Back in 2012, when the BMW M135i was the new skid on the block, you could barely pick up a car magazine or glance at a YouTube motoring channel without being bossily told how brilliant the rear-driven hot hatch was.
Six years ago, the M135i really was a game changer. Despite costing less than £30,000, it brought a premium badge, rear-wheel-drive dynamics and more than 300bhp to a sector that hadn’t seen that set of attributes before. It was very good to drive too. And in an instant, a front-driven Ford or Vauxhall with two-hundred-and-something-bhp didn’t seem particularly clever.
In all the fervour that surrounded the M135i at its launch, it was very easy to overlook one or two of its shortcomings, or at least put them to the back of your mind. Several years on, however, and with that early excitement having long since fizzled away, the mood has changed. Today, you don’t so much overlook the M135i’s flaws as itch to put them right.
Flaws? There are some, but not many. The first is that the ride and handling balance was never quite as brilliantly judged by BMW as you would have expected. The car crashes heavily into potholes and sunken drain covers, and yet the body feels loosely controlled on an undulating road. Hit a sharp crest at any decent speed and, for a fraction of a second, you’d swear the rear of the car is about to take off. Job one: get that body tied down.
You might also take issue with the exhaust note and the slightly goofy 1 Series styling, but the only other major dynamic weakness is the lack of a factory-fit limited-slip differential (LSD). (There was a dealer-fit option but, statistically, you’re more likely to have walked on the moon than had an LSD fitted by a BMW franchise.)
I have a couple of theories here. For one thing, not equipping these second-tier M Performance models with an LSD clearly distinguishes them from BMW’s full-spec M cars, which do all have locking differentials. And for another, in many cases, an open differential will actually be safer. After all, one spinning wheel probably won’t put the car into a slide, but two spinning wheels probably will.