BMW M135i: PH Fleet

The BMW M2 is a very good car. It's even better now that the slightly loose body control that afflicted earlier versions has more or less been eradicated for the latest model year. It's difficult to say what more you could want of a small, four-seat performance coupe, actually. It's fast, it looks great, it's fun to drive and the cabin is more than decent. And that's all very lovely, as long as you happen to have £46,700 to spend on a new car.

Last summer I took delivery of a five-year old BMW M135i. A three-door with a manual gearbox. It had covered a little under 30,000 miles and cost £17,500 (you can pick up leggier cars today from £14,000). Over the following eight months we modified it step-by-step to see if we could make a better car out of an already pretty good one. If you've been following the reports here you'll know the score. Working with Birds, the BMW specialist that's been tuning and servicing Bavaria's finest for longer than I've been alive, we've uprated the suspension, fitted a Quaife limited-slip differential and remapped the engine to liberate more power and torque.

Our reasons for doing so were pretty simple. The M135i was always a very likeable car but it was an imperfect one. It had a number of shortcomings that we reckoned we could put right. For me, its biggest issues were wayward body control on the kind of cresting, undulating roads you'll find draped across every moor and soggy hillside in the land, as well as the lack of a locking differential. The first shortcoming was unsettling and eroded your confidence. The second made the car frustrating and a little unpredictable.

What we never consciously set out to do was build an alternative to the M2. But with the project now complete and the total bill standing at £24,000, I couldn't resist the comparison. For close to half the price, have we built something that merits comparison with BMW's baby M-car? On looks alone, no we haven't. The M2 makes the M135i look weedy and undernourished. But on pure performance terms, yes we have. In fact, our M135i is actually quicker than a stock M2.

Before we look at that any closer, though, let me briefly run through the modifications we made to our Estoril Blue 1 Series. The first thing we upgraded was the suspension. Out went the standard BMW equipment in favour of Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers, built to Birds' own specifications. The new kit lowers the front end by 10mm, while a pair of spacers add a little width to the front track. The springs are 10 per cent stiffer than the standards items, while the dampers have less rebound damping.

Next, we fitted a Quaife LSD, added a short-shift kit and modified the clutch pedal to have a weightier action. Finally, with the car handling the way we wanted it to, we remapped the engine to 395hp and 420lb ft. The full B1 upgrade package, as Birds calls it, costs £6,643, which includes fitting, VAT and a two year warranty. You can check back through the previous reports if you're after a fuller description of each modification.

Incidentally, the upgrades can be made individually. They also fit the M235i coupe, too, as well as the later models, the M140i and the M240i. (You may remember we had decided to upgrade the brakes as well. Unfortunately, the supplier wasn't able to deliver the parts in time).

So, have we inadvertently built an M2 killer? Well, not exactly. With a 25hp and 51lb ft advantage over the M2 our car is faster in a straight line - enough that you can appreciate the difference from behind the wheel - although with less firepower to deploy to the road, and wider tyres with which to do it, the newer car does have better traction.

From there it's punch and counterpunch. The M135i has better damping pliancy over bumpy, uneven roads. You feel the suspension working hard to allow each wheel to rise and fall with the road and keep the tyres pressed firmly into the surface, which gives you huge amounts of confidence. By comparison the M2 skips along a little, although this particular car is better in that respect than any other M2 I've driven. The M2 has its much wider tracks, though, and you sense the car's greater poise and stability in every turn, and appreciate its more positive steering.

So the M135i doesn't humiliate the M2, but that was never our intention for it. The bare facts are this: you could build one to this exact specification for around £20,000, and for that money you'll have a car that's faster than an M2 and almost as much fun to drive. Although it'll never look anything like as purposeful.

During my 9,000 miles or so with the M135i it never missed a beat and hasn't cost a penny to run beyond normal servicing. Oh, apart from the £360 I had to spend to get a particularly nasty three-panel key mark repaired. It averaged a little over 30mpg, which isn't at all bad given the performance it's capable of. Regrets? Only one. I wish we had started with the much better looking, slightly more expensive M235i.

2012 BMW M135i
On fleet since: July 2017
Mileage: 38,650 (delivered on 29,800)
List price new: £29,995 in 2012. Bought for £17,500.
Last month at a glance: Tricked-up M135i holds its own against M2

Upgrades (all prices fitted, including VAT)
Bilstein suspension upgrade - £1,865
Quaife LSD - £2,033
Short-shift kit - £532
Clutch pedal modification - £113
Engine management upgrade - £2,700
Cost of full B1 kit - £6,643

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
How far does power actually corrupt, then?

[Photos: Stan Papior]

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Comments (43) Join the discussion on the forum

  • si_xsi 27 Feb 2018

    For me, the main attraction of this package is not to have the same presence as an M2 but to have similar power and to do so under the radar, its the same ethos as my old 375bhp Supercharged Golf R32. But £2,700 for engine management upgrade rotate would be good to know the detail on what this actually includes, if its just a map, Birds are making a tidy profit! What checks are done to the engine on the second hand car before giving it more power? Impressed with the 2 year warranty though.

    Edited by si_xsi on Tuesday 27th February 14:27

  • Notanotherturbo 27 Feb 2018

    £6600 seems a lot for effectively an LSD, a remap and some suspension. Accepted they are good quality and well matched but you could buy high quality aftermarket parts for half that. Plus 1 series for me at least is the least attractive car BMW has ever made. Think I'd buy a 3 series with the same engine and add the some choice coil overs and a remap - and the good news is you can pretty much do that for just the price of the mods :0)

  • neil-1323bolts 27 Feb 2018

    6600 wow there must be a lot better ways to spend that amount of cash , what a rip off

  • Jual Mass Flywheel 27 Feb 2018

    I find it hard to swallow these prices. I just ahd a quickshift fitted t the Aero for less than £200. Even the garage commented on the quality of the work on the modified shift. As for the remap.............................

    Warranty or not they're having peoples trousers down I'm afraid. Sure the cars good though.

  • GregK2 27 Feb 2018

    Engine management upgrade - £2,700 yikes

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