Road test: BMW M140i

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Bad news for rivals: the bar has just been raised for very hot hatches

Those who read these pages a couple of months back may remember me extolling the virtues of the new BMW M2 and comparing somewhat starkly its charms relative to those of the quicker, more expensive but infinitely less lovable M4 GTS.

If the principle extends equally in the opposite direction, then I should be about to declare undying love for this new M140i. Based on the same platform as the M2 but with rather more practical hatchback bodywork, it comes with the same 3-litre, six cylinder turbo motor, detuned by only 30bhp – not too much when you consider the car to which it is attached is more than £12,000 cheaper.

Of course there will always be those who get sniffy about cars like this, pointing out they’re not proper ‘M’ cars like the M2, but part of the more affordable ‘M Performance’ range. Think Emporio rather than Giorgio Armani. I am less swayed by such considerations and report only as I find. And, for the money, I find the M140i to be the most charming hot hatchback out there.

Hot hatchback. It seems an odd way to describe this car, lumping it in with the likes of the Ford Focus RS and Honda Civic Type R. But when you look at its power, performance and price, these are the cars it is clearly competing against. But while the Ford and Honda are rough, tough cars with very coarse edges, the BMW with its comfortable ride and silken six-cylinder engine feels like something altogether different and, for most people most of the time, a far more desirable one.

Of course it’s based on the old M135i and, to be honest, is only mildly modified with a little more power and some fresh damper settings. But the point is the M135i was already good enough for people like me to wonder why BMW didn’t just call it the M1 (the then still secret M2 is the reason), and the M140i is better even than that.

It’s true it doesn’t feel quite as exciting as the Ford or Honda most of the time, but that’s its greatest trick: it’s civilised when you want it to be and really rather wild when you don’t. Thanks to its large-capacity motor there is effectively no turbo lag, a beautiful soundtrack and all the torque in the world for oversteer addicts to go as sideways as they like.

Indeed I’d say the only car out there good enough to give the M140i a proper run for its money is the Volkswagen Golf R. The VW is more technically accomplished, would be quicker from point to point in all weathers (but especially in the wet) and has a more spacious, practical interior. But the BMW has more charm and class, more indeed than you’d expect to find in any fast hatchback and enough for the M140i to now replace the Golf as my favourite fast hatchback on sale.

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