2009 BMW 135i

2009 BMW 135i 2009 BMW 135i
First Drive Review

When BMW first entered the compact car segment with its 1-series (E87) hatchback in Europe in 2004, the car was immediately castigated as too expensive in light of the less-costly Volkswagen Golf (Rabbit) that had ruled the compact segment for decades.

Since then, BMW has silenced the disdain by selling almost 450,000 units of its three- and five-door 1-series premium compacts; everyone now agrees that it's a success. It drives sweetly, too, which leaves its not-so-elegant design as the only remaining complaint with the hatchback models.

But nearly all premium hatchbacks brought to the U.S. have met with failure. Remember the BMW 318ti? How about the slow-selling, then promptly discontinued Mercedes-Benz C230 Sport Coupe?

In an attempt to continue its European success in North America, BMW designed this new coupe version of the 1-series to appeal to American tastes. As a four-seater (comfortable space for two adults on a short trip in back) with a trunk as well as a standard 60/40 split backseat, the 1-series coupe offers a high level of all-round functionality for everyday use, even though the 5-door hatchback version sold in Europe is more versatile. This sub-3-series rear-drive coupe will be basically in a class of its own when it arrives in the U.S. in February.

We drove only the 135i coupe, which should be a fantastic deal if the price comes in at the mid-$30,000s that BMW promises us, is powered by the excellent twin-turbo, direct-injection 3.0-liter inline-six which you already know from the 335i coupe and sedan. This powerhouse also won the International Engine of the Year Award-twice. Fitted into this 3450-pound 135i-yes, the 1-series is only about 100 pounds lighter than an equivalent 3-series-the 300-hp engine sounds fabulous and spins up quickly to its 7000-rpm redline. On the other hand, it delivers a 300-pound-foot punch between 1400 and 5000 rpm with infinitesimal turbo lag. Basically the throttle response is as spontaneous as that of a naturally aspirated engine, which we'll also get in the U.S. in the form of the 230-hp 128i; that one we expect will cost under $30,000.