Hot hatch shootout: BMW M135i vs. Mercedes-AMG A35 vs. mini YPC

Hatches parked

Three of the hottest hatches, prepare for battle

The 1 Series has lost its six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive - but what about the enthusiast's appeal? We stack up against two major contenders to find out

There's a lot you can infer about "hot" hatchbacks, it seems to me, if you stop for a moment to consider a fish-fingered sandwich.

Both kinds of indulgences lend themselves perfectly to enriching the everyday. Both are extraordinary, one might even say unlikely, triumphs of human ingenuity made from fairly simple ingredients. And how can you be so easily damaged if you do not take into account the modesty and simplicity of their makeup, and let your taste for the exotic revolt.

Sliced ​​white bread, fish figures of unimpressive quality (arranged transversely for optimum room efficiency), margarine scratch and (traditional) seasonings of your choice are the upper limit of how a careerist should be with fish-finger sandwiches. As I regularly remind my better half, no very hot nando sauce should be part of the equation. In a similar vein, a very good four-cylinder engine, many manual transmissions, front-wheel drive and a well-seasoned specification of tires, suspension, brakes and differentials is probably as exotic as it makes sense to build your hot hatchback.

Anyone who was tempted, as I once was, to slip a cucumber (thinly sliced, obviously - I'm not an idiot) between "cod" and bread will know how Icarus must have felt the evening before a big flight when he involuntarily made his Warburtons wet. I've since learned to be very suspicious of ciabatta finger fish when eating out, especially if it happens on any menu - the mention of tartar sauce was born. Here's the lesson, folks: if you want the wonderful of these things, don't get carried away with what you've typed.

With the last two generations of its 1 Series hatchback, I'd say BMW has strayed on the wrong side of that line. Not quite as far off, quite distinctly, as Renault Sport did when it signed the mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive, V6-powered Clio at the end of the last century. Far enough, though - if only the longways use of a six-cylinder engine and rear-wheel drive - to give people unrealistic expectations about the handling dynamics and driver engagement that any size golf hatchback could be capable of.

And so, while some BMW die-hards may now be left to fend for themselves in various psychological stages of experiencing grief and loss about the demise of the rear-driven M140i, I encourage them to take a break. Few people who owned or drove an M140i would be moved to yell at her funeral. There were several reasons why this car would never drop its various opponents in this magazine's assessment, and strangely immobile, controllable, lead steering and rebellious body are all numbered in between. The new M135i all-wheel drive, however - what can you say is successful, rather than directly replacing the old M140i due to its somewhat lower power, cylinder count and nomenclative styling - is a better car to drive than its predecessor in most ways it should matter. It's a fact that you can't help but notice how I'm only when together with a close rival and an even closer platform is relatively.

The Mercedes-AMG A35 4Matic 135WD and Miniclub John Cooper Works were, for various reasons, the biggest potential barriers to market success for the new BMW M3i 3WD that I could think of at the time of planning this test. They may not quite be the fast all-wheel drive hot hatchback agencies you'd expect us to pit the new BMW against. But there was no Volkswagen Golf R to include, because the Wolfsburg mega-hatch is now out of production and won't be replaced until the equivalent eighth-generation Golf is ready for top-level handling performance. The Ford Focus RS is long dead. The Audi CXNUMX Sportback may already be squeaking into the fray, it was a straight three-way fight - and the PSXNUMX might have been lashed out by anyone who cares, for those who can afford it.

But how much more interesting is how – indicative, even, perhaps, to evaluate this new junior performance of BMW against its own competitor, which uses the same number of machines with slightly different finishes, as well as against its newest, closest and most fierce German opponents?

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Well, it was certainly revealing - not in that it takes any back-to-back comparisons at all to conclude that so many fundamental mechanical changes have taken their toll on the hot Series 1. My word, not the smallest BMW feels different. ? Surprisingly nestled in its driving position, even wider than a hatchback class – forget Munich – it also finds its butt in a completely different spatial relationship for an axle car than the long nose, short chanter, the old-generation 1 Series is used to. Is it to turn on and off? When the last generation of driving position felt so unusually low and turning over, I would venture to guess what it will be for some.

In fact, the Mini's driving position is now much lower and more recumbent than any of its rivals, and feels most natural to frolic here, in front of the wheels in the distance. While the BMW's seats are otherwise the best on the test, their position obliges you to take the augers the least promising.

Give your eye while around the rest of the cabin and BMW fares are better. The A35 beats it on the ritziness of the material, perceived quality and overall environmental pleasantness if you're in the front passenger seat – but not by much. Traveling in the back row, meanwhile, I'd rather take the M135i, which seems to make for a bit more headroom and legroom, and feels better-billed. The honorable mention goes to the Clubman, who do offer competitive seating in both rows - after you've bent that a little lower to get in.

If I had a pound for every time I'm trapped by a hanging knee between the driver's seatback and the inside door handle when closing the tailgate on the current generation A-Class or CIA... Well, that's my round at the candy theater. It's pretty surprising, actually, since it's one of the hatchback class outwardly larger than the operators and exactly 100mm longer than the BMW (and even longer than the Mini) that the Mercedes isn't any better at interior housing.

For the width of the interior, there's only 4mm between the three cars - the BMW and Mini's views are up to nearly the same, and all three cars feel every bit as expansive as you want a relatively compact car on the road. For boot space, meanwhile BMW tops the practicality heap again, offering 380 liters under the boot rack for the Mercedes 370 and Mini 360.

Time to compare the driving experience first - and find out whether a premium badge, a two-pedal gearbox or a four-wheel-drive system puts any of these hot hatchbacks in a ciabatta edge fish finger. That is, after all, exactly how all three of these cars roll for mechanical specs – the similarities extend even as far as the three car engine line-up consists exclusively of 2,0-litre twin-scroll turbocharged petrol engines producing exactly 302bhp at maximum output – two of which is exactly the same B48A20T1 motor, of course, integrated sideways into one UKL2 BMW platform model.

It's ridiculous, then, that the M135i has to somehow make the engine be a bit more powerful than the world's fastest drives. Perhaps the mini is a slightly larger weight kerb, but the BMW accurately carries through the mid-rev range with a lampshade more urgency than the mini, and with a touch even more so than the Mercedes, which runs on a show-stopping deficit unfamiliar to AMG. It's like affordability and an outright amount of peak torque, and it feels like it.

There's also an odd reediness in the A35's engine revs, a slight loss of enthusiasm for its power above 5000 rpm and a dieselly chunter to its voice at idle that won't make you love it. BMW turbo sounds, shadows are more obvious in its trilling digital technology, but also a little slower to respond at midrange revs when you ask for a wave of acceleration than the Mercedes Bump, albeit far slower. But it's quite obvious that it pulls harder, revs sharper, sounds better and generally works better with the eight-speed automatic it's attached to than the Mercedes engine drives in combination with a seven-speed dual clutch, but the latter eventually comes out quickly to the oars, but the feeling is as slick as it is smooth otherwise.

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But predictably enough, it's the ride and handling that better separate the M135i and the UPC club - and they also finally get the A35 on the bottom step of our pedestal. We've tested this hot A-class vehicle even earlier on the standard AMG suspension when we found it damped too aggressively to work well on any kind of British road or everyday city life. Here, we tested it with the optional adaptive dampers, but also on the optional 19in Mercedes AMG type wheel package. And for the initial ride's fluency and good, close composure compared to the car's less-than-ideal surface, it performed a lot better than it did the first time around - though, the A35's mid-ride isolation and overall sharp edges run into the AXNUMX's absorption—sometimes noisy ride still has a lot to to be desired.

Tested on standard passive dampers, the mini is even more likely to ride in some sense: firmer, shorter stays and less accommodating overall, it feels busy over bumps, though even less clunky. But the world's fastest handles with a touch of greater precision and immediacy than the M135i or A35, capitalizing on its low center of gravity and surprisingly striking effect around corners, both tight and tight. That's right, you might think, but so often in the modern version of the Minis failed - however, judging not by their peers on a smaller size, on a hot hatchback model (Mini Cooper S compared to Fiesta ST, for example).

Advice then: this world's fastest JPC really delivers a sharper, more interesting driving experience than the average hot hatchback of its size and has ample driver appeal in its esoteric silhouette. Its corners are thinner than any of its rivals and the handles are just as hard. It communicates a little less through its steering than the BMW, for granted - and offers a lot more in terms of precision, stability and traction than direct cornering rest or controllability. However, it's the most natural entertainer here - the easiest, most fun, most route-of-one hot hatchback.

On the optional adaptive suspension, the Mini can also have a chassis compromise you'd happily live with, and it'll be very easy to accept the car's relatively outdated infotainment system and its slightly annoyingly "novelty" interior design for - even if you're not a clear fan of the Mini brand. But that's not how we tested the machine; and only in the realm of speculation, I'm afraid the mini could have won this test in earnest.

As a matter of fact, BMW's adaptively damped features of real-world pace, better-decided driving, more enticing steering feel, more finished and more daily use of the interior were enough to get her across the line. Although the BMW feels a bit unsportsmanlike in place, its ride is taut, nimble and built on the testing surface, and more supple and better insulated than any of its rivals. It's not a bunch-handling wonder car, but it still feels precise and purposeful, and sharp enough to take B-roads apart, corner to corner, when you're in the mood for it.

The BMW M135i all-wheel drive is more acceptable than its ancestor, and it's both fast and fun, with fewer noticeable dynamic kinks than the quick Series 1 before. Released from the weight of expectation that rear-wheel drive is placed on its predecessors, it feels like a hot hatchback free to play by the class rules - and it does it well.

For the record, I'd say it's good enough to avoid any fish-finger ciabatta association quite comfortably; and I, for one, am glad that the BMW on the left has hot sauce in the closet where it belongs.

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