BMW M135i v Audi RS3: Road, Track, Drag-race. - CHRIS HARRIS ON CARS

Uploaded by drive on 17.10.2012


This is the new BMW M135i.
And it's a very exciting little car because it has 320
horsepower from its
turbocharged 6-cylinder engine.
Behind me is the Audi RS3.
You already know that one, don't you?
335 horsepower, four-wheel drive.
Now, this is a test with a difference, because normally
when two Germans get into a tussle in the same
marketplace, they have quite similar numbers.
They cost the same.
They look quite similar.
They occupy the same space on the road, and they have the
same power output.
But BMW has launched this car at a fiver under 30,000
pounds, whereas the RS3 is the thick under 40,000.
Yes, you can spec this car up to be a lot more expensive.
But as things stand, you can have one of these for 10,000
pounds less than the Audi.
This is going to be a good fight.
I'm looking forward to it.

Do you remember when a hot hatchback had about 150
I do.
And do you remember the day that the Civic Type R came out
with 200 horsepower, and we thought, where is
this going to end?
They can't get any more powerful, can they?
Well, Audi now sells a hot hatchback.
I know it costs a lot of money, but they sell one with
335 horsepower.
Ferrari Testarossa only had 390 horsepower.
This is an exceptionally fast car.
Now you just know the next word's going to be "but"
though, don't you?
Continuing this theme, during 2012 we're discussing what
makes a good Audi RS model.
I just don't think that the RS3 fits into that
category, I'm sorry.
I'll list some reasons why.
This is a blunt instrument.
It's not that much fun to drive.
There isn't much feel or involvement coming back
through any of the controls.
It's immensely fast between the corners.
It has a tendency to understeer
when you're in them.
It's got quite a lot of front axle grip.
I'll give it that.
But for some reason, if you just push a little bit beyond
it when you expect the car to neutralize, it's the front
that really goes away from you.
The engine is a masterpiece, as is the gearbox--
5 cylinders, fantastic noise.
Anyone that loved rallying in the '80s will get that
original Quattro 5-cylinder noise, 335 horsepower, and
massive amounts of torque.
So there's no doubting at just how effective
and fast it can be.
As for the chassis, as I've said, steering not great,
doesn't want to noseplow, and the ride, you're not aware of
how busy this is.
I'm in the softest mode at the moment.
If I pile on the Sport button, I get some more exhaust pop,
and I get the kind of ride that is just unpleasant.

Other things to note--
this cabin.
After the new 1 series cabin, I know this is the old Audi A3
model, and there's a new one that's just replaced it.
But we're not going to get a new RS3 for years, so we have
to compare it to this.
This just feels old.
There's some really hard, brittle plastics.
It just doesn't feel that expensive.
And when you assess the fact that they want 40,000 for one
of these, I start to wonder what on earth they were
thinking of.
There's a couple of things I do need to
acknowledge, though.
Being four-wheel drive, this car does have an all-weather
ability that the BMW simply can't match.
Come rain or shine, you'll stick this thing in drive, and
it will be one of the fastest cars point to
points on UK roads.
That is not in doubt.
The other thing is this engine, as we're now
realizing, is immensely tunable.
A lot of people who buy cars like this want to be a bit
naughty, invalidate the warranty, and
give it loads of power.
This motor's running at 450 horsepower in VLN races and
the TTs out there, and it does so quite happily.
It does the 24-hour race in that respect.
So this can go a lot, lot further, this motor.
And that, I'm sure, is very appealing to a lot of people.
What I find really interesting about this car and this test
is a genuine mismatch.
This is an RS model.
This is Audi's premium performance brand, their very
best, fastest car, and it's up against a new BMW sub-brand of
not quite M car.
The M135i is not an M car.
And yet, in many areas, it shows what should be done.

Yes, that's right.
This isn't an exact rival for the RS3 because it's cheaper
and it's not an M car.
And obviously, "M" corresponds to "RS" in Audi speak.
But you know what?
This is a really, really interesting car.
From the outside it's nothing like as exciting looking.
But if ever a car cloaked extraordinary performance in
disappointingly ordinary clothes, it's the M135i
because this is a very, very fast car.
In fact, I think it might be quicker than the Audi RS3, but
we'll find out about that later on in the video.
It does so many of the things right that
the Audi does wrong.
For example, the driving position is multi-adjustable.
I can get low.
The steering will come back towards me.
The seat is superior in every respect.
The steering--
OK, it's electric.
It doesn't have any feel whatsoever.
And in Comfort mode, you think it's too light initially.
But if you spend time in the car, it's very, very accurate,
and it's quick.
It's two turns lock to lock.
I found myself finding it one of the most intuitive electric
steering systems I've used.
I'll talk about how you configure the chassis and the
other stuff in a minute, but left in Comfort on a British
set of roads, A, B, motorway, a mixture like that, this is a
very, very convincing car indeed.
I thought it had a double-clutch gearbox until I
checked the specification.
This has the optional 1,500-pound, 8-speed Zeta
automatic, but it behaves just like a double-clutch because
it's so fast when you manually shift.
And in Automatic mode, it's fantastic.
It gives a claimed performance of north of 60 miles an hour,
62 miles an hour, in 4.9 seconds.
It's a seriously, seriously fast car.

Now, we all know this fad for configuring your car is
becoming more and more popular.
And sadly, the M135i buys into it big time.
So there's a button down here that allows us to choose
between Sport Plus mode, Sport, Comfort, and then
there's an Eco Pro mode as well.
The upshot is that, most of the time, Comfort is the right
mode to be in.
If you go in to Sport, you automatically get a sharper
chassis, and you get a sharper throttle response.
But you can actually knock either of those back.
So Sport can mean sharp throttle, soft chassis, or
sharp chassis, soft throttle.
So you can do that, but it's quite complicated.
You've got to mess around in the sub-menu up here.
You can turn all of the slippy stuff off if you want to, but
that brings us to perhaps this car's most controversial point
for keen drivers--
no locking differential.
There's not even an option of an LSD on this car.
Partly, we suspect, that's because they want to keep that
kind of stuff for the proper full-on M cars.
But I can't help but think it's a bit of an omission.
Do you know what, though?
Today it's been greasy, and I've expected to have more
problems with traction than I've had in this car.
Am I missing having a locking diff as a road car?
I'm not sure I am.
There's a lovely independent feeling across the back axle.
The car's not understeering in slow or medium speed turns,
which you often get with a tight diff.
So at the moment, I'm not missing it.
However, let me go to track.
That might be a different case, but at least we can go
and test it.
So once you've configured the car the way you want it, which
for me means leave it in Comfort and just live with the
slightly light steering.
Oh yes, sorry.
Sport gives you heavier steering as well.
But to me, it's just too heavy.
It almost feels like it doesn't want to move
Once you've got it where you want it, it's a really, really
pleasant car.
If you push it really, really hard, you do find that the
rear of the car is a bit lacking in control.
You can get the rear to move a little bit.
But you've got to be traveling at about warp speed nine to
reach that point.
So for me, it's absolutely fine.
The interior of the car--
OK, it's complicated.
It's sort of the logic of a troubled teenager thrown
around the cabin, and I still don't think BMW's I drive
works as well as the other German systems.
But it's modern.
It's cool.
The displays are funky.
It makes the Audi RS3 feel very old inside.
So as a road device, this is a nicer car.
To me, it feels as fast, if not a bit faster, and it's
10,000 pounds cheaper.
Although, a big asterisk at that point--
this car, as tested, is 37,000 pounds.
But I've gone through the options list of the stuff that
I would remove like fully electric seats, and folding
door mirrors, and some nonsense to do with the
special screens and all the other stuff,
the connected drive.
You can strip out 4,000 or 5,000 of that stuff.
And actually, the appeal of this car is to get this level
of performance for just under 30,000 pounds.
So stay light on the options and take the performance.
So all that's left really is to go and see which is faster,
and try and uncover how they behave when you really push
them about.
Why does the RS3 have such a shocking driving position?
You're too high.
The wheel is too far away.
I suppose at least you don't have to heel and toe anymore.
And as for fuel economy, when you're not looking to make
time, the best I saw was 26 MPG, and that fell rapidly if
you pinned what is admittedly a very, very special engine.
But the BMW's motor sounds, if anything, a
little better from inside.
And on a long trip using that ingenious Eco Pro mode, which
holds onto gears longer, I have reached-- wait for this--
38 miles to the gallon.
For a car of this performance, that is astonishing.
As a road car, the BMW has the Audi covered in every area but
sort of traction and extreme weather conditions really.
And even then, the BMW's supple rear axle and subtle
electronics give it remarkable traction.
On paper, the RS3 is the hottest of hot hatchbacks--
335 horsepower, four-wheel drive, 40,000 pounds before
you put a few toys on it as well.
What's it like on a really fast lap?
And is it really 10,000 pounds better and
faster than an M135i?
Well, let's find out.
In third gear, we'll go through a couple of things,
and then we'll start a flying lap.
Understeering already.

What's that all about?

7,000, shift up then is DSG gearbox, seven speeds as
opposed to the BMW's eight, bigger breaking point.

Pedals a bit sharper.
Only in third here.
You just have to use so much more steering, and it's
understeering everywhere.
I've got the system turned off.
It almost means that I need to move my hands on the wheel to
get more lock on it.
Hooks up reasonably well, but at these higher speeds, it
doesn't feel like it has that much of a traction advantage.
It's strolling along now.
It needs a lift here, I think.
It can't go flat through here.
Otherwise, I'll use all of the circuit on the exit like that.
Bloody hell.
Fourth gear.
Oh, it's just understeering.
I know it's only got a normal Continental tire, but even if
you back off the throttle, you can't neutralize the thing.

Oh, look at that rubbish.
I'm sure it's going to be a lovely car to live with and a
lovely used purchase, but why do these cars have to do that?

Yeah, sorry.
I'm Mr. Unimpressed.

I don't really care if it's faster than the BMW.
It's got so much understeer everywhere.
A bit of understeer is fine, OK?
A bit of safety understeer is fine, but not that.
I mean, that's just unpleasant.

A lap of grunting full through the circuit in an M135i,
trying and carry as much speed onto this
back straight as possible.
Shifting up at 7,000 RPM, how good does this engine sound?
We talk about non-M engines.
Well, this sounds as good as pretty much any M engine I've
listened to in the past 15 years.
Braking hard at the box up here.
Six-point calipers at the front of this.
It's doing a reasonable job as well.
It can carry as much speed as possible going through here.
It's going wide.
I've got the system to Sport Plus, but I
still want to intervene.
Just a bit easier on the throttle.
Car turns nicely.
That fast track is a big help.
This place is quick.
So we've got to sort of-- oh, am I flat-out kinky in here.

Is it flat?
It is.

OK, back down to four for this.
A little corner here.
Watch it's pace for the exit.
Great correct through these.
It's what you find in supersports.
So I brake the car again.
It turns so nicely.
I really feel like I never point to the
middle of the car.
Lots of breadth.
It's neutral.
Bit of understeer, and then you get
that nice bit of oversteer.
For a non-M car, all I can say is, what's the M version going
to be like?
Because this is absolutely stunning.
Even as a stalwart fan of limited zip differentials on
powerful rear-wheel drive cars, I find it hard to
criticize the BMW's open diff family of electronics.
It's not as natural a drift car as the 1M, but that's as
much to do with the very fast steering as the differential.
The way those four-piston front brake calipers work,
too, means this is at last a BMW without
brakes made from butter.
If the 135i nails the RS3 on the road, it kills it on the
track for fun.
I can't remember the last time I drove a car with a more
unpleasant chassis balance than this Audi.
Understeer, then, yep, some more understeer, and then
tragic understeer to follow.
And after that, chunks of rubber falling
from the front tires.
It went 0.9 of a second quicker than the BMW, but
frankly, who cares?
Now, look, I'm sorry this has been reduced to a drag race.
But the people that buy these sorts of cars tend to be quite
punchy and want to know which is quicker.
So there's only one way to decide, isn't there?
Side by side, two-mile runway, M135i versus our RS3.
That's got four-wheel drive, and launch
control, and more power.
It should obliterate this thing.
Let's see what happens.
My able assistant Neil is driving the other car because
we couldn't afford anyone else.
Three, two, one, go.

OK, he gets away at the beginning, doesn't he?
But look, I'm already picking him.
Where's the power, Mr. Audi?
You know what?
We're still--
we're trucking!
We're trucking!
And we're gaining.
We are gaining.
This little car absolutely flies.
140 showing.
Now we're alongside.
Now we're going past.
Yeah, baby!
Yeah, baby.
And that's 160 indicated.
And now the limit has called time.
Hey boys, M135i is faster than an RS3.

The Audi has the advantage off the line.
It creams me to 30 miles an hour.
But then this thing just keeps going.
OK, it's irrelevant.
It happens over 140, but I don't care.
I think it's dead impressive.

Only the Germans could take a class of car like the hot
hatchback and turn it into something as
extraordinary as these two.
But there's a definite winner here, and it's the one from
the Munich corner.
The M135i is a cracking little car.
And for the money, without all those extras on it, at under
30,000 pounds, remembering that it does north to 100
miles an hour in under 11 seconds, it is the
bargain of the year.
OK, it's not perfect.
But it does take the RS3's trousers down in many
I've been quite disappointed by this car.
Some people told me it was a good RS model, but I don't
think it is.
I think it understeers.
I think it's a bit harsh on the road.
And where I expected it to blow the BMW away in a
straight line, it didn't.
In fact, it got beaten ultimately.
So congratulations, BMW.
That is a cracking car.
But, of course, there's one proviso here, and that is the
Audi showroom factor.
That is an object.
It's quite a machine, and I just know that loads of people
are going to buy those instead.
But they shouldn't, because if you like driving, that's a
better car.