When it comes to blending in to the crowd, the BMW is as stealthy as our six hot hatchbacks get. You’d have more joy spotting a sheep within a flock than finding the M140i in a busy supermarket car park, as it looks much like any other 1-series. For many drivers, that will be part of this car’s appeal: it doesn’t shout “boy racer”.
However, beneath the surface its ingredients are quite special. There’s a 3-litre, straight-six cylinder turbocharged engine and power is sent to the rear wheels.
On paper, this makes it a serious performance car, one capable of firing from 0-62mph in less than 5sec. But what’s it like when you climb into the hot seat?
Driving enjoyment 6/10
Let’s start with the positive points. Up to a point, and on the road, the M140i is a covetable thing. In this group of cars, you’d fight for the keys to take it home, so you could listen to the smooth snarl of the six-cylinder engine and marvel at the way the car accelerates so effortlessly.
It has lots of torque low in the rev range, which means it hauls like a big rig. From just 1,500rpm, the motor sends the BMW surging along the road, and its engine note is more cultured than the four-cylinder buzz boxes here.
The ride comfort is pliant and our crumbling roads, which can become tiresome in the likes of the Focus RS, are absorbed by the suspension as you potter about at everyday speeds.
The optional (£1,600) eight-speed Steptronic is a traditional automatic gearbox. It’s smooth in normal driving conditions, but when the car’s being driven hard, the response times – especially in manual shift mode – can’t match the dual clutch systems of the Audi and VW.
Unfortunately, once you call on all of the 335bhp engine’s performance and ask the chassis to keep up, the M140i starts to unravel. Its steering is light and devoid of feedback – unusual for a rear-wheel drive car. The rear wheels struggle to maintain traction. And when you switch off electronic driver aids, it becomes clear that the lack of a limited-slip differential severely hampers the M140i’s roadholding, as wheels spin too readily and the back slithers with the anger of a snake that’s had its tail stepped on.
Its body-control goes to pieces (even with the optional £515 adaptive suspension) and the soft brake pedal and lacklustre stopping power raise the driver’s heartbeat for all the wrong reasons. BMW might point out that it isn’t a true M car, rather it’s an M Performance model, but even so, in this company the M140i fails to live up to its promise.
Interior and practicality 7/10
It doesn’t feel like BMW’s designers went to town on the M140i’s interior. It’s obviously a BMW, which in many respects means it feels pleasingly mature and free from gimmicks, and can rub shoulders with the RS3 and Golf R. But equally it could be mistaken for a 116d hire car.
The seats are the least sporty of all these cars – flat and not especially supportive – and other than the sports steering wheel there’s little that catches the driver’s attention.
However, like the Golf, this is one of the few hot hatchbacks available in a choice of three or five door body styles. Our test car was a three-door, so it would be unfair to compare the back seat space. However, the boot offers a fair 360-litre capacity.
Value for money 7/10
Before we drove the M140i, the price came as a pleasant surprise considering the car’s impressive ingredients. Starting from £33,150 it is more than £10,000 cheaper than the RS3, and makes the Mercedes look expensive, too. The problem is, the Golf R costs much the same as the BMW and outshines it.
M Performance model can’t cut it in this company.
Will Dron says: “The BMW couldn’t be more different from the other cars here. The rear-wheel drive set-up makes it trickier to drive quickly with understeer through turns being replaced suddenly by snap oversteer. It looks the most sedate out of all six cars on test, and has one of the most upmarket interiors, including a touchscreen, but it also has the most torque and is the most looney-tunes on the road. Its stability control systems work overtime to try and keep the beast from biting off your head. A car only for the brave.”
2017 BMW M140i specifications
- Price from £33,150
- Engine 2998cc, 6-cylinder turbo
- Power 335bhp @ 5500rpm
- Torque 369 lb ft @ 1520rpm
- Transmission 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
- Acceleration 0-62mph: 4.8sec
- Top speed 155mph
- Fuel / CO2 36.2mpg / 179g/km