Monday, December 14, 2015

Hot Pursuit BMW M135i : Auto News Blog

Welcome back to another post of Auto News Blog.

Hatches have never been hotter and while the M135i arguable rules the roost, can it fend off the onslaught from the competition?
BMW M135i-Auto-News-Blog

Let’s do a track-based comparison test, Let’s do it at Bruntingthorpe. It’ll be fun, Well, I didn’t need
asking twice! The idea was to assemble a handful of suitably well-endowed rivals to take on what remains the undisputed king of the hot hatches, BMW’s spectacular M135i. Could the trio of challengers we’d lined up be able to worry the Bavarian champion?
Organising a test like this is not an easy feat, though, as juggling the vagaries of track availability, editorial staff to assist, and buttering up the relevant PR folk to entrust us with their prized press car can see such plans unravel before we’ve so much as checked the weather. Ah, the weather...
Serves us right for running this test in British ‘summer time’, I suppose. Either way, we arrived at Bruntingthorpe to test the M135i’s track capabilities alongside three key rivals under gloomy grey skies, which continued to dump sporadic rain showers throughout the day. Ho-hum.
If you’ve ever driven Bruntingthorpe in the wet, you’ll know that it is extremely slippery in places, with grip dropping off rapidly on the runway sections thanks to the old-fashioned patchy asphalt surface which has soaked up years and years of aircraft emissions. Imagine the grip coefficient when old slipper meets wet linoleum floor, and you’re not far off. This explained our difficulty in approaching the manufacturers’ quoted acceleration times (well, that and mechanical sympathy), but it magnified the chassis balance of our quartet, so the exercise proved hugely informative, and was definitely a lot of fun...

So, which rivals to pitch against the M135i? From the Japanese corner, we chose the all- new Civic Type R, which starts at a fiver under £30k, and boasts 310hp and 295lb ft of torque from its 2.0-litre turbocharged four- pot, which means a brisk 0-62 time of 5.7 seconds and a very precise top speed of 167.8mph. We also brought along the Subaru WRX STI, taking a different approach to the typical ‘choose a group of FWD hot hatches’ method. With a similar power output, price point and the only one with a rear spoiler to rival the Civic’s, the latest WRX should be on the list for anyone considering buying a £30k performance family car. As should the Volkswagen Golf R. Whilst mechanically similar to the bewinged Scooby – also four- wheel drive, 300hp – it’s difficult to think of a more divergent philosophical approach. Where the Subaru is all boisterous rally rep, the Golf remains the sober-suited sophisticate. Both should be a stiff test for the M135i.
And that’s a car that needs no introduction in this magazine. We’re huge fans of the hottest non-M hatchback and it’s been wowing us since day one, which is a good thing because we couldn’t get hold of the face-lifted version from BMW at short notice, but luckily our good friends at Evolve stepped in to loan us their original example, so huge thanks go to all the guys there. With a lightning-fast eight-speed auto on board and a 320hp turbocharged straight- six under the bonnet, the M135i will launch from 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds and won’t stop until you’re nudging the 155mph speed limiter (it’s true, we’ve been there). It’s similarly priced to its class rivals but offers the sort of pure rear-wheel driving thrills that front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive just can’t match.


And so to the track. We decide to conduct some impromptu acceleration tests. Although the manufacturers’ own figures give us an idea of what to expect, we are particularly interested to discover how easy (or not – yes, we’re looking at you Subaru) they are to launch. We also want to push the cars up to, and beyond, their limits on track to see just how ‘hot’ those hot hatch credentials really are, and to see where the car of the moment sits in amongst this lot.
The M135i has the strongest powertrain – in a straight line it simply cruises away from anything else here – and it’s a joy to use, thanks to the sonic qualities of the straight-
six and the fantastic ZF eight-speed auto, which is crisp and responsive. The engine is the star of the show, delivering massive lag- free low-end torque that’s spread wide across the rev range and it pulls hard all the way to the redline with an intoxicating straight-six howl. As far as outright performance is concerned the M135i is a beast. It’s a beauty when it comes to the corners, and while it’s most definitely designed as a road car rather than a track day escapee, the chassis is wonderfully balanced, the steering precise and full of feel and it requires very little effort to drive very quickly. Where the Honda is feisty and
frenetic, the BMW is cultured and mature; it’s possibly the most grown-up car here and while it might not be as ultimately sharp on track as the Type R, for example, it’s still massively fun to drive, not least in part thanks to being RWD. Power oversteer is never far away if you want it; the E-diff does its best to ape an LSD but there’s no beating the real deal for controllability, though it’s far from a deal breaker. While its rivals might be a little sharper on track, the combination of outright performance and RWD adjustability make the M135i a package that’s hard to beat and as all- rounder road car, it’s even harder to beat. 

BMW M135i-Auto-News-Blog2

The Type R is by far the most track-focused car here. The seats are sensational – comfortable and supportive. The wheel offers lots of adjustment and the pedals are almost ideal – my only gripe is that there is a touch too much distance between the brake and accelerator. The engine is great. Of course it lacks the aural thrill of the M135i but in terms of power delivery and character it certainly delivers. Sub-3000rpm it feels a bit laggy but keep the revs up and the power delivery builds and builds and it revs all the to way to 7000rpm. It sounds fine – it’s hardly inspiring, but it’s an aggressive, tough, mechanical note that suits the car, though it can’t hold a candle to the M135i for aural satisfaction.
With 300hp on tap the front Continentals can get a substantial workout, so Honda employs a clever ‘dual axis strut’ system to dial out torque steer – 50% less than the standard Civic, and it works well. The limited-slip diff aids traction and the steering remains faithfully precise unless you’re deliberately clumsy with the throttle in a slow corner at which point it’s quite possible (in the wet at least) to light up both front tyres and head straight on regardless of which way the wheels are pointing. It’s an impressive car but falls short of the M135i’s rounded character and blistering performance.
Conditions like this should play right into the hands of the remaining four-wheel drive contingents, so I jump into the Scooby next to see if a wet track will reveal a more engaging side to its dynamic makeup. The initial impression is good. The seats are comfortable and suitably sporting, the Alcantara wheel falls nicely to hand and the gearshift feels positive. The cabin might look a bit dated but we’re concerned with what’s
going on outside today. Getting the Scooby off the line briskly proves tricky because of the laggy nature of the power delivery, with lots of revs and clutch slipping required. Find yourself in the wrong gear and it seems to take an age before the boost arrives, then power comes in a torrent from 4000rpm to the 6500rpm cut out. It’s exciting but makes it tricky to get the best out of it. The WRX’s biggest problem is revealed when pushing ten-tenths on track. The initial heft to the steering disappears under pressure and washes out into understeer, cured only by trimming the throttle or a dose of handbrake. With the inconsistent steering delivering little in the way of feel, no rear limited-slip diff, and precious little throttle adjustability the WRX proves a bit one dimensional on track. Whilst there’s fun to be had in its frenetic delivery, and you can lean on the four-wheel drive traction, it lacks the biddable nature to satisfy a keen driver.
Which leaves us with one more protagonist in the German corner: the VW Golf R. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Golf might be a bit dull, for the elegant-but- restrained exterior merely hints at the R’s 300hp powertrain, but a few laps of the sodden track reveals a really enjoyable car. It finds great front end grip so you can hustle it into the apex more often than not, and there’s enough poise and adjustability to bring the rear into play if you want. The Golf’s Haldex four-wheel drive system ensures terrific traction, although it never quite manages to oversteer under power – the system is set up to send power to the rear only when the front loses traction. It’s nicely damped and the quick steering feels natural and intuitive and it’s a hugely enjoyable car on track.
BMW M135i comparison Auto-News-Blog

Well, there are no prizes for figuring out the clear winner amongst these four. While the other German and Japanese rivals put up a good fight, ultimately the M135i remains the hot hatch to have.
While the Honda is rather more hardcore and feels like a more focused machine, and the Subaru and Golf offer the sort of grip and traction you’d only get from a 4WD machine, the M135i is the best all-round machine.
We found the engine to be magnificent, the chassis beautifully balanced and as an all-round package that can deliver white-knuckle B-road thrills and then cruise in comfort on the motorway and return over 30mpg, it remains the one to beat .

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