NICHES ARE rife. They tend to generate cars that appeal to certain people - and those buyers often become enthusiasts. The problem is niches generally donít garner volume sales. And thatís an issue for the bean counters. Growing profit margins leaves little room for heartstrings and tradition.

Enter the third-gen F40 1 Series in its hottest guise, the M135i. Gone are the 3.0-litre turbo in-line six and the rear-drive chassis; in their place a boosted 2.0-litre four with 225kW/450Nm and xDrive all-wheel drive. With a claimed 0-100km/h sprint of 4.8 seconds, performance hasnít suffered. And despite the AWD system, weight has actually dropped by 30kg to 1525kg.

The power delivery is linear, resulting in deceptive progress. Itís not neck-snapping, but it is swift point-to-point. s The four-cylinder has a distinctively Mini Cooper JCW soundtrack - just one with the volume turned down to seven. The eight-speed auto ties in well, too.

With xDriveís front-biased set-up youíll have more chance wiggling the rear under brakes than during power-down past the apex. A rather conservative maximum of 50 percent of drive can be sent rearwards. A Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential helps translate grunt to grip, while a tricky anti-slip system works in conjunction with the DSC to keep understeer at bay. Branded ARB and taken from the i3S, it can detect wheel slip 10 times faster than the set-up it replaces.

Model BMW M135i