Best Sports Car $50,000 - $100,000

Winner - BMW M135i

3.0 litre turbo, 6-cyl, 8-spd Auto
$71,721 (Indicative Drive Away)

7.5 L/100km; fuel type - PULP
Country of Origin: Germany

ANCAP: Not Rated
GVG: starstarstarstar

Watch Video Review

View Category Scoresheet

Our Verdict

BMW has made it six wins in a row for the high-performance offering among its 1 Series range, with the M135i hot hatch going back-to-back on top of a ‘four-peat’ by the 135i Coupe.

Such is the competence of its design and function qualities and on road prowess, that the M135i, metaphorically speaking, took the chequered flag after starting towards the back of the grid as an average to below-average value for money proposition. It scored less than nine out of 10 in safety and environment, while leading the class in comfort and finishing equal-top for ergonomics, performance and smoothness/quietness.   

Handed a power boost before last year’s judging, the M135i is absolutely single-minded in the way it goes in pursuit of peak power of 235kW at 5800rpm and beyond to a 7000rpm redline. An optional eight-speed sport automatic transmission is quick-witted and works intuitively in extracting the best of the silky-smooth, TwinPower turbo 3.0-litre engine. All the while, the big inline six-cylinder entertains with induction noise and a snarling exhaust soundtrack. Peak torque is a brutish 450Nm, administered across a broad spread of 1250-5000rpm. Claimed 0-100km/h is 4.9 seconds.

Driving Experience Control enables adjustment of drivetrain settings: select Sport Plus mode for pursuit of fastest lap at a track day, Sport to enjoy a sinuous mountain road, Comfort when highway cruising or EcoPro when commuting to work. It works superbly, as does the Variable Sports Steering, which gains weight and directness as speeds increase. Indeed, Sport mode seems almost the ideal default setting for a car like this. Enabled, it fosters interaction between driver and car. You can corner hard and flat to the point of controlled twitchiness, but all the while with the safety net of traction and electronic stability controls in place. The ride quality, meantime, is not bone-jarring brittle.

The concept of putting power to the ground through the rear wheels, leaving the front wheels to simply point and steer, might be simple, but in cars like this it makes for the purest of driving experiences. The standard braking package is M Sport, incorporating four-piston fixed calipers on the front axle and two-piston fixed callipers at the rear, and works indefatigably. M double-spoke alloy wheels, fitted with high-performance 225/40 R18 front and 245/35 R18 rear tyres, are specific to the M135i and offer prodigious grip.

Ergonomically and comfort wise, the M135i measures up brilliantly. The sports front seats, in Dakota leather, support in all the right areas (particularly laterally), controls and switchgear fall easily to hand and there is an air of quality build and finish. And a full M aerodynamics exterior body package - anthracite individual roof liner, door sills with M designation, M leather steering wheel and high gloss shadowline - helps give the BMW its identity.

To use the Aussie vernacular, the BMW M135i is a ‘good thing’. 

More BMW M135i Reviews:    NRMA M-Power for 135i 

Category Finalists

2nd Place:           Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG

Drivetrain:                     2.0 litre turbo, 4-cyl, 7-spd dual-clutch Auto
Price:                              $81,369 (Indicative Drive Away)
Fuel economy:              6.9 L/100km; fuel type – 98 RON PULP
Country of Origin:        Germany

ANCAP:                         starstarstarstarstar
GVG:                               starstarstarstar

In the context of hot hatches, the Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG is absolutely scalding.

With a peak of 265 kW at 6000 rpm, its 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine is the most powerful series production four-cylinder in the world. To handle this sort of power, AMG has endowed the A 45 with an on-demand AWD system that drives through the front wheels in normal driving, but is capable of transferring up to 50 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels when required.

Launching the A 45 in search of an optimum 0-100km/h time is one such occasion, and here Mercedes-Benz claims a blistering 4.6 seconds. All the while their pocket rocket fairly shouts about it; under full power emitting an emphatic ‘bang’ from its sports exhaust with each flick of the seven-speed, dual-clutch auto’s paddle shifter. With prodigious AWD-generated traction and mechanical grip engineered into the A 45, there is accomplished handling and dynamic ability to match.

In the ‘real world’, the A 45 is easy to drive and live with; a choice of driving modes and a broad torque curve of 450 Nm between 2250 and 5000 rpm giving the car amazing flexibility. Like the M135i, it’s something of an underperformer in the area of value for money, with only its standard features earning an above-average score. But in design and function, and on the road, the ‘baby Benz’ ticks the boxes comprehensively (except for ride quality and smoothness/quietness) with solid scores of eights and nines out of 10.

So it might not have won, but if you’re in the market for a hot hatch at the upper end of the market, then overlook the A 45 AMG at your own peril.

More Mercedes A 45 AMG Reviews:    NRMA First Drive

3rd Place:            Mercedes-Benz  A 250 Sport

Price:                              $55,207 (Indicative Drive Away) 
Drivetrain:                     2.0 litre turbo, 4-cyl, 7-spd auto-manual
Fuel economy:              6.6 L/100km; fuel type - PULP
Country of Origin:        Germany

ANCAP:                         starstarstarstarstar
GVG:                               starstarstarstarhalf star

While horsepower doesn’t exactly rule in Australia’s Best Cars’ awards, it goes some way towards determining a winner in the two Sports Car categories where on-road performance is critical. And so it proved in the upper category (this year with new price cut points of $50,000-$100,000). With a power deficit of up to 110 kW, and 100 Nm of torque less to boot, the Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport was always going to struggle against its two more expensive rival finalists.

That said, the new five-door hot hatch shines in several areas, notching up well above average scores for price and depreciation, safety, environment, comfort, build/finish quality, ride (on other than rough surfaces), braking and smoothness/quietness.

So, it shapes as a competent all-rounder, rather than one-trick pony.

A seven-speed twin-clutch automated manual gearbox (with paddle shift, naturally) is employed in unison with a direct-injection, turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol inline-four, producing 155 kW of power. Peak torque of 350 Nm arrives early, and the A 250 pulls enthusiastically from below 2500rpm. But to bring out the best, engage Sport mode, dial up 4000 rpm and an overboost function delivers a 10 kW spike in peak power for 30 seconds at a time. There is a near absence of turbo lag, just linear and energetic power delivery. M-B claims a 0-100 km/h time of 6.6 seconds, which feels completely plausible. Turn-in is crisp, and a unique suspension tune and sticky 18-inch rubber produce impressive mid-corner prowess and near absence of body roll.

More Mercedes A250 Reviews:    NRMA First Drive