BMW M135i xDrive 2022: When the BMW 1 Series adopted front-wheel drive in 2019, it had a lot to prove, and with the four-wheel-drive BMW M135 xDrive, it demonstrated it could create an effective hot hatch while preserving the costly ‘luxury’ feel of a BMW.

It has now been updated. The enhancements are mostly mechanical, with the exception of some additional color options, such as the retina-searing Sao Paulo Yellow in the photos, which won’t be available until 2024.

According to the engineers, the objective was to widen the M135i model’s range by focusing on the basic M Sport suspension as the driving enthusiast’s choice while retaining the adaptively sprung car’s all-around capabilities.

To that end, all versions get more sound through the speakers, more alert torque vectoring by braking, retuned xDrive, and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, but M Sport cars get new springs and dampers, two degrees of front camber, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres on 19-inch wheels, and stiffer bushes and mounts, all of which improve steering precision.

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The changes have clearly separated the two versions. Both vehicles share the same chassis balance, with the M135i feeling more like a front-wheel-drive car with infinite traction than a hip-wiggler in the style of a Ford Focus RS. Because there aren’t any, the improvements to reduce torque steer has been successful.

The updated torque vectoring, or ‘Performance Control’ in BMW speak, also makes the M135i appear more agile than before. When you reach the limit of grip in a turn, the system will nip at the inner brakes to adjust the car’s trajectory. It’s a touch phoney and unsubtle, but it’s still a nice addition.

After driving both versions, I’m not convinced that the sports suspension’s degree of chassis sharpness is worth the hard ride. It turns in with greater snap, and cornering speeds can be boosted owing to the wider Pilot Sport 4Ss, but it’s still hampered by uncommunicative steering and ignores the humourless chassis balance. Is it more fun to be on the road? Most certainly not.

The adaptive dampers, which cost £500 extra, are a considerably more enticing compromise. The set-up is not only softer but also better damped, which enhances daily drivability significantly.

The increased body roll compensates for the numb steering by alerting you to what’s going on, and the reduced traction supplied by the smaller ‘basic’ Pilot Sport 4 tyres makes the car seem more active at highway speeds.

In the powertrain modes, there is a comparable discrepancy. In comfort mode, full-bore upshifts are accompanied by a hint of synthesised exhaust bark and minor thumps from the gearbox.

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Sport mode blasts you with a forest of mimicked exhaust sounds, complete with phoney pops and bangs and upshifts wallops reminiscent of a single-clutch automatic manual transmission.

In terms of shift speeds and some clunkiness when requested to grab a gear it wasn’t anticipating, the eight-speed torque-converter transmission seems more like a dual-clutch. It responds swiftly to the paddles on the way up, but it might be hesitant to shift down.

The M135i has been divided into two models: one with greater drama and ultimate capability, and one with more delicacy and daily use.

At first appearance, the more modestly wheeled car with adaptive suspension appears to be the more coherent whole, but it’s really a question of personal choice, and having options is always a good thing.

Another advantage of the M135i is its low price. Although £38,470 is not a little cost, it is cheaper than that of the Audi S3 Sportback, Mercedes-AMG A35, and even the Volkswagen Golf R, demonstrating that the BMW is the more affordable alternative. Who’d have guessed?

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