BMW’s hot hatchback gets four-wheel-drive for added stability and security, without compromising the rear-drive version’s entertainment factor

What is it?

The BMW M135i xDrive is a four-wheel-drive version of the popular high-performance hatchback. It has been designed to meet the requirements of mainland Europe markets, where predictable periods of heavy snowfall make four-wheel drive a necessity, rather than a nicety. 

Unfortunately, BMW has no immediate plans to offer the model here. As the manufacturer rightly observes, it would occupy an even smaller niche than the rear-drive M135i, meaning negligible sales.

With more four-wheel-drive models creeping into BMW’s range, however, and powerful AWD variants likely to appear eventually as a result, it’s worth taking a closer look at this car to find out whether the addition of xDrive compromises or complements BMW’s ethos.

What's it like?

Internally and externally, this looks like a standard M135i. Its single-turbo 3.0-litre straight six is the same, delivering 315bhp and 332lb ft through a rapid-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. For the purists, a six-speed manual is offered.

The key difference is the addition of the intelligent xDrive four-wheel drive system. It uses an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch to distribute power between the front and rear axles.

In normal conditions, 60 per cent of the engine’s output is sent to the rear, helping to retain the typical rear-drive BMW feel. If the system detects oversteer or understeer, however, it quickly shuffles torque between the axles to stabilise the car. The additional traction also means the xDrive M135i is 0.2sec quicker from 0-62mph than its rear-drive equivalent. 

We found the M135i xDrive to be eminently capable on a snow-covered slalom, while stop-start manoeuvres on icy inclines were fuss-free and ice-covered corners could be dispatched in a surefooted fashion.

Even moderately deep snow was tackled with relative ease, as long as some momentum was maintained. Some of those capabilities were no doubt down to the test car’s winter tyres, but nevertheless, there’s no doubting that an xDrive-equipped BMW would prove both easier and more reassuring to drive in poor conditions.

More importantly, the addition of four-wheel drive doesn’t appear to have notably compromised the M135i. The steering remains precise and uncorrupted, while the xDrive means you can exploit the available power more controllably, which some might prefer. Multi-stage stability control also allows for a modicum of tail-out action, ticking the requisite box for many an enthusiast.

Should I buy one?

If you frequently travel to European ski resorts, and want a practical hatch with some punch, then this could be just the ticket. That's assuming, however, that you don't mind the fact it's left-hand drive.

Those who find the idea of an xDrive-equipped 1-series appealing can at least partially sate their appetite with the UK market 120d xDrive, which is available now for £26,190.

It may not have the M135i’s pace, but it’s still a thoroughly decent car to drive, albeit one that majors on practicality and efficiency.

Lewis Kingston

BMW 1 Series M135i xDrive 

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Price £35,550 (est); 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 36.0mpg (combined); CO2 182g/km; Kerb weight 1595kg; Engine Straight six, 2979cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 315bhp at 5800rpm; Torque 332lb ft at 1250-5000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic

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MG 26 June 2013

4WD M car?? bleh

Lets face it, BMW drivers who buy M derivatives LOVE the unique 2-combo experience that only a BMW can give a driver who loves to master their drive: RWD with a straight six howler(or an 8)! For half the price of a 911, you get more torque, sensational tactile feedback and the ability to drift & drive it like you stole it ....and...get the kids to school, MTB in the boot, surfboards up top. Why TF would you ruin such an awesome drive experience with 4WD, unless you live in a icy part of this planet? Maybe because motorists who cannot drive on the limit do not understand driving dynamics & think 4WD is safer and faster? THOSE motorists should buy an Audi with FWD or AWD, it's idiot proof and clinical. Or a Toyota, its equally boring to drive and you will save money.

I'm already thinking that my brand new M135i should have been manual shift for more sensation.Had 4WD been the only option available, I would have summarily dismissed it and kept my 135i M Sport manual Coupe.

dukebox9reg 7 June 2013

No sure if its the same

No sure if its the same system but back to front in my All4 Countryman S. Yes its naturally response is to understeer (with it being usually fwd) but push through it and it becomes beautifully neutral. Drive it like a loon and the back end will swing round.

I didnt just buy it for the odd bit of snow (though it did help this year) I bought it because if I did still want to enjoy a bit of power from the rear with a little bit more of a safety net, I could.

And ive seen plently of rwd cars get stuck on wet grass, let alone snow. So a 4WD 135 definitly rings my bell a bit more than a rwd. 

roscoe 4 June 2013

Much sadness

As a Canadian, I often read Autocar so as to learn about all the excellent European cars (like the M135i xDrive) that will never make it to North American shores. I'm really not sure why I do this to myself. Masochism, I suspect...