End of an era: BMW makes huge change
So this is it: the last hurrah for BMW's rear-wheel drive 1 Series. From here on in, if you want a sporty hatch from any maker, including BMW's new 1 Series due later this year, you can have it only with front- or all-wheel-drive.
Now, there are some mighty fine performance hatchbacks that send power to the front end, notably Hyundai's i30N, VW's Golf GTi and the Honda Civic Type R.
The same wheels that do the driving still have to do the steering, however, so both functions are inevitably compromised.
Similarly, the best all-wheel drive hatchbacks - the Mercedes AMG A45, Audi RS3 and Golf R - are effective and enjoyable on a tight, winding road largely because electronics allow them to mimic a rear-wheel drive layout.
I've just spent a week in BMW's M140i. It's not perfect, but it is proof that when it comes to performance cars, God meant engines to send power to the rear wheels.
Priced at $59,990, the M140i runs BMW's classic performance engine - the twin-scroll turbo 3.0-litre straight six, tuned for 250kW of power and 500Nm of torque.
This is the same engine that powered the 2011-2012 M Coupe, which cost $99,900. It's also in the current M240i Coupe, which will set you back $79,100.
As the cheapest ticket by far into six-cylinder BMW M Performance territory, the M140i is a bargain. The 0-100km/h sprint takes 4.6 seconds, so it's in the same four-second club as the M4 Competition, which takes 4.0 seconds. And costs $156,629.
An eight-speed automatic is standard. The six-speed manual is, sadly, no longer available.
M hardware includes 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 225/40 front and 245/35 rear Michelin Pilot Super Sports conventional tyres, rather than the runflats now ubiquitous on regular BMW models.
Also fitted are M Sport brakes with blue calipers and four pistons up front, adaptive M suspension with adjustable dampers, variable ratio electromechanical steering and a Sport + mode, which turns off the stability control and lets the traction control do ever so graceful, controlled rear-wheel drifts under power.
Inside, you get the fat-rimmed M steering wheel, leather-upholstered M sports seats and the old infotainment set-up, which is better than the new one. Harman Kardon audio and adaptive LED headlights are also standard.
BMW Australia is now offering the M140i Finale Edition, available to order, priced at $62,990. It includes the obligatory badging to indicate its place in history, plus bespoke wheels, a sunroof, metallic paint, wireless phone charging and dark-tipped tailpipes.
For the driver, fine. For back seat passengers, pretty squeezy. That's the way it is in a small, rear-wheel drive car.
And the One certainly is small. You're cocooned in the cockpit, though with plenty of driving position adjustability and that superb M sports seat, one the most comfortable and supportive around.
Adaptive M suspension is an option worth ticking on most BMWs because it provides a much more compliant ride than the non-adjustable version. Even in Sport mode the M140i is reasonably comfortable. Conventional tyres are also more absorbent than runflats.
You get more safety features in a Hyundai i30. Forward collision and lane departure warning are standard. That's it.
In early iterations of the One, dating back to 2005, BMW's straight six was almost too much engine for such a small car, both in its outputs and the fact that it puts a lot of weight over the front axle.
The 140i, though, feels delicately balanced and responsive, albeit with an edgy, slightly feral character when driven hard that, well, 250kW and 500Nm pushing just 1443kg down the road will do every time. It requires care and concentration, especially in Sport + mode.
Although its numbers are now nothing special in the context of performance engines, BMW's 3.0-litre force fed six is still a fabulous piece of work. Massive bottom-end and mid-range grunt segues seamlessly into exhilarating, relentless power that keeps on coming until 7000rpm. In such a small, light car, you really do feel as though you're riding a missile.
The eight-speed's shifts are crisp and timely, including under pressure in Sport mode. Paddles, though, are the way to drive this car for maximum pleasure.
Sport and Sport+ also adjust the suspension, to quote the owner's manual, for "resolute regulation." That's German engineer-speak for nailed down tight. Surprisingly light steering, even in Sport, is pin sharp though slightly remote, with little feedback from the front wheels.
Still, this is a car in which you never feel less than 100 per cent in control.
I took this thing for a drive and couldn't believe that such a small car could be so much fun. Sold.
In the real world, this is as much performance as I will ever use, and it's $20,000 cheaper than the M240i.
Hyundai i30N from $40,490
Killer value and the pick of the front-wheel drive hatchbacks, engineered by the bloke who used to run BMW's M division. 202kW/353Nm 2.0-litre turbo/six-speed manual. 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.2 seconds. An eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is due later in 2019.
VW Golf R from $57,190
The hottest Golf runs a 2.0-litre turbo with 213kW/380Nm and sends power to all wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. 4.8 seconds 0-100km/h. Luxurious and comparatively spacious cabin.'
If you see driving as a skill to be mastered and a sensation to enjoy, you'll get this car.
BMW M140i vitals
Warranty/servicing: 3 years; $1465 prepaid for 5 years/80,000km
Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl turbo, 250kW/500Nm
Safety: No ANCAP rating, 6 airbags, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, camera
Spare: None; repair kit