facelift rather than an all-new car, the updates focused on exterior styling, standard equipment and efficiency gains throughout the range. For the M135i there's another 5hp to match the M235i at 326hp. Though no official chassis updates have been announced, BMW's PR man was keen to stress the constant evolution of products; the engineers "were always looking to make improvements", indirectly implying a little tinker here or there underneath. Interestingly too the eight-speed ZF auto has received a few tweaks, with a greater difference in behaviour between Comfort and Sport, faster shift times and Predictive Shift, using the nav to ensure the right gear for the upcoming corners.
And what of that updated exterior styling? We're hardly expert judges but in the metal the 1 Series works far better than in the pics. The 2 Series inspired front is a vast improvement and though the rear lights still look a little large they're not as bad as you may have first feared. Plus it can't be seen on the inside, right?
Six of the best
Unsurprisingly given the relatively minor revision, the M135i's USP and key appeal remains as it was before: the magnificent powertrain. Immediately the noise makes it feels more special than its four-cylinder rivals, and even in the face of new additions it feels very fast. Second, third and fourth are very closely stacked in the eight-speed auto, only enhancing the sense of indefatigable acceleration. The improvements to the ZF gearbox have made it yet better still, with very nice calibration too. Sport doesn't immediately kickdown at the merest brush of the throttle and Comfort is happy to hold gears if it senses some enthusiasm. The shifts are sharper than ever. It's a very hard gearbox to fault.
However, regardless of any secret unofficial updates, the chassis still can't match the superb engine and gearbox combo. There's a disconcerting vagueness to the steering which makes grip levels hard to gauge at both ends with suspension that struggles to keep the car composed when pushing on. The M135i pitches and floats where you really need it to settle, even with the optional adaptive dampers at their stiffest. It's just doesn't inspire an awful lot of confidence, which is frustrating given that it feels quite benign when grip does subside. Appropriately enough it's the very opposite of a Golf R down a challenging road - the VW can be driven with almost reckless abandon and feels most enjoyable like that, while the BMW needs a far more considered approach with lower limits, at least on a greasy British road.
There was also opportunity to drive a manual car, an especially rare thing with just 20 per cent of M135i customers opting for it. To be honest, it's not hard to see why. The pedals are offset and it's the usual fairly notchy shift, while being less efficient than the auto. It makes the car feel considerably less frenetic, the pace of acceleration slowed slightly and the pauses between gearchanges of course much more noticeable. But it seems to fit the M135i's sort of mini-GT nature quite well, and there's still a great deal of satisfaction to deciding your own gears.
the M235i, until then. Just FYI the limited-slip diff is £2,520... The M135i isn't perfect, but it is interesting, unique and still very good value despite the Golf's arrival. Keep it on your (very) hot hatch shortlist.
Engine: 2,979cc six-cylinder, turbocharged
Power (hp): 326hp@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332@1,300-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds (4.9)
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
Weight: 1,505kg (EU including 75kg driver, +20kg for auto)
MPG: 35.3 (NEDC combined, 37.7)
CO2: 188g/km (175g/km)
(Figures in brackets for automatic)