The “Mini GTR”

My135iinterior_4f3261e6eda62-lightboxJust like a GTR, this car is devastatingly quick across country.  The DCT box allows you to take liberties that you wouldn’t normally contemplate in a manual car. You can charge hard into a corner, multi-downshift using the paddles without taking your hands off the wheel, and then charge hard out of the corner – surfing a seamless, uninterrupted wave of torque and power. You can even change up/down mid-corner. Of course, this can still (like a manual box), upset the balance of the car, but the DCT box pops in the gear virtually instantaneously so power is hardly interrupted.

The car’s Jekyll & Hyde nature however, means you can stick it in D and just waft along. The engine then calms to a state equivalent to a sleeping tiger. You can barely hear it, but you know there’s a whole world of fury waiting to be unleashed if you prod it with a big enough stick!

So is this DCT transmission the best of all worlds? Does it really give you the control of a manual and the convenience of an auto? So far, I have noticed only three flaws with the drive-train:

1. Even in “Full Manual Mode”(which is supposed to leave you totally in charge of what gear the car is in), it will kick down for you to a lower gear in order to maximise thrust if you stamp on the accelerator

2. The car will change up for you if you hit the redline (even in Full Manual)

3. If left in “D”, there is a bit of dead travel in the throttle pedal before the car wakes up and realises you’ve called it to move.

These 3 flaws require some adaptation on the part of the driver in order to get around them. To address point 1 – you as the driver have to take care not to push the throttle past the “kick down point”. Then you can keep the car in your desired gear. To address point 2, you just have to be aware of where the redline is! And to address point 3, there’s the “Sport” button.

Press this button and the throttle becomes more responsive, the dead travel disappears and the car feels much more responsive to your inputs. The downside is that with the Sport button depressed, I am almost positive that the average mpg drops (according to the real-time mpg read out on the trip computer) as the car must be priming the engine’s response with more fuel.

These 3 flaws are disappointing, but they’re not deal breakers. You learn to adapt your driving to these traits, but in my view, in a coupe with such sporting intent, and from a sporting manufacturer like BMW, they shouldn’t be there at all.

Of course, all of these flaws could be addressed by clever gearbox management software. VW’s DSG box suffers similar flaws and those nice folk over at ‘REVO Technik‘ have developed DSG specific software to address the “Kickdown Fault”. Perhaps ‘DMS‘ or another BMW specialist could develop a solution for us BMW DCT owners.

Other than that, I am really impressed with the versatility of the car. In town, if left in D, it will quickly and intelligently change up and down the 7 speed box. In heavy traffic, it behaves just as any other Auto, and yet when you really want to go for it and have fun, the instant response and whip-crack gear changes make you feel like Jenson Button.

Unlike the earlier N54 (twin turbo) 135i, this car has the N55 (single turbo, twin scroll technology) engine. It’s said to be just as responsive as the N54, but offer greater efficiency and economy, and lower emissions. It puts out a little more power than the N55 (306 Bhp for the N55 vs 302 Bhp for the N54) and according to BMW, returns 33.2mpg combined, vs 29.0mpg for the N54.

Well, I for one, am not averaging 33mpg. Of course, I didn’t expect to as the figures quoted by manufacturers are nearly always unachievable in the real world. However, I’d like to be getting more than the 26mpg I’m currently averaging in mixed driving. 26mpg is only 79% of the theoretically achievable 33. I expected a 15% drop vs the quoted figure, not 21%. Perhaps the cold February air we’re currently having in the UK is denting the typical economy of this forced induction engine.

So, fuel economy and some transmission quirks are my main moans.

The rest of the car is fantastic. The interior is a lovely place to be and feels very well made. There are no rattles or squeaks (touch wood!) and the infotainment system (my car has BMW’s Pro Media Pack) is superb. I can slot my iPhone into the snap-in adapter and all my playlists are displayed on the screen and can be controlled via the iDrive. The sound quality is very good, and the heated seats have proven a real boon on cold winter mornings.

The ride is also a really pleasant surprise. It’s so much better than the 130i. My car is on non-run flats, which may have something to do with it, but the suspension on the 135i feels much better resolved than the 130i and deals with bumps with aplomb rather than crashing around. The 130i with Goodyear NCTs felt like it had lead weights attached to each corner sometimes! The 135i is still firm, but is absorbent too.

Braking wise, the 135i actually has a better standard specification that the 1M Coupe. The 1M has single piston sliding calipers, the 135i has full 6-piston Brembo brakes. They are powerful and progressive with instant bite from the top of the pedal. I think they’ll stand up to hard use better than those on the 130i.

The engine and exhaust sound are also lovely. Under load, the exhaust emits a wonderfully fruity V6-like blare, and you get pops and burbles from the exhaust on the over-run. One press of the DTC button loosens the traction control’s reign and allows a little bit of slip at the back. This allows you to feel the car moving around beneath you and gives you proper throttle adjustability mid-corner, without total loss of that all important electronic safety net. It’s very definitely a driver’s car.

I’ve yet to experience how the e-diff behaves when the traction control is completely off. Hopefully I’ll be able to report impressions on that after I’ve taken the car either on track, or onto an empty airfield! I’d also love to strap some timing gear to it and see what figures it can produce from 0-60 and 0-100 as I suspect the figures would be mighty impressive.

I’m chuffed to bits with the 135i – it’s a great upgrade from the 130i. In fact, I think it is the best all round “sleeper” performance car available right now. I love the fact that it’s a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing compared to an M3, – it looks fairly innocuous, yet it has the pace to keep up with a lot of far more expensive, supposedly more exotic, machinery.

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David Knott