Rear-drive balance, a smooth six-pot motor and a beautifully judged eight-speed gearbox: the M140i is as rewarding as the car it replaces

What is it?

Despite not being a ‘proper’ M car, the M135i has become something of a cult classic among the automotive community. First released in 2012, it’s one of those machines that doesn’t look particularly exciting on paper but offers a truly special driving experience. It is, without doubt, one of our favourite hot hatches.

So why, you might ask, has BMW gone to the effort of replacing the M135i with the new M140i? After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, it turns out that BMW is well aware of this idiom and has embraced it, choosing to update the current car rather than overhaul it. The badging has been altered to bring the M140i in line with its M240i and 440i coupé siblings and the sonorous 3.0-litre engine has been replaced with an even more powerful 335bhp six-cylinder motor - up 14bhp. No downsizing here, thank you very much.

Read more: Britain's best affordable driver's car - BMW M140i vs Honda Civic Type R

Producing the same 369lb ft as the BMW M2, the M140i promises to be quick in a straight line, but you can’t help wondering if BMW should have considered updating the chassis, too (only minor tweaks have been made to the damping). Especially when you consider that the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R and Seat Leon Cupra 290 have all moved the hot hatch game on considerably in recent years. 

What's it like?

Unsurprisingly, with its six-cylinder turbocharged engine producing the same power and torque as the iconic 1M Coupé, the M140i is properly quick in a straight line. If you can get it hooked up (made all the more difficult thanks to the absence of a proper limited-slip differential), the hatch can complete the run from 0-62mph in just 4.6sec, a considerable 0.3sec quicker than the model it replaces.

However, despite this remarkable turn of speed, it’s the engine’s flexibility that’s most impressive in the real world. Unlike the Focus RS or Civic Type R, you can barely detect the signs of forced induction, with the six-cylinder motor responding almost instantaneously at any revs. We came to love this linearity in the M135i because it allowed the BMW to play two very different roles: long-legged GT cruiser and M car screamer. This characteristic has not only been retained but also accentuated in the M140i. 

Our test car came fitted with BMW's ZF automatic gearbox, and although there’s no doubt that the manual gives an extra level of interaction, we simply can’t fault the eight-speed unit. It’s quick and responsive and the ratios are well spaced to make full use of the motor’s broad powerband. The gearbox is also now capable of making multiple downshifts in one go, giving even greater control. 

Dynamically, the M140i feels almost identical to last year’s M135i, but that’s no bad thing. Compared with its firmer competition it feels unique, thanks to a chassis that makes the most of its rear-wheel-drive layout. The front axle is super-responsive and gives the BMW impressive turn-in speed. There is a little mid-corner lean, but once the body settles you can lean on the car’s innate traction to fire it out of bends.

There are limitations though. On really rough roads there's a point where the suspension finally cries enough and fails to react to multiple inputs. Mid-corner this can cause the car to feel unsettled and loose, and combined with the lack of a limited-slip diff and its overly light variable-ratio steering, a Mercedes A45 AMG or Volkswagen Golf R would leave the BMW for dust on a bumpy rural road.

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That said, the must-have optional adaptive dampers give a surprisingly forgiving ride on all but the most broken surfaces. Even in Sport mode, the M140i feels comfortable enough around town, shrugging off smaller imperfections with relative impunity. As a day-to-day proposition, it’s in a different league of comfort and refinement compared with the Focus and Civic. 

Should I buy one?

Despite not being as sharp as the latest crop of hot hatches, the M140i still has the ability to put a huge smile on your face. No, it’s not as tied down as a Focus RS, and no, it doesn’t have the point-to-point pace of Golf R or the outright grip of a Leon Cupra. But on the right road none of that matters.

With its inherent rear-drive balance, smooth six-cylinder motor and beautifully judged eight-speed gearbox, guiding the M140i down your favourite B-road is a rewarding experience. And even though it's not exactly cheap, coming it at £31,875, it still feels like a genuine giant-killer.

2016 BMW M140i review

Location Berkshire; On sale Now; Price £31,875; Engine 6 cyls, 2998cc, turbo, petrol; Power 335bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 369lb ft; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1505kg; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 39.8mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 163g/km, 29% Rivals Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R

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Limpet 26 May 2017

Golf R comparison

It doesn't have the point to point pace of a Golf R, despite being quicker in a straight line. With 2WD, and an open diff, it simply can't get the power down as cleanly, particularly if the roads are bumpy or greasy. That said, it is driver dependent in a way the Golf just isn't. If you turn the systems off and mash the throttle to the floor, you will crash, spectacularly. It's a car that you need to get to know, and that rewards smooth, skilled driving in spades. It is beautifully balanced, and has very accurate (if numb) steering. If that matters more than outright all-weather pace, it's the car for you.

It also has one of the nicest engines for the road that I have ever experienced. Silky smooth, makes a great noise, revs all the way to 7k but pulls hard from 2k, and will even do 40 mpg on the motorway. Nicely trimmed and finished inside, refined, practical, and doesn't draw unwanted attention. To the untrained eye, it looks just like a 116d M-Sport, which I really liked (although some won't) Really does tick all boxes.

I've done nearly 4,000 miles in mine now, and it still makes me smile every single time I drive it.

Limpet 16 March 2017

Brilliant all-rounder

I've had mine just shy of two weeks now, and absolutely love it. It's a Jeckyll and Hyde car. In sport mode the engine snarls and pops through the exhaust, and I've never driven a turbocharged car with such instant throttle response. Outright performance is laugh-out-loud fast, it really is. Yet, knock it into Comfort, the dampers soften, the exhaust quietens, and it morphs into an effortless, near silent, creamy smooth waft-machine. Bimbling along with 500Nm of torque on tap, and with the auto box short shifting at 1800 RPM, it makes completely effortless progress. Fuel economy gets well up into the 30s on a run too, and that's with a still-tight engine. The steering isn't very nice, lacking any sort of feel or consistency in weighting, and the non-motorway fuel range in the high 200s gets annoying thanks to a 335 bhp petrol engine and a 52 litre fuel tank, but otherwise it's a brilliant car.
Bedders50 5 February 2017

Golf R

'Doesn't have the point to point pace of a Golf R'?

The Golf isn't in the same league.

Golf advertised 0-60 is 4.9 (auto box)
M140i advertised is 4.6 (auto box)

M140i also materially quicker from speeds upward of 30mph.