BMW M135i review (2023): Munich’s hottest hatch driven

Curtis Moldrich

CAR’s Digital Editor, F1 and sim-racing enthusiast. Partial to clever tech and sports bikes.

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► The hottest 1-series driven
► Four-wheel drive, and a four-cylinder turbo
► How does it compare to the rest?

Forget EVs, the most challenging, competitive patch in the car industry right now is the hot-hatch segment. A never-ending arm’s race between the Germans, the Japanese and now the South Koreans, it’s a place where petrol is still king – and where only bhp has risen more than prices. And it’s in this arena that the new BMW M135i steps foot. 

BMW’s new flagship is a different animal to before; rear-wheel drive and straight-six power is gone, replaced by a four-wheel drive system and torquey four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo. Purists will have already stopped reading, but the more curious will want to know just how BMW’s new hot-hatch concept performs. So just how exciting is the new BMW M135i, and does its extra grip and refinement make up for a possible loss of excitement? Keep reading to find out. 

Is this the top dog? 

Yes, in BMW terms, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing it. Unlike more identifiable model lines such as the Audi RS3 and S3 – or the Mercedes-AMG A35 and A45 – the M135i takes some decoding if you’re not familiar with BMW-speak. This is the most technically proficient 1-series you can buy right now. Like the Volkswagen Golf R Mercedes-AMG and Audi RS3 – and unlike the Hyundai i30 N or Honda Civic Type R you’ll find it often put up against – the M135i delivers powers through both axles. 

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Power-wise, it fits somewhere in the middle of the pack. Munich has shoehorned in a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged unit with 302bhp (a moment’s silence for the departed straight-six) and that puts it between the Type R’s 325bhp and the Hyundai’s 276bhp – but well short of the ridiculous AMG A45’s 415bhp and the Audi RS3’s slightly less ridiculous 394bhp. 

BMW M135i rear

What’s it like to drive? 

We drove the M135i on B-roads and town and found it to be an incredibly accessible bit of kit. 302bhp might be a middling amount of power in the ridiculous world of hatches now, but the BMW’s all-wheel drive system lets you use every single hoof. It’s no slouch on the spec sheet or in reality; the M135i feels every bit as quick as its 4.8 second 0-62mph sprint. And you can use that speed. 

On dewy B-roads, the 1-Series flagship gives you overwhelming confidence. There’s not much movement at the back of the car, and it’ll have you pinning the throttle earlier and harder as you get used to the Beemer’s forgiving dynamics. In Sport mode the BMW’s eight-speed ‘box does pretty much what you’d want – though using the semi-automatic paddles dials the excitement up a notch – each upshift comes with a parp and kick up the lower back. 

You’ll enjoy more complex bits of road with the BMW; the M135’s steering is quick but precise, and slotting it wherever you like on the road can be very entertaining. There’s not much body roll, and that doesn’t really come at the expense of ride – on motorways the M135i is quiet and comfortable. 

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The BMW tends to eat up whatever’s in front of it, and hands the driver just enough engagement. 

BMW M135i interior

And inside?

The BMW’s interior is everything you’d expect from Munich in 2023. Driver-focused and snug, it puts iDrive front and centre – here on a 10.3-inch touchscreen – and BMW engineers have happily given us two input choices; iDrive as well as touch. If iDrive isn’t your thing, the BMW will also let you pair up your smartphone and use Apple Carplay or Android Auto. 


In isolation the BMW is a great buy. The styling isn’t great, but you don’t see it when you’re behind the wheel, and inside it feels like premium piece of kit. It feels both engaging and refined – a true all-rounder.

BMW M135i static

However, it doesn’t give the total adrenalin rush hot hatches should. Sure, the M135i’s feels planted but adjustable when compared to the VW Golf R or the AMG A45 – but it still lacks the character of the Audi RS3’s fruity five-cylinder. And compared to cheaper, front-wheel-drive cars like the Hyundai I30 N and the Civic Type R, the BMW feels like safe pair of hands.

If that feeling of constant adjustment and driver engagement is what you’re after, we’d suggest something more Hyundai i30 N-shaped, but if you want a car balanced enough to enjoy B-roads and still have composure around town and motorways, the M135i is worth a look. 


Price when new: £41,185
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder turbocharged, 302bhp, 331 lb ft, 35.8mpg – 38.2mpg
Transmission: Automatic eight-speed Steptronic Sport, all-wheel-drive
Performance: 4.8 seconds 0-62mph, 155mph, 179-168g/Km
Weight / material: 1600 (dry) kg
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4316/1799/1434mm

  • BMW M135i front, moving
  • BMW M135i three-quarters
  • BMW M135i wide view
  • BMW M135i review (2023): Munich's hottest hatch driven
  • BMW M135i review (2023): Munich's hottest hatch driven
  • BMW M135i rear
  • BMW M135i interior
  • BMW M135i rear
  • BMW M135i review (2023): Munich's hottest hatch driven
  • BMW M135i review (2023): Munich's hottest hatch driven
  • BMW M135i static

Curtis Moldrich

CAR’s Digital Editor, F1 and sim-racing enthusiast. Partial to clever tech and sports bikes.

About Tim Pollard

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A tech enthusiast and content writer, has a knack for simplifying complex technical information. He enjoys researching and writing about the latest gadgets and technology trends. He has a degree in computer science and is experienced in creating content for tech blogs and websites.

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