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.