BMW 135i Coupé

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The 135i Coupé, like all its modern stablemates, isn't easy on the eye. But when you take that first bend, you'll believe it's a beauty

Specifications:
Model: BMW 135i Coupé
Price: £29,745 (range also includes 120d and 123d). On sale now
Engine: 2,979cc, six cylinders, 24 valves, two turbochargers, 306bhp at 5,800rpm, 295lb ft at 1,300-5,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 155mph, 0-60 in 5.3 sec, 30.7mpg official average, CO2 220g/km

Here are two BMW mysteries. What happened to the idea of a beautiful BMW? And why has the company never quite replicated the thrill of driving the very first BMW M3 (pictured below) – the four-cylinder, square-cut one from 1986? That car was one of the most enjoyable I have ever driven, yet it was also civilised enough to live with every day. Every subsequent M3 has been faster and more powerful but also bigger, heavier, more anaesthetised and the fun has gone.

Here, now, is the new 135i Coupé, which only maintains the mystery of BMW's abandonment of beauty; even the best-looking cars in the company's current range are only attractive relative to the really visually troubled ones. The original 1-series five-door hatchback had a curiously upright, dated nose full of clashing curves, while its flanks looked both dented and melted with that drooping sill line. The three-door looked tauter and tidier, but the style still sold a fine car short.

And the two-door coupé? Same again. The roof is shor-ter and there's a boot poking out at the back, but no one could call it beautiful. You're much better off inside it, driving.

This is the point of the 135i Coupé. BMW has not set out to do a remake of the original M3, but the broad parallels are there. Both are compact two-doors with powerful engines and rear-wheel drive, and neither is the 135i a bank-breaker compared with today's M3, whose number of cylinders, engine capacity and power are all double those of the original car.

Despite my misgivings at the start of this tale, one visual aspect of the 135i is positive: it instantly promises an enjoyable drive. Unlike most modern cars, the front wheels are pushed well forward with a minimal overhang ahead. That promises an even distribution of weight between front and rear wheels and an air of agility. So it proves.

It takes one joyful fling along a tight, twisting, preferably wet road to discover that this is where the best driving fun lurks within today's BMW range. The 135i flicks eagerly from one direction to another, instilling the confidence to take, in one accelerative movement, a bend on which a less capable car would be encouraging you to dab the brake. The BMW grips hard but it feels mobile and alive.

Its rear-wheel drive means you can tease it into a little powerslide as you exit a bend, all under easy control provided you haven't switched the stability system off completely. The electronic safety net is reassuring but hardly ever intrusive in road driving. It just adds to the fun by removing the fear and leaving you free to focus.

So there's a strong taste of that proto-M3, except that car didn't have any stability systems. Nor did it need them, thanks to its magical handling qualities and, compared with the 135i, its power deficit. But there's one way in which the new car still can't compete with the old: the steering.

The 135i, like many new cars, has electric power steering. It also has more power assistance than old cars had, as it's heavier. These factors combine to make the steering feel a little unreal at times, especially when returning to the straight-ahead position, which brings on a viscous resistance. The 135i will never match the delicacy and transparency of the old M3 in its steering, but in isolation it's good enough and very accurate.

And then there's the engine. It delivers up to 306bhp, and its 295lb ft of torque is available all the way from 1,300 to 5,000rpm, so it pulls like a good diesel from low speeds yet sings like the fine petrol engine it is at high speeds. Its two turbochargers are small – to give a faster response to the accelerator because small turbines can speed up more quickly – and its fuel is injected directly into the cylinders instead of the inlet ports. This allows the engine to run with higher compression, which is good for power and economy as injecting the fuel after the intake air has been compressed has the effect of cooling the air and avoiding damaging detonation (that rattle you sometimes hear when asking an engine to pull hard from low speeds in a high gear).

Being a modern BMW engine, it also has "efficient dynamics". This makes it, in some ways, a kind of passive hybrid. Once warm, the engine will stop when the car stops and the gear lever is placed in neutral, restarting the instant you depress the clutch.

The system also disconnects the alternator when the engine is under load, so energy isn't expended on charging the battery. As soon as you ease off the accelerator or apply the brakes, the alternator kicks back in to charge the battery – the energy needed to do this making the alternator shaft harder to turn and so adding to the braking effort. Should the battery run low, the alternator is re-engaged as needed.

So this very entertaining car – it can streak to 62mph in 5.3 seconds, and overtakes with little more than a flex of the driver's ankle – is also a greenish model that squeezes under the 225g/km gas-guzzler threshold.

The only dynamic snags arise from its taut, eager nature. It has BMW's M-sport suspension, which can make the ride choppy (but never harsh) on imperfect road surfaces. And the combination of a keen accelerator response and a springy driveline can make smooth progress hard to achieve until you have learnt the required lightness of touch.

But the six-speed gearshift is deliciously quick and precise, the brakes are firm and progressive, and it gives ultimate BMW enjoyment. More than a current M3? For me, yes. More than an original M3? That is harder to call. But for a new car, with all its safety features and greenness, to come close to a past master is cause for celebration.

I just wish it were a little more beautiful.

The Rivals:
Alfa GT 3.2 V6 Lusso: £26,400
Smaller, older-tech and less dramatic than the Brera, the Alfa GT is quietly elegant and very pleasant to drive. It uses the old, all-Alfa V6, and sales will cease soon.
Audi TT V6 Quattro: £29,365
Much less space in the back than BMW but great looks and a punchy, 3.2-litre, narrow-angle V6 engine. Not as much driving fun as BMW, despite four-wheel drive.
Mazda RX-8 High Power: £23,000
The 231bhp version of Mazda's rotary-engined coupé is the one to have. Four seats, half-size rear-hinged rear doors, smooth pace and fine poise add up to a singular car.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

    Systems Developer Technical Lead

    £65000 - £70000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

    Energy Engineer

    £25000 - £30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy En...

    Techincal Accountant-Insurance-Bank-£550/day

    £475 - £550 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Technical Accountant-Insuran...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment