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the ONE thing… BMW’s 130i 3-Door (Hot)Hatch

Bold and blue…
It’s blue, it’s bold and it’s almost brash. To be truthful, BMW’s little compact hatch will probably not win any beauty awards. But my God, they’ve made a great car. Before you read on, let me first tell you, this is not a car for everyone. It’s made for people who enjoy driving, and in that regard, it does it’s job very very well. More on that later though, let us first take a look at the car from the outside.

Initial impressions of the 3-door hatch’s outward dimensions are it’s long bonnet stretching out with the cabin pulled back and squat. The rear of the passenger compartment tapering downwards towards the rear wheels with minimal overhangs. This gives the car a very muscular and squat stance from the rear three-quarter onwards. Probably it’s best angle.

Up front, the distinctively BMW kidney grilles are upright and have a very slight forward slant, reminiscent of yesteryear’s BMWs. The headlights are tall and taper off towards the sides in an upward motion. This headlight arrangement has caused some discomfort amongst observers, causing a love-hate relationship with the car’s appearance.

With the bonnet’s lines stretched towards the windscreen, the passenger cabin is on the tall side, although it gives the car an awkward tall-ish appearance from the front, it does give the driver and front passenger some proper headroom. Along the side flanks, the car’s rather long wheelbase (probably the longest in it’s class) shows, enhancing it’s long bonnet, short cabin look ever further. With the 130i, the car comes with some M-Technic visual enhancements, with a deep intake down in the front bumper along with a diffuser to finish up the rear.

The test car’s 17” wheels though, look a little weedy on the 130i, slap on some 18”s or 19”s and we’re all good to go. So, is it a beautiful car? Probably not. It doesn’t ooze sex like some other exotic machinery, nor cute retro fun like some other 4-lettered runabouts. It’s design points to what the car is all about, a long bonnet to play emphasis on the engine, and the short muscular squat rear stance signify it’s rear-driven layout. It’s design-ed to show what the car is about, a real proper driving machine.

Love or hate the looks? It’s your choice… Personally, i find it all rather attractive.

But if your going to spend about S$149,000 on a hatchback, you’ll probably not be too concerned with what people think about the styling, This car is niche, for less money, sensible people will be content to potter around in a bigger, more spacious 3 series (albeit, a 320i). So, it’s not for sensible people then i guess. What does 149 of your hardest earned get you?

Open the doors and you’re greeted by a simple cabin, you step over those shiny chrome “M” door sills that are on the “M-enhanced” 1-ers and plop yourself into the captain’s chair. Mmmmm…. nice, leather, but just when you are about to adjust your seating position, you realise that non of the seat adjustments have buttons on them! They are all controlled manually by levers. This takes some getting used to after being pampered by the all electric seats from modern BMWs. The only button on the seat though adjust the side bolsters and this is real nifty just before tackling some twisty bits of road. Push the button forwards and the seat grips you in like a lycra suit, push it back and it relaxes it’s hold. Your passengers might complain about the lack of electric seats though.

Once you get comfortable and well adjusted (the steering adjustment’s manual as well), the view up front is great with all controls falling within easy reach. Not that there are many controls to begin with, this car’s interior is rather plain, without automatic climate control and just knobs to adjust the air conditioning and a simple sound system. Everything else is plain plastic, even the cupholders are not hidden away when not in use. Up front, the centre console has a storage bin in place of i-drive, it’s all a little underwhelming when your paying top-dollar for a 1 series.

Take a look around when your inside, rear passenger room is what we call, adequate. Not entirely spacious, but it will seat 2 people nicely and 3 people will go in at a push. Boot space is again, not vast, but sufficient. If needed, the rear seats can be folded down to increase luggage space. So again, what are you paying for?

Rolling start…

Push the key in, prod the starter button and hear BMW’s 3-litre straight six fire up and come to life. Suddenly, everything changes. The smooth engine bellows lightly on idle with a bassy baritone note coming out from the pipes out the back. Is this what your paying for? Almost there…

Final adjustments made to the driving position, mirrors, steering, pulse… check. Push the gear lever into D and the car slides off easily with no jerks nor drama. Placing this car on the road is easy, with it’s before mentioned minimal overhands and smaller-then-normal-BMW’s dimensions. Driving around town is an effortless affair, and parking the car? Easy peasy.

With all those humdrum parts of the car over and done with. Let’s find out what this car can do, a push of the gearstick to engage “Sport” mode, and immediately, the throttle sharpens up, little toe movements are all that’s needed to propel the car forwards in an instant. The gearbox drops a cog or two and keeps the car in lower gears for higher up in the rev-range. The 130i gets some suspension tweaks over it’s “normal” 1 series brethren, this makes the car behave like magic on the twisty roads but is a little harsh on imperfect roads. I personally thought it was still comfortable enough for the daily commute.

Power play…
If your the sort who’s interested in numbers, BMW states 265BHP @ 650 rpms and 315 Nm’s @ 2,750 rpms. To put it into perspective, the 3-litre powerplant in the 630i pushes out 258BHP / 300Nm’s, in the 530i, 231BHP / 300Nms, and in the Z4 3.0, 227BHP / 300Nm’s. BMW wasn’t mucking about when it wanted to create a proper “Hot-hatch”. The 130i’s 3-litre NA power output in matched only in the Z4 3.0 Coupe which push out similar power numbers. So, in a nutshell, this is a proper sports car, with a hatchback’s body.

Give the throttle a proper shove and the engine responds by buttering up the rev range all the way till it shifts up just before redline. The engine note and delivery creamy smooth throughout. BMW claims a 0-100 time of 6.2 secs, but i think they are lying. It sure feels faster then 6 seconds. Time and time again, i’m convinced the car can deliver a sub-6 second sprint. Heavy throttled getaways results in the rear wheels struggling for grip for the slightest of seconds before hurtling you down the road. With the push-pull flaps behind that wonderfully thick “M” steering wheel, dropping or upping a gear happens quickly and you’ll soon learn at which point is the gearbox will respond to your request to shift down.

Push the flappy paddle behind the wheel and the car responds with a drop to the lower selected gear, drive hard towards a corner, build up the revs, brake just before entering the turn, watch as the rev’s drop, push the paddle one more time, lift the throttle and wait for it… “Boom boom”, a distant thunder in the background, caused by some unburnt fuel shot out from the exhaust. It’s all very very very addictive. Turn the wheel and the car responds, no resistance, no complaints from the car, it just goes in the direction it’s pointed. Go into a corner hard, brake, drop a cog (boom boom),feel the front load up, ease off the throttle, turn and quickly into the next bend, transitioning the load on the opposite side of the car and feel it squat as you give it some inline-6 power, the rear end pushing to the side just barely as the car powers out of the bend. And all this with the traction control turned on. It’s at this point where all the little niggles about it’s lack of “equipment” gets thrown out the window. Who really cares when a car drives this beautifully.

This car just enjoys being thrown around bends and the way it takes on corners is a joy to behold. All very smile inducing. The stiff suspension sometimes causes the car to skip over ruts and bumps, but it’s all within control and on an “energetic” drive, it’s all fun. Reached the end of the road? Push down the gears, listen to that wondrous backfire before making a U-turn and back all over again. There were some remarks of this car being a spiritual successor to the E30 in terms on handling. I won’t disagree, both those cars drive beautifully down a twisty road and both are compact enough to dart through traffic. But more then 20 years on advancements show in refinement and power delivery.

Some might judge a car’s driving credentials on how fast it goes round a track or the numbers stack up next to each other. But me, i judge how much i enjoy driving the car by how much time i want to spend behind the wheel, and trust me, the amount of time i spend in the car is embarrassing to say the least, getting out only to eat, use the toilet, or when my petrol is running out and it needs a fill-up. (Something that happens more often if your an “enthusiastic” driver). Heck, the lack of proper day-time pictures, i blame on the car…

I loved driving the car, constantly running my mind through my favorite driving roads when i was behind the wheel. I drove for hours on end, not even minding if i missed a turn, since that will give me even more places to blast around in.

I love the way the car responds to my every input, how the smooth creamy inline-6 glides up the rev-range. I love the way the car looks, muscular to some and inconspicuous to other folks. It sits in most carparks hidden away from flashier vehicles, smug in it’s knowledge of what it can do when the time comes. I love the way the exhaust spits out unburnt fuel on lifts of throttle, and i love the way it makes me feel when i drive it. Few cars bring such a smile of joy and excitement to my face. The last car i had so much fun in, had a proper “M” badge stuck on the boot. And all this fun for less money then any other 3-litred BMW. I love this car.

Would i buy the car if it was my own money?
That’s one of the hardest questions to answer, if i had to buy a car to do everything else (put people in the back, had a decent boot, with daily usability taken into consideration), it’ll be quite high up on my list. 149K for a 3-litre BMW, what’s not to love? And if you are still not convinced by the looks, take a visit over to for some 1 series poisoning goodness.

The one thing about this car? It’s not mine… (And that’s just ****)

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One comment

  1. Great review! Just a little comment – I think both the 630i and 530i have 272hp engines now.

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