OUR YEARS IS a long time in the highly competitive world of the hot hatch, so BMW has treated its pocket rocket to a variety of mechanical upgrades to help it compete with newer rivals, such as the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R and Seat Leon Cupra 290.
The compact hatchback’s name has been changed from M135i to M140i, and it’s been treated to a more powerful, all-new six-cylinder engine. Other changes include tweaked suspension and a re-worked eight-speed gearbox. Producing the same 369lb ft as the BMW M2, the M140i promises to be quick in a straight line, but you can’t help but wonder if the minor updates elsewhere are enough to keep it up with rivals.
Fast and flexible
The M140i is capable of a remarkable turn of speed. Plant your right foot, and providing you have enough traction, the sprint from 0-62mph can be completed in just 4.6sec – that’s 0.3sec quicker than the M135i However, in the real world, it’s the engine’s flexibility that impresses most BMW has done a great job of eliminating turbo lag, resulting in immediate acceleration. The M140i pulls away cleanly from below 2000rpm, opens up in the mid-range and keeps on revving towards its 7000rpm redline. This linearity was a key characteristic of the M135i so we are pleased to find that it’s not only been retained, it’s also been accentuated in the M140i.
BMW’s eight-speed automatic gearbox feels perfectly suited to the smooth six-cylinder engine. It’s quick, responsive and capable of making multiple downshifts in one go, giving the driver even greater control. It also has longer gearing than before, enabling the M140i to return impressive official fuel economy of 39.8mpg. Dynamically, the M135i was engaging to drive, but when pushed hard on a bumpy B-road it was all too easy to find the limits of its suspension. To rectify this and give the M140i better body control, BMW has treated it to a set of stiffer dampers.
Based on our first drive, the changes appear to have worked. On our tight, twisty test route the M140i was more composed than a M135i when making quick direction changes. Granted, it still lacks the point-to-point pace of a Mercedes A45 AMG or Volkswagen Golf R, but that’s because the M140i is rear-wheel drive. The steering is on the light side (even in Sport mode), and doesn’t offer much feedback, but it has a more natural feel than that of the Focus RS, and is very responsive turning in to corners. There’s a bit of body roll, but the M140i is generally composed through bends. In addition, the optional adaptive dampers give it one of the best rides in this class.
Subtle on the inside
Like its predecessor, the M140i has a faultless driving position. There’s plenty of adjustment in both the seat and steering wheel and an abundance of leg and head room. In the rear of the five-door model tested here head room is equally impressive. However, despite the front seat backs being scooped out, taller passengers will find knee room tight.
Equally, anyone using the middle-rear seat will need to have short legs. Design wise, compared with other hot hatches, the M140i has an understated interior. The sports seats are fairly plain, the M-Sport steering wheel is minimalist and the dash layout is simple and clear. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics and the high-quality switches operate with a pleasingly well-damped action.
Can’t match newer rivals?
We really like the M140i because its engine makes it more thrilling at normal road speeds, even if it isn’t ultimately as sharp as its best rivals. Factor in a well-designed interior, impressive ride quality and handsome styling, and its price of £32,405 looks very reasonable.