BMW showed off the front-wheel-drive-biased M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed

BMW’s new, third-generation 1 Series, internally known as the F40, marks a big departure for the model because it moves from a rear-wheel-drive architecture to one that’s front-wheel drive. This not only has a big impact on how it drives, but it also means it has a new and different aesthetic vibe.

Whereas the previous-gen F20 1 Series, regardless of body style, betrayed the fact that its engine was mounted longitudinally and that power was sent to the rear wheels, the new F40 clearly has the proportions of a front-wheel-drive car. But it’s not a bad looking car by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I got to see the top tier M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and even as I approached the BMW stand I was preparing myself for the worst, but when I actually saw the car, all my fears were dispelled.

2020 BMW M135i Exterior Impression

I Saw the 2020 BMW M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and I'm Impressed
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The new 2020 BMW 1 Series F40 isn’t a front-wheel-drive car masquerading as a rear-wheel-drive car, with an overly long hood that’s there just for show because the engine is transversally mounted. Some modern front-driven cars do have this design trick to make them look more premium (because the FR layout is associated with more expensive and exclusive cars, especially in Europe where smaller cars dominate the market). But not the new 1 Series - BMW quite clearly didn’t want to fool buyers into thinking this is a rear-wheel-drive car.

And I like that honesty. It is not only honest, but it’s really not bad to look at from any angle. I really wanted to hate the F40, but it’s kind of hard to do so because BMW took great care designing the car. Sure, from an enthusiast’s standpoint, it is not as enticing as the old car, but for what it is, it’s actually pretty attractive.

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In fact, now having seen both the M135i and the Mercedes AMG-A35 in person, I think I prefer the look of the BMW. It looks even more like a hot hatch than the Mercedes does, especially from the side where the 1-Series looks like an aggressive wedge ready to cut through the air, whereas the A-Class just looks a bit blobby, especially models that sit lower in the range.

BMW did as good a job as it could, designing the new 1 Series, given that it is essentially an all-new model that bares little similarity to its predecessor. I also appreciate the fact that you really can’t tell it’s related to the MINI range just by looking at it - there is nothing to suggest it rides on basically the same underpinnings as a MINI. Since it is a bit longer and wider and whereas the mini is cute, the BMW is aggressive and planted looking. It’s less of a fashion statement and more of a serious-looking car that looks like it relishes being driven quickly.

2020 BMW M135i Interior Impression

I Saw the 2020 BMW M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and I'm Impressed
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BMW’s front-wheel drive-biased models usually have a cheaper looking interior that does not look or feel as good as what you get in its more expensive cars. I noticed this in the X1, X2 and 2 Series Active Tourer that I drove. They have some different buttons, the interior layout is different, and some components, like the selector for the automatic gearbox, just feels cheaper and nastier in the aforementioned models compared to something like the 3 Series or anything higher in the range.

But the previous F20 1 Series had a similar interior to that of the 3 Series, even though it was theoretically one of BMW’s entry-level models. Sure, it had some lower grade plastics lower in the cabin, but it really didn’t feel that much worse than a 3 Series inside.

That car was mechanically related to the F30 3 Series, though, so the fact that they shared interior components was a normal occurrence.
I Saw the 2020 BMW M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and I'm Impressed
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For the new F40 1 Series, though, I was honestly expecting one of BMW’s cheaper feeling interiors, something similar to what it offers in the 2 Series Active Tourer. However, once I got the chance to step aboard the new 1, I was immediately struck by how 3-Series-like it is inside - it didn’t feel any less special to sit inside compared to its larger rear-wheel-drive sibling. Sure, the 3 Series feels roomier inside, especially in the rear, but in terms of materials, fit and finish, and space up front, there is little between them.

The car BMW chose to display on its Goodwood stand was a fully decked out M135i, so it had all the available bells and whistles, including the fully-digital gauge cluster and the big infotainment screen.

You really felt like you were in a 3 Series and that was refreshing and reassuring given the fact that I had lower expectations of it.

In fact, the previous 1 Series did feel like a step down from the 3 Series in terms of premium feel and overall ambiance, but this new 1 Series feels just as plush inside as the 3 Series, even though they are actually very different cars underneath.

I Saw the 2020 BMW M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and I'm Impressed
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You sit just as low as you do in a 3 Series in the new 1 Series, the driving position is perfect, and some of the unique design touches really give it some character. I especially liked the new door trim pieces that come with built-in mood lighting pattern - this is a feature that I had already seen on MINI products, but the new 1 Series is the first BMW-branded car to feature it. And it looks quite different to how it looks on the MINI and it really improves the mood inside.

The new 1 Series’ interior is so good that it’s actually hard to pick a winner between it and the A-Class.

The latter probably looks a bit more flamboyant and futuristic, but the former actually has the better feeling interior that just seems better screwed together, plus the materials seem better than in the Mercedes too. It’s an impressive interior, that’s certain, and even if the drivetrain is no longer that of a rear-wheel-drive BMW, you don’t feel short-changed from the driver’s seat - everything feels like it’s from a proper BMW.

2020 BMW M135i Driving Impressions

I Saw the 2020 BMW M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and I'm Impressed
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The 1 Series display at Goodwood was sadly a static one, so I didn’t get a chance to try out the new car on any kind of roads. However, I do have high hopes for the way it drives because I’m sure BMW really put in 110-percent in order to not only make it good to drive but make it good enough that people won’t immediately start moaning about power going to the front wheels.

The UKL2 platform is shared with the new X1 and X2, as well as the MINI Countryman, all of which are sharp to drive and quite a lot of fun for what they are. But the 1 Series needs to surpass all of them and I’m sure BMW engineers have done right by their fans and really made a proper (front-wheel drive-biased) driver’s car out of the new F40. I can’t wait to drive it, but I’ll have to wait a few more months before it becomes available for test drives back home.

I Saw the 2020 BMW M135i at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed and I'm Impressed
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In essence, I’m expecting even base trim level cars with small engines to still be fun to throw around. I’m convinced the M135i will be a hoot to drive, especially since it will be the top of the range variant, but what I really want to know is whether or not the more basic versions feel good on the road, are fun, and inspire confidence. Having also driven a few MINI products in recent years, I have high hopes for this new F40 too.

2020 BMW M135i drivetrain specifications
Engine In-line/4/4
Effective capacity cc 1998
Stroke/bore mm 94.6/82.0
Compression ratio :1 9.5
Horsepower 306 HP @ 4,500–6,250 RPM
Torque 331 LB-FT @ 1,750–5,000 RPM
0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) 4.7 seconds
Top Speed 250 km/h (155 mph)

Further reading

2020 BMW 1 Series
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Read our full review on the 2020 BMW 1 Series.

2016 - 2018 BMW 1 Series High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 BMW 1 Series.

2021 BMW M2 CS/CSL
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Read our full speculative review on the 2020 BMW M2 CS.

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