nerves in the city – but damn if it’s not fun.
The M140i interior is a small but well-appointed space, at least for up-front passengers, who will share two small-ish cup holders and get more space for bottles in the door pockets. Backseat passengers are less fortunate, with exactly zero cup holders between them and door pockets so slim you’d be lucky to post a letter let alone store a bottle.
The back seat is a comfortable proposition if you only use the two window seats (also home to the M140i’s two ISOFIX attachment points), but less so if you squeeze a third passenger in the centre position. The raised tunnel running front-to-back means your middle passenger will be sitting with a leg split to either side of it.
Luggage space is ample, offering 360 litres with the rear seats in place, climbing to 1200 litres with them folded flat.
The M140i gets the best of the range’s available safety gear as standard kit, including six airbags (two front, head airbags in the front and rear and curtain airbags that cover both the front and rear seats) along with a reversing camera, adaptive cruise, front and rear parking sensors and the usual traction and brake assist systems.
BMW’s Driving Assistant also arrives as standard, which adds AEB, lane departure warning and pedestrian warning to a pretty comprehensive safety package.
The M140i is covered by BMW’s three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and falls under the brand’s 'condition-based servicing' program, with on-board computers alerting you when a service is needed, though a trip to a service centre will be required at least once per year. The cost of a basic service is pegged at $1340.