BMW is laying claim to offering the most powerful small hatchback in New Zealand - the M135i. Rob Maetzig heads to Australia to preview it.
There was a lot of secret- squirrel stuff going down in Melbourne last week.
Each day it involved small groups of motoring journalists being picked up from the airport and delivered to a seedy area in the notorious Docklands area.
Once the writers stepped out of the vehicles, they were handed envelopes marked Top Secret. Inside each was a grainy picture of a man, with the caption: "This man has the keys to your car". The man, found behind a nearby shed, handed over two sets of keys.
And the cars? The only two examples in Australasia of what promises to be one of the most exciting performance cars to enter the market in 2013 - the BMW M135i hatch.
The secret-squirrel stuff was a fun way of overcoming the fact there are just the two of the Bimmers in this part of the world, which has prevented BMW from holding a traditional media launch. BMW has taken a standard 1-Series five-door hatch and shoehorned a 3.0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged six-cylinder engine under its bonnet. This engine delivers 235 kilowatts of power and 450 newton metres of torque: sufficient to get the M135i to the open road speed limit in a blistering 4.9 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 250 kmh.
The engine is mated to BMW's impressive eight-speed automatic with Steptronic and when the car arrives in New Zealand early next year it will retail for $85,900. Those wishing for a six-speed manual version will be able to buy one to orderfor $3100 less.
Both cars available last week were automatics, which I was happy with. As owners of other BMW product have discovered, it is a lovely transmission that operates intelligently and quickly - whether powering up those racer roads in the Victoria hinterland mountains or decelerating down the other sides.
The M135i's M-specific suspension tuning means the hatch rides and handles well, helped by its 18-inch alloys fitted with high-performance tyres.
The vehicle has individual control of the suspension and damping systems as well as the specific elasto-kinematics of the front axle, all of which contribute to precise handling in a big- engined, rear-drive sort of way.
There are big brakes, too. The M135i is fitted with BMW's M Sport brake system as standard, featuring four-piston fixed calipers on the front axle and two-piston fixed calipers at the rear.
Visually this addition to the M Sport lineup doesn't look that different to a standard 1-Series, even though it is fitted with the full suite of M aerodynamic add- ons and sits lower.
But the hatch's performance credentials quickly begin to show themselves. When you start the M135i, put the transmission into drive, and hit the accelerator, the big in-line six up front begins to growl a glorious engine note as the car takes off.
The M135i is easy to drive in the urban environment, but frankly there are other 1-Series models on the market to fill that role. This car's forte is as a performance machine.
The rear-driven 1-Series is one of the best-handling small cars on the market, and this M version takes things up another level.
- Kapiti Observer