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      12-21-2012, 03:33 PM   #1
mjh93sa
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2012 - A motoring retrospective.

2012 - A motoring retrospective.

Given the fact that I've probably been driving more different cars that Palmnuts for one reason or another I thought I'd throw up a few thoughts and reminisces from the year.

At the start of the year I found myself in a MINI Cooper, not what I had wanted to be in and a bad start to the year in many ways. I had done a deal to swap the 135i Coupe for a MINI JCW Clubman, which was supposed to be delivered before the end of 2011. But stock issues with the bodykit meant that the delivery was ultimately delayed by three months!

Whilst I loved the 135i Coupe, it was a bit of a nuisance to have to fill up every couple of days. The bills were fine, it was the 50 litre tank, a 75 mile round trip each day, and no more than about 27mpg that became wearing. Except for the newest staff at the local petrol stations I am still recognised and welcomed like an old friend. So when I was driving home one night and heard the advert for the 50/50 0% finance deal that MINI were doing on the Cooper S and JCW the itch to change started. A quick test drive of a JCW confirmed that it was a quick little motor, obviously quite in the same league as the 135i, but certainly enough to surprise the unwary. So, after a little haggling the deal was done.

The car was built at the start of December and consigned to the dealer in short order, so all looked to be on course. Then when it didnít show up the excuses from MINI started. Apparently as it was in a new colour (Highclass Grey, effectively an individual colour with MINI) they had no stock of JCW bodykits. So whilst waiting for it to turn up the dealer initially supplied me with this little runabout:



Basically a standard MINI Cooper with the JCW bodykit added as a part of the newly introduced sport pack. The step down from 300+hp to 122hp was a bit of a shock, but it was only short term, and to be honest the character and manners of the car meant that I quite enjoyed it. The meagre levels of power certainly couldnít overwhelm the grip available, and whilst maintaining momentum it was a fun little car to chuck through the bends. Ride quality was better than the BMW, and in all it wasnít too bad a car to spend January with.

As the delays continued, and the complaints were escalated MINI UK then stepped up to the mark with a loan vehicle for the remainder of the delay:



A MINI JCW Coupe. At the time the Coupe had just been launched, so I guess they had a few to spare after the initial press junkets. Even if it didnít have as many seats as the Clubman, it did at least have all the toys and power that I had on order.

Being a new model, and such an odd sight at first it was a bit weird to be driving around with people literally stopping and pointing at you, but it was altogether a more fun driving experience. The 210hp was enough to make it a bit of a handful in the wet (if you wanted it to be) and the engine had a pleasing raspy note. Though throughout the time I had it the exhaust would not pop and bang like it was supposed to in sport mode.

The interior was standard MINI up front, and a mass of rattles at the back. Whilst attempts had been made to dampen vibrations of the parcel shelves (two fixed pieces) with sprung plungers and so on it would have been enough for me to turn back after about 100 yards if it had been mine. The other issue was one of visibility. The heavily domed roof meant that my head was stuck up in the bubble so to speak, and traffic lights ahead, or any car more than 100 yards behind you would be invisible!

Handling wise it was every bit as good as the MINI Cooper, despite being shod with run-flats, and with the power to get you moving that much more quickly. Despite putting all that power through the front wheels there was little evidence of torque steer, but in the wet you could exit a junction and be a hundred yards down the road before the fronts would stop spinning, if you were so inclined. A fun little hooligans car, which I threw a few thousand miles at, and even took up to the peaks for a MINI meet. Of course being so early in the year it decided to snow on the way up, and the meet included an early morning run across the cat and fiddle with sheets of ice fully across the road!


Finally the Clubman arrived, shortly after a few messages to the MD of MINI UK. Conincidece? I think not! So finally, here was the car that I should have started the year with:











A full fat factory MINI JCW Clubman, with just about every option ticked. It was everything that I had expected of it and more. Quick enough to see of a very startled looking 330i, frugal enough at high 30s mpg and very involving to drive.

Being front wheel drive, the steering was corrupted by the power being laid down, and the electric power steering lacked the feel of the hydraulic system of the old 135i. The plastics were a bit harder, the sound deadening and general wind noise not as well controlled. The doors closed with a decided metallic thunk and everything felt perhaps just a grade lower than the 1 series. The iDrive was a curious mix of the latest layout from the HDD based BMW systems, but with the Nav from the old DVD system, but stored on the HDD.

But for all that I loved it. The steering was as sharp and direct as you could wish for, the engine willing to pull from nothing all the way to the redline, and the exhaust would pop, bang and burble like no other. The raw nature of the drive was so much more involving when giving it some beans as you balanced the power against the available grip and the ride on Dunlop RFTs would put the Bridgestone shod 135i to shame.

During the time that I had it, I took it up to one of the Northern meets, and despite a 4 Ĺ hour drive, I arrived as fresh and relaxed as if I had been in any of my previous BMWs. A pleasant surprise, and testament to the duality of the car. Driven sensibly it would behave and mind itís manners, but taken by the scruff of the neck it would come alive.

I think that more than a few were surprised by the pace of the little breadvan at the meet. Helped by the monsoon like conditions at times, whilst it was no match in a straight line for the assembled collection of some of the most powerful family sized cars from BMW, Audi and that odd Nissan, it acquitted itself well in the mixed driving conditions encountered.

I certainly had no plans to change it so soon, and fully expected to keep the car for at least 2~3 years. However, TMP started posting about the M135i, which got me looking at them. Time was spent on the old 1series forum looking at the wealth of posts about them, especially after what might go down in the carís history as the pivotal review by Chris Harris:



What didnít help was the fact that towards the latter half of the year I had been spending a lot of time away from home on business, with a succession of truly repulsive hire cars being provided. Less said about some of them the better. The i30 is uncomfortable, the ix35 good, but underpowered, Vauxhalls are slow and unispiring, especially the 1.4 Astra and the 1.4T Insignia. The VW group is better, Golfs, so-so, Passat ok, and the best of the bunch so far a 1.2FSI Skoda Yeti!

A few hire cars:









The rot really set in when the folks started looking at replacements for their 120d. That put me into the showroom, and after that resistance was futile. No cars were available at the time to drive, but a few weeks later the dealer had added one to the demo fleet, and it wasnít that long afterwards that I found myself behind the wheel for a bit of a blast.

Even as a manual on run-flats it impressed. Refinement is perhaps the watchword for this car, and thatís both a good and a bad thing. Pootling about it is every bit as refined as any other luxury car, but bury the throttle and it has a level of performance that is out of keeping with the styling that is afterall the same as a 114d with something like a third of the power! But even then, the engine note remains refined and the ride composed. It does it all so well that it lacks a bit of the raw character that something like the MINI JCW has. But, to flip it all on its head it does it all so well, in a package that is extremely practical. 300hp 5-door hatches are few and far between afterall.

So, the deal was done... and the wait began, with obvious trepidation as to how long this one might take to arrive. It was therefore with some pleasure that car arrived after four weeks and 2 days! Pickup day was a long one, hitting the road at 7:00 in Newcastle for a long drive home to the Cotswolds in a hire Astra . Lunch and clean up the hire car before a quick drive in the MINI to the dealer and collection of the M-Lite.

In every sense the car is everything and more that you could want. Refined and brutal in equal measure, it can match your mood perfectly. The driving mode switch, coupled with the adaptive dampers and auto-box let you set the car into whatever mode you are feeling like. In Eco-Pro it feels like someone has pinched the turbo, lethargic, but with really smooth shifts. In Comfort the ride (admittedly on winter run-flats) is comfortable and refined (that word again) in a way that a BMW on run-flats normally just isnít. Itís still taught enough to press on without any problems though. Pushing things up into Sport, and you have the option to set either the drivetrain, chassis, or both into sport mode. Given the few miles on it so far mine is set only for the chassis as you can flick the auto-box into sport separately anyway. In Sport there is a noticeable firming up of the damping, and the shifts when using the paddles are even more like a DSG box as you feel the auto-box lock-up clutch disengage and re-engage with each shift. Actually its more brutal than say a Passat DSG!

As ever the 35i impresses, both for torque, power and refinement. The extra power from the M Performance car is not something thatís really noticeable without extra reference. What is noticeable is the tuning of the engine noise. Whereas my old 135i (N54) could sound a bit tinny and frenetic at high revs, the M135i sounds refined throughout the rev range.

Toys wise its pretty much the same as the MINI, or any other BMW. The reversing camera is good, with all the lines and stuff, but gets dirty very quickly. The inability to spec a heated screen like the MINI is a bit of a let down as we head into winter, but one that I can live with.

And so finally, pics of the M-Lite (on it's winter wheels):































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      12-21-2012, 03:40 PM   #2
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2006 BMW 335i  [5.00]
good stuff!!!!...
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      12-21-2012, 03:47 PM   #3
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Nice one Matt.
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      12-21-2012, 03:50 PM   #4
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Q-Car 2012.

Nice.
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      12-22-2012, 05:32 AM   #5
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Great write up Matt.

Hopefully you've found the right car for you for another year or so now!! Will look forward to seeing it at the next meet.

Matt
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      12-22-2012, 06:04 AM   #6
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Great review mate, really enjoyed that. Can't believe how much you were mucked about by Mini....

What I am most surprised about is the 50 litre tank on the 135. Is that for real? Is the ///M-lite the same?

After spending 1500 miles and 1 whole month in a brand new shape 118d I can appreciate that it's a nice car. Drove nicely and even looks nice in SE form, the M135i does look really nice. Just hope it's more inspiring to drive that it's baby brother (I'm sure it is).
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      12-22-2012, 08:43 AM   #7
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Lovely write-up Matt and I love the new M135i (I see you have gone back to silver after the brief departure with the 'breadvan'!!).
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      12-22-2012, 11:42 AM   #8
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Cheers Guys.

Carl, the M135i is quoted as a 52 litre tank, and the old 135i actually as 53 litres. Not huge for a car with such an engine, but more than enough for the 1.6 or 2.0 normally fitted. Unfortunately, unlike the M5 they don't fit a bigger tank for the bigger engine.

Other than the M135i I have only driven the 116i in F20 form, and must say that I was impressed even with this more "normal" car. The dynamics have moved on from the E87 in a positive way, the ride is improved, the interior (despite it's detractors) feels better put together, and there is noticeably more room in the back.

Having spent a lot of time with an E87 118d (replaced by a MINI Dumpyman SD) and a 120d (that goes in favour of an X1 tomorrow!) the engine also impressed. The diesels are competent, frugal and reasonably well powered, but to a petrol head a four pot diesel will never quite cut it. A six is okay, but a petrol engine even more so.

The 116i which has the engine lifted from a MINI was a real surprise. I hadn't twigged that it was a MINI engine with some 136hp, so was prepared to be disappointed. In fact it was pretty good! Pulled well from idle, revved freely, sounded okay and easily kept up with traffic. Given an official fuel consumption figure of 50+ you have to start wondering if the petrols have caught back up with the diesels as the engine of choice.

Needless to say the M135i moves that on somewhat. Just fire it up and listen to the growl of the exhaust and you know that you're in something a bit special. It just has the ability to change energy state at will, big brakes and big shove make it come alive (... and that noise! ).

Looking forward to next year and the next meet!
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      12-22-2012, 01:21 PM   #9
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Terrific write up Matt,enjoyed reading that

The M135i certainly seems to be the car of the moment,and the plaudits it receives marks it out as something a bit special,I bet you're enjoying yourself
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