The 130i SE is a swizz v 330i
The M Sport brand is a swizz.
September 04, 2005
BMW 130i M Sport
By Andrew Frankel of The Sunday Times
Caution: BMW is pulling a fast 1
In the 20 years I've been driving cars created by BMW's fabled M
motor sport division, just one - an M3 of 1993 - has proven a
disappointment. The rest of the time, when BMW has wheeled out a new M car I
have been struck by the depth and breadth of its engineering excellence and
the passion with which it has so clearly been created. Despite an orgy of
Astons, Ferraris, Maseratis and Porsches, the BMW M5 - a four-door saloon -
was the best car I drove last year.
So, whatever else you do, do not fall into the trap so carefully
laid for you by BMW and be fooled by the new M version of its ugly and
overpriced 1-series. It is, if you will, an M Sport version and that is a
very different proposition.
To spare you further confusion, M Sport is a new BMW brand
created cynically to exploit the deserved reputation of the proper M
division. It takes standard models, dolls them up in pumped-up M bodywork,
throws some M badges at the wheels and interior and hopes onlookers won't be
able to tell the difference.
What really irks me is that people are going to buy this M Sport
1-series and casually describe it to their mates as their M1. And they'll be
able to point to its 265bhp 3 litre engine, 6.1sec 0-62mph time and 155mph
top speed to support their claim. In fact the real M1 was a short-lived but
beautifully conceived mid-engined sports car built between 1978 and 1981,
and if BMW creates a proper M version of the 1-series, believe me, it will
need to be a whole lot better than this.
The Sport is just a new range-topper for the 1-series range, and
while BMW says most sales will go to the £26,515 impostor, there is a more
sedate looking 130i SE for £24,745 that is just as fast.
Unlike most members of the motoring press, I have yet to drive a
1-series that I liked and this one is no exception. It's undeniably fast and
the engine and gearbox are as smooth as they are under the bonnet of a 330i,
but the steering is unnecessarily heavy and the ride quality with the Sport
suspension was notably poor. And that was on the legendarily smooth roads of
southern Germany - I shall be interested to discover how uncomfortable it
proves when driven fast along a typically bumpy British B-road.
Oddly enough, last week I spent a couple of days doing exactly
that in a 330i and emerged from the experience awestruck by the car's
capabilities. It seemed to flow across the road surface, its ride and
handling as sweet as its engine and gearbox; but while the 130i clung on
grimly in the corners and squirted convincingly up the straights, the sense
of completeness and cohesion that makes the 330i one of the finest cars on
sale was notable only by its absence.
Instead the 1-series merely took me from place to place in an
efficient but rather charmless and none too relaxing way. I never felt
involved in the driving experience and pushed it hard not because that was
what it inspired me to do but simply out of professional curiosity.
BMW's marketing men make much of the fact that the 1-series is
the only rear-drive car in its class and, as its most powerful member, it is
the 130i that stands to gain most from that configuration. But the truth is
that for almost all people in almost all conditions on almost all roads, the
only real difference it makes is to reduce room in the rear cabin.
This is the 1-series's most enduring problem. It may have rear
doors but they flatter to deceive: open one and it'll afford a view of one
of the most miserably proportioned rear cabins in the class. Legroom in
particular is notably tight, and while small children may be happy to sit
behind averagely proportioned parents, anyone with the dubious pleasure of
having to cart stroppy teenagers to school or further afield should make
absolutely sure they can cope with the 1's cramped confines.
If you can live with its looks and don't need the room in the
rear, the 130i - with or without its M Sport addendum - makes a case for
itself, not least because there's nothing else quite like it out there. And
among those looking for a diminutive hot-rod with some swanky badging from a
coveted brand, it will doubtless find favour. But for those who have come to
expect BMW to deliver a complete package - a car as good to own as to drive,
one capable of both thrilling and cosseting its driver - the 130i falls
short of the mark.
Most damning of all, the price of upgrading from a 130i M Sport
to a 330i SE is just £2,310, a sum that will transport you from one of BMW's
more disappointing efforts of recent years to one of its finest.
Model BMW 130i M Sport
Engine type 2996cc, six cylinders in line
Power/Torque 265bhp @ 6600rpm / 232 lb ft @ 2500rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Fuel/CO2 30.7mpg (combined) / 221g/km
Performance 0-62mph: 6.1sec / Top speed: 155mph
Verdict Looks good on paper, but not in the flesh or on the
Model Audi A3 Sportback 3.2 V6 quattro £24,390
For Good-looking hatchback, convincing performance
Against Still not the first choice of enthusiast drivers
Model Volkswagen Golf GTI £19,995
For A fantastic all-rounder just as any GTI should be
Against Performance a little limited next to rivals
For direct contact replace nospam with schmetterling