What's it about?
The BMW 1 Series Coupe is reminiscent of Munich's idea for the original sports coupe - compact and infinitely chuckable.
And in the 135i Coupe, BMW seems to have stumbled across another formula. The 1 Series design has been somewhat problematic from the start. The original hatchback, which greatly resembles a high-top sneaker, was either loved or hated. When it arrived, the three-door hatchback looked marginally better, but as far as proportion goes, the 1 Series Coupe and the derivative 1 Series Convertible are easiest on the eye.
Of course, one cannot go as far as saying the car is beautiful although it looks a lot better in the metal than it does in pictures.
Granted, it still has that rather droopy front end, but the rear seems to have sprouted from a different machine altogether with its tight shoulder lines, beautifully sloped roofline with the signature Hofmeister Kink and elegantly crafted tail lamp clusters.
Incidentally, this is the end of the 135i road users would most likely be seeing, so becoming acquainted with it may not be a bad thing.
It weighs less than the 335i with which it shares its award-winning engine, the twin-turbocharged straight six, but that in no way means it’s a "lightweight". 135i is a premium offering and therefore comes with all the safety and convenience items one would expect from its bigger siblings. It's also rather pudgy...
Since its exterior styling is not the 1 Series Coupe's best attribute, moving into the cabin at least gets you one step closer to driving it.
The interior is not earth shattering, but instrument arrangement is logical, switchgear falls to hand easily and fit is good.
There is ostensibly space for four, with the rear bench taking the form of two individual seats, but don't be fooled - these seats are best reserved for the most adventurous toddlers only. Don't even bother trying to squeeze a regular-sized person in there for anything more than a 5 km duck if you're not keen on paying chiropractors' bills.
Under the bonnet
As the name implies, 135i makes use of the impressive twin-turbo three-litre straight six with direct fuel injection first seen in the 3 Series Coupe.
It's the first time forced induction has been used on a BMW sports coupe since the legendary 2002 Turbo from the 70s. Compared with its single turbocharger, the 135i's powerplant uses two smaller turbos to spool up quicker and practically eliminate turbo lag.
The engine develops 225 kW and a diesel-like peak torque delivery of 400 Nm from as low as 1 300 all the way to 5 000 r/min. It's tractable too, responding with a thrilled surge whenever the throttle is prodded, even when cruising in sixth gear.
An automatic gearbox is offered on 135i, but why anyone would opt for that is a mystery. The slick short-shifting six-speed manual is a delight and the heavier, more laboured clutch action really gives the 135i that little sports car feel.
And with the firepower in its arsenal, one would be justified in believing it’s a pucka sports car. 135i blazes from 0 - 100 km/h in a claimed 5.3 seconds and has a top end limited electronically to 250 km/h.
On the road
The fairly long wheelbase matched with short overhangs means that this car's very stance suggests its preparedness to pounce at the slightest invocation.
Power delivery is smooth, and rather than being an overly aggressive fast car, the 135i just grunts, squats and surges towards the 7 000 r/min-red line. It's very, very entertaining.
Unfortunately, steering feel on the test unit was not as sharp as one has come to expect from BMW products. This could be put down to over-assistance from the power steering unit, especially at speed when many drivers would prefer having to use a heavier hand, but this did little to detract from crisp turn-in when required and impeccable grip levels.
In typical BMW fashion, weight distribution is near 50/50 and this translates to car that is balanced, agile and perfectly composed. It's not too fond of rippled road surfaces, but this slight discomfort is rewarded in fast sweeps where the 135i responds with an eerie tautness and minimal body roll. It also has a very potent high-performance brake system that uses six-piston calipers at the front and two-pistons at the rear.
It does without a limited slip differential, opting instead for a system that uses the brakes to control the degree of wheelspin.
The 135i comes standard with an M Aerodynamics package, which means it also has a sports suspension to give it a very firm ride.
The 135i is extremely focused as a small sports coupe, but those concerned about this car's impact on the environment need not be overly anxious. This model, along with the rest of the 1 Coupe range, subscribes to BMW's Efficient Dynamics principles of providing reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emissions when compared with engines of a similar size and output.
Which means you can go really quick, and consume a few oil wells when the mood takes you, but in a greener way.
It's hard to trace a competitor for BMW's 135i on paper, and in the metal, this car is neither practical nor efficient. However, if you want to enjoy one of the hottest engines around at its most "accessible" price entry point, this is it.
Granted, this engine is probably most at home in the 3 Series, but that will mean having to fork out upwards of R530 500.
But starting at R375 000 in the 135i, you'll be entertained by M-like performance at under R400 000 and you'll have a car that's quick but also extremely refined. That is, if you can live with "that face" and the limited space in the rear.