Car Reviews

BMW 118d and M135i xDrive 2019 review

Paul Horrell’s 2020 BMW 118d and M135i xDrive Review With Specs, Performance, Ride And Handling, Interior, Safety, Verdict And Score.

IN A NUTSHELL: Entirely redone version of BMW’s compact hatch is more like all the rivals. But if it’s less oddball than before, it’s better. A roomy and refined thing to ride in, and decent fun to drive.

2019 BMW 118d and M135i xDrive

Price $63,990 (M135i) Warranty 3 years/unlimited km Engine 2.0-litre diesel turbo, 2.0L petrol turbo Power 110kW at 2500-4000rpm (diesel), 225kW at 4500-6250rpm (petrol) Torque 350Nm at 1750-4000rpm, 450Nm at 1750-5000rpm (petrol) Transmission 6-speed manual (standard diesel) 8-speed auto (opt diesel, standard petrol) Drive front-wheel drive (diesel), all-wheel drive (petrol) Body 4319mm (l); 1799mm (w exc mirrors); 2081mm (w inc mirrors); 1434mm (h) Turning circle 11.4m Towing weight 1300kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) (diesel) NA (petrol) Kerb weight 1430kg (diesel) 1525kg (petrol) Seats 5 Fuel tank 50 litres Spare no Thirst 4.3l/100km combined cycle (diesel) 7.0l/100km combined cycle (petrol)

The 1-series is BMW’s pitch for the big-selling compact hatch arena. So it goes up against the Mercedes A-class and Audi A3, or top-end versions of the Mazda3.

In its past two generations, the 1-series was an outlier, because it had a longitudinal engine and rear-drive. That made it ‘pure’ as a sporty car but compromised the interior and boot room. And most people didn’t buy the sporty big-engined six-cylinder ones, but instead the low-power versions where the driven wheels was just an all-but irrelevant line in the spec. So now the 1-series has been re-engineered to suit the normal buyers, with a front-drive design and more space. The most powerful petrol and diesel engines get four-wheel drive. 

Aside from that, the 1-series is home to all BMW’s latest connected tech, onboard apps and integration with services such as live parking availability.

Most engines and the mechanical layout have been used before elsewhere in the BMW range. Examples include the X1 and X2 crossovers, as well as the Mini Clubman and Countryman. But with the experience of having developed those cars, the 1-series had a few tweaks in its body construction and suspension that give it an extra subtlety in the way it rides and steers. Plus, being lower to the ground than all those crossovers is bound to help the dynamics.

So it’s three and four-cylinder engines, a mix of six-speed manual, seven-speed DCT and eight-speed auto transmissions, and either FWD or AWD. BMW Australia will launch the new 1 Series with the 118i with a 1.5-litre turbo three, and the flagship M135i xDrive.

We tested two versions in Europe before they arrive – the front-drive 118d diesel, and the all-wheel-drive M135i xDrive petrol. The latter one has had a bit of attention from the BMW M team, but don’t imagine it’s an M1.

In fact, there won’t be an M1, because a next-generation M2 is already being planned, and that’s based on a new-generation 2-series, which has rear-drive. Purists breathe a sigh of relief.

The styling has a much stubbier nose than the old one because there’s no need for it to accommodate a longitudinal six-pot motor. And there’s also more front overhang. So the proportions are less distinctive than before, but it’s a tidy enough design job. The window line wedges upwards towards the tail, and there’s a definite shoulder above the back wheels. The headlights stretch diagonally back through the wings to disguise the length of the front overhang.

For the M135i xDrive there’s a body kit to go with the bigger wheels. It improves cooling and helps kill lift, but it’s not garish.

All of the 1-series are five-door this time, as the old three-door made very few sales.

WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?

Furniture – dash, doors, seats – is BMW’s typical angular shapes, made out of good solid materials. Some of the colours and textures are jazzier than the BMW norm because they expect younger people to buy it. We’re not sure how many young people can afford a new BMW, but hey.

Anyway, it feels expensive and carefully done. All the buttons and knobs have a precise clicky action too.

It’s bound to be compared with the wide-screen operating system of the current Mercedes A-Class. And it’s less of a wow than that, with a conventional centre screen standing alone, not sweeping physically into the driver display. But truth is the BMW approach feels easier to use, especially as it maintains the well-proven iDrive wheel.

The up-spec versions have a synthetic screen display for the driver’s instruments, but base versions have BMW’s traditional round dials. I prefer that cheaper setup, as they’re both prettier and less cluttered. But you might disagree.

Still, if the up-spec instrument display isn’t a model of legibility, at least you can optionally supplement it with a head-up display of terrific clarity, posting useful info just when you need it.

Front seats and driving position are pretty good, though the bonnet drops away out of view. Rear seats are class-competitive for leg and foot room, but headroom is a bit marginal.

The boot is big, helped by the absence of a spare wheel. It can also be made bigger by setting the rear seat backrests very upright, but I wouldn’t want to be the person in that seat.

WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?

Standard kit is an 8.8-inch centre touch display, so you can scroll maps and pinch to zoom. But if you’re on a bumpy road it’s easier and more accurate to use the iDrive rotary controller in the centre console. The maps are clear and responsive.

BMW’s live traffic system is one of the best around. It’s full-time connected to the company’s own cloud, so you can send destinations from your own address book or diary. In fact, once you’re registered it happens automatically, scanning your diary for regular appointments, checking traffic and texting you when you ought to be departing.

The standard stereo is decent quality and kicks out 105 watts. There are two further good upgrades on the options list. A line of super-useful configurable shortcut buttons on the dash makes it easy to use. You can set them for radio stations, phone numbers or even quite obscure control menu functions.

As with all new BMWs, the voice assistant is optional, which uses online servers to understand your commands. You summon it by pressing a button or saying a codeword of your choice. I found it kept waking up just in normal conversation and asking me to repeat myself. Seriously annoying, so I turned the verbal summoning feature off.

I also find I keep activating the gesture control in normal conversation gesticulation, so again I turn it off. Why would you want to do a weird spiralling motion with your hand to turn up the radio, when a perfectly good volume knob is right there in front of you?

WHAT’S THE PERFORMANCE LIKE?

We drove two versions, the 118d diesel and M135i petrol. They’re both four-cylinder engines, though the 118i and 116d are three-cylinders.

The 118d is a more than decent engine, notably smooth and quiet for a transverse diesel. It’s also happier to rev than you’d expect: it’ll actually spin to 5000. But there’s no point because it’s generous in mid-range torque, and the auto box is well-calibrated in its shift points and glides between the ratios without any thump.

This one accelerates from 0-100km/h in 8.4sec mated to an automatic. That’s a scant 0.1sec quicker than the manual and much less of an effort.

For the other mainstream petrol engine, the 2.0-litre four, see our X2 review, as this one is not much changed.

The flagship M135i xDrive uses a recent version of BMW’s turbo four. You can find the same thing in the X2 35i and the upcoming generation of JCW Minis. If you’re coming out of an old M135i or M140i you’re going to feel aggrieved because it’s not a straight-six. But viewed on the hot-hatch playing field, it delivers solidly.

It pulls vigorously from low revs, though the speaker-based sound enhancement seemed boomy to me. At higher spin speeds it’s responsive and happy to rev right to (and beyond) the 6600 red-line.

The combination of plentiful power, slick eight-speed transmission and all-drive traction sees it from zero to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.

WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE ROAD?

In any normal road driving, there’s nothing to say which, or how many, wheels are being driven. As usual for a BMW, the steering has an oily dampening to it, with progressive action off-centre. Cornering roll builds up modestly and progressively, so it’s easy to both hold a straight highway lane and carve it accurately into a curve.

If you really load it up in a tight corner in the front-drive diesel, it’ll tighten its line subtly when you lift off, and gently edge the nose out if you mash out a fat dose of torque. The traction control is especially subtle. It’s an accurate and responsive little hatch but doesn’t quite have the light-footedness of a Mazda3.

BMW has fitted multi-link rear suspension to all models, whereas rivals use cheaper torsion bars in their low-power editions. The point of multi-link is to combine ride comfort with steering accuracy. Certainly, if you drive both a 118d and the equivalent Mercedes A-class, you can see what they mean.

The 118d has a restful ride; not soft or pillowy, but quiet and consistently able to soften the edges from ridges and potholes.

The M135i xDrive has a lot more power to put down, but all the traction it needs. The M suspension tune makes it better controlled in body movements and more direct in steering (though with no more feedback through the wheel).

But then it needs to be because it’s up against rivals such as the VW Golf R and Mercedes A35. And behaviour is remarkably similar to those; you’d need to line them up back to back to get a definitive verdict on the difference.

Loosen off the stability systems and jab the sport button and the BMW does give a definite sense of sending the power rearwards when exiting a corner. It has a small but satisfying measure of throttle adjustability.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY FEATURES?

It’s too early for an NCAP assessment, but the related X1/X2 got five stars and strong percentage ratings in the slightly less rigorous 2015 rating.

As usual for BMW there are loads of driver assists available. Standard is a hazard detection system (vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists) and lane departure warning system. Other tech includes higher-speed auto-brake capability plus lane centring assist and reverse cross-traffic warning.

Editor's Rating

What's the interior like?
What's the infotainment like?
What's the performance like?
What's it like on the road?
What about the safety features?
BMW's small hatch has gone mainstream. That means there are no six-cylinder engines or rear-drive any more. For the few people who bought those versions, that's a loss. But most buyers didn't, and they suffered a cramped cabin as a result. The new one instead crams the powertrain into a smaller transverse-oriented space, so it now has the cabin room and boot size to tackle the best small hatches. The smaller-engined model is a great buy because it goes up against unsatisfactory versions of the Mercedes A-Class and the elderly Audi A3. A well-made cabin and polished ergonomics make it feel worth the money.

Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.