A pirate walks into a bar and says, “Arrrgh, I needs me a drink!” and the bartender replies, “Do you know there’s a steering wheel in your pants?”. And thus begins one of the more sophomoric pirate jokes of all times. But seriously, why would anyone with a 135i want to trade up for BMW’s 1 Series M, code named ‘Pirat’?
Well, it depends on what are perceived as the strengths and weaknesses of the 135i. Out of the box the 135i is a very competent grand touring car, not a sports car. It has an absolutely brilliant six cylinder in-line engine which can (and should) be coupled to a smooth shifting six speed manual gearbox.
The six cylinder’s wide flat torque curve is a joy, just a prod of the throttle away. Spend time in a high horsepower, high-revving, low torque car (like an RX-8) and you begin to understand the value of low end torque on a street car. What makes BMW’s high torque motor so good is the technology that allows it to be a rather small three liter six cylinder with the grunt of a much larger displacement V8.
The chassis of the 135i is taut but the suspension is biased toward daily driver. The softer bushings, steel suspension bits, and runflat tires don’t help much either. At extra extra-legal speeds (those around the 3 o’clock range of the speedo), the stock 135i doesn’t feel as secure as it does at slightly lower speeds. It’s not something that anyone on public roads in the US should be worried about though. But again the suspension could stand a bit of tweaking to improve its dynamics, especially if the 135i is doing track days (especially track days at Road America).
And the relatively skinny front tires (compared to the rears) adds a dose of understeer when pushed. That’s not helpful during corner entry. And then the lack of a good limited slip differential isn’t helpful on corner exit. A really good limited slip allows the back end of the car to be placed exactly where the driver wants it with timely inputs of right foot on the throttle. The old 2000 Mustang Cobra R was an absolute revelation to me when powering through 180 degree turns on an autocross course. It simply allowed me to step the rear end out and hold it to within millimeters of where I wanted it with throttle adjustments.
The steering feel of the 135i is OK but not world class by any estimation, and the runflat tires don’t help here either. But the 135i is a great little grand touring car, and it would be a shame to sacrifice a lot of ride comfort in the name of boy racer sportiness. If I want a race car stiff ride dressed up as a four place touring car, I’ll take a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VIII thank you very much.
Given that, BMW has addressed almost all of my handling wish list with the new 1 Series M. They’re added the appropriate suspension hardware that reduces weight and should improve the tactile sensations returned
to the driver. They’ve ditched the runflats in favor of wide Michelin ultra performance tires, which provide some of the best feedback of any tires. And hopefully the new shoes will banish the understeer endemic to
the 135i. They’ve also placed the wonderful M3 limited slip diff on it (and it works not unlike the diff in the Mustang Cobra R). And just to be safe, they’ve upped the engine power and allowed for a dollop of
additional torque under load.
While some may pine for a more radical solution, the bulk of 1 Series M buyers will be happy with a car that can conquer two lane highways with a degree of comfort and yet won’t handle like a bag of marshmallows on
the track. They’ll be looking for a car that displays a scalpel’s edge to the 135i’s knife edge.
All that’s left is to drive the thing, and that’s what’s driving me nuts – I can’t wait.