BMW M135i: PH Fleet

The most powerful new hot hatch you can buy right now is the Audi RS3. All 400hp of it. Undoubtedly that is a staggering amount of go for a hatchback, but then £44,300 is no modest figure, either. I mention this because after its final round of updates (or is it? More later...) my M135i is now producing almost exactly the same power as the RS3. 390hp, in fact, up from 320hp.

You'll know the score by now. Earlier this year I bought a 30,000-mile BMW M135i for £17,500 and, working with renowned BMW specialists Birds, have been upgrading it bit by bit. We wanted to get the thing handling properly before we turned our attention to the motor, so the first jobs were to upgrade the suspension with a spring and damper kit that was developed specifically for the M135i by Birds, and then replace the open differential with a Quaife LSD.

Now it's the turn of the engine. According to the good people at Birds, the 'N55' 3-litre turbocharged six-pot can be wound up to almost 400hp with just a remap. The wick can be turned up even further, of course, but that causes fairly significant issues. "We did push one of these engines beyond 400hp," says company founder Kevin Bird, "but we found that the ignition timing was being retarded at maximum torque rpm in the higher gears. If you kept the throttle pinned for more than ten seconds you could also see that the throttle was beginning to close, ultimately triggering limp mode. We determined that the detonation protection was being triggered, and clearly the thermodynamic and physical limits of the engine were being exceeded at the level of boost required for 400hp plus. To get more power we would have to either open up the engine, or provide additional external equipment to increase the detonation limit of the engine." In other words, you would have to spend an awful lot of money, which really isn't the point of this project.

What I really like about the remap is that the basic character of the engine is completely unchanged. It hasn't suddenly become a truculent, boosty thing; the sharp throttle response is still there, as is the strong bottom end and the energetic top. It feels much the same as before, but more so. Along with 390hp the engine now develops a rather mighty 420lb ft of torque and when you put your foot down in any one of the higher gears you really feel it pull through the mid range with a muscularity that wasn't there before. Beyond 5,000rpm there's also a frenetic edge to the delivery that makes the car feel so much more urgent in a straight line.

What it doesn't feel is over-engined. It isn't as though we've shoehorned an unnecessarily powerful motor into an inappropriately small car. Instead, the engine now feels very well matched to the rest of the - much improved - chassis and drivetrain, which is exactly how I like it. I'm sure there'll be some people out there who want 500hp or more from their M135is and I've no doubt it can be done if you're willing to open your wallet wide enough, but on this occasion we've set out to build a cohesive and well rounded car, not an explosively fast one.

What I haven't mentioned yet is that the M135i is now more powerful than the 370hp M2, as well as a whole lot torquier. I haven't had a chance to run a set of acceleration figures yet, but all signs point to this car now being faster than the pugnacious little M2. The Birds remap, by the way, costs £2,249.

And that was supposed to be the end of our M135i project. But then, a few days ago, an email dropped in from Birds asking if I would fancy upgrading the car's brakes early in the new year. Well, it'd be daft not to, wouldn't it? The standard brakes have been just fine on the road, but I know from past experience that they aren't really up to sustained circuit work. The M135i will be around for a little longer than expected, then. Soon, it should stop just as well as it goes.

: BMW M125i
Run by: Dan Prosser
Bought: July 2017
Mileage: 36,100 total, 2,800 this month
Purchase price: £17,500
Last month at a glance: Remap boosts power to almost 400hp

Previous reports:
'You could get an M135i for that' - so we have!
Shockingly good improvement with new suspension fitted
Dan gets a dose of LSD and loves the effects

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (88) Join the discussion on the forum

  • HotRacer84 10 Dec 2017

    Sounds brilliant. This is making the m2 upgrade from my m135i seem less tempting! Would be nice to hear a bit more of a description about how the overall feel of the car has changed though.

  • MDMA . 10 Dec 2017

    £2249 for a remap? Er, no thanks.

  • nickfrog 10 Dec 2017

    Given how much publicity Birds are getting, I assume they only charged a fraction of that as this is extremely poor VFM indeed.

  • Alucidnation 10 Dec 2017


    Marketing that’s as subtle as a brick.

    And over 2k for a remap?


  • Escort3500 10 Dec 2017

    So are you going to tell us how much you actually paid for the remap Dan? smile

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