2017 BMW 1 Series M140i 3.0 turbo petrol from UK and Ireland
Performance bargain with real character
Brake squeal in reverse (cured itself after about 5,000 miles).
No other faults.
It's exceeded every expectation.
The B58 turbo six pot is the real star of the show, and I've never known another engine that seems to adapt to your mood or your driving style so effectively. Cruising about, it's silky smooth and pretty quiet. In Sport+ with the exhaust flaps open, it howls and growls like all the best BMW sixes, and the performance it delivers is fantastic. Any gear, any revs, it just takes off like a scalded cat. It hasn't used a drop of oil in 29,000 miles, or so much as misfired, and is returning, with a bit of motorway use admittedly, a staggering 30 MPG average. People whine that it doesn't have the character of the old NA BMW engines, and maybe it doesn't, but it's in a different league to the four pot units in the competition. To get anything that even competes with it, you're looking at the five pot in the RS3, but that car, at real street prices, costs half as much again.
And that's the other thing with the M140i. It really is a bit of a performance bargain. They start at £30k, but the deals on offer mean you'll pay a lot less than that. I specced mine as a 5dr auto, with adaptive suspension, Harman Kardon hi-fi, Professional Media, heated seats and privacy glass, and paid just £27k. The car lists, in this spec, at £36k. Everything else that even compares price-wise has four cylinders and AWD, and just doesn't offer the same character or entertainment from a driving perspective.
My car has the ZF8HP 8 speed automatic, and it's a brilliant match for the engine. Unlike the dual clutch systems offered by competitors, it is lag and snatch free at low speeds, and entirely consistent in its behaviour. In comfort mode, the only way you notice a gear change is by the revs changing. In Sport+ mode, it bangs the next gear in with a satisfying kick in the back. It's not as fast shifting as, say a DSG, but it's close, and the response and consistency moving off from rest, or when parking or manoeuvring is much better, being a proper torque converter based automatic.
Any car with 335 BHP going through the rear wheels needs a degree of respect, and of course it moves about a bit when you push on, but the other surprise with the M140i is that it isn't intimidating or difficult to drive in the slightest. In Comfort mode, the throttle response is quite soft, and the linear response of the engine, and the high grip levels mean your gran could easily drive it down to the shops without it ever feeling like it's going to spit her off the road.
Traction in the dry is phenomenal, and you can launch the car hard with only a gentle scrabble from the rear end. In the wet, you need to up your game a little bit, and it will think nothing of lighting up the rear tyres at 60 mph if you plant your foot with the systems relaxed (or off), but you quickly learn to be a bit sensitive with the throttle, and to moderate your inputs. And that's another thing I love about it. Yes, the AWD competition provides much more consistent all weather performance, but the M140i actually demands that the driver adapt what they are doing, and work with it. I can drive this car better now than I could the day I picked it up. You can learn everything about a Golf R or Audi S3 in a single 20 mile thrash, but the BMW rewards patience and learning in a way none of its competitors do.
It's not perfect, by any stretch. The damping is quite crude (cheap?), and making progress over uneven surfaces can produce an unpleasant, high frequency vertical jiggling motion as the damping starts to reach its limits. Admittedly, you have to be pushing on quite hard to see this, but it is probably the biggest limitation of the chassis. It's a shame, because the balance of the car is really lovely. The big engine doesn't make the car feel nose heavy, and it turns in really well. Adjusting the power balances the car in the corner in a way that you only get with RWD, and powering out gives a lovely sense of the rear end tightening the line, and really digging in and driving the car out of the corner. In the tighter stuff, the open diff (LSD is a dealer fit option) can make the rear end behaviour a little inconsistent out of tight corners. Sometimes, breaking traction out of tight corners results in a slide, sometimes you just get the inside rear wheel spinning uselessly. Sometimes it starts as one thing, and then turns into the other. Adding an LSD is highly recommended, and would be a big improvement.
The other area which lets the car down is the interior. Mine has the Coral Red Dakota leather which lifts the ambience a bit, but the dash looks plasticky and dated compared with the competition from VAG and Mercedes. There's nothing wrong with it functionally, and it's well screwed together, but it does feel its age. Driving position is good though, with a huge range of adjustment, and I love the fact that BMW has stuck with its trademark big, simple, clear instruments, back-lit orange at night, that might not look cutting edge, but are very easy to read at a glance. It's just a shame they didn't see fit to provide a coolant temperature gauge, let alone oil pressure or temperature. But you do get gimmicky power and torque meters in the iDrive which you will play with once or twice, then never use again.
You can forgive all this though when you drive the thing. Entertaining chassis, big hearted engine with bags of character, more than enough performance to get you locked up, and remarkably low running costs for what it is. I really do think these are the bargain of the moment, and what it offers is a completely different take on the hot hatch compared with all of its competitors. The only RWD option, and the only one with a six cylinder engine, it really stands out in a world of four cylinder AWD options. What's more, given the replacement is going down that road too, I think they will become future classics.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 20th December, 2018