2009 BMW 1-Series

2009 BMW 1-Series 2009 BMW 1-Series
First Drive Review

In Europe, the BMW 1-series hatchback has been a solid success, despite being even more visually challenged than most BMWs. The U.S. arm of the company, probably mindful that the 1995 318ti hatchback was almost as successful as the Cleveland Browns, thought the 1-series hatch might sell like cold cakes and decided to wait for the prettier coupe version to appear before marketing it here as its entry-level car.

Based on a shortened 3-series platform, the 128i and 135i coupes go on sale in the spring. They will be priced at just under $30,000 for the naturally aspirated, 230-hp 128i and in the mid-$30,000s for the twin-turbocharged, 300-hp 135i, undercutting the 328i and 335i coupes by about $6000. Both engines are 3.0-liter inline-sixes hooked up to six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The 135i automatic will get paddle shifters for that boy-racer feeling.

At 171.7 inches long, the 135i is 8.9 inches shorter than the 335i coupe and 1.4 inches narrower at 68.8 inches, and it rides on a wheelbase that is four inches shorter (104.7 inches). Despite the smaller footprint, however, it’s only about 200 pounds lighter than the 335i, according to BMW’s figures. That’s because much of the architecture is carried over, including the multilink-rear suspension and strut-front arrangement.

The 135i comes only with a sportier M suspension setup that’s lowered by 0.6 inch compared with the 128i’s. (The sport suspension is optional on the 128i.) Eighteen-inch wheels are shod with 215/40 front and 245/35 rear tires, and the brakes get upgraded to aluminum six-piston fixed calipers at the front and two-piston calipers out back. These replace the floating single-piston calipers used on the 128i and 3-series variants. When the stability-control system is switched off, BMW uses rear-brake intervention to emulate the behavior of a limited-slip differential. As with the 3-series, BMW’s active-steering system is an option.

The 135i has a bunch of other M goodies, including an aggressive air dam, side skirts, and a chrome grille, as well as interior enhancements such as a fat-rimmed leather steering wheel. The interior looks as if it were stolen from a 3-series. Rear-seat room is decent enough, although six-footers will want an escape clause after a couple of hours. The standard split-folding rear seat extends the already-adequate trunk space. Options are similar to the 3-series’, which means that navigation is bundled with iDrive: Since you were wondering, we’d rather have our fingernails surgically removed than attempt to work through that system’s myriad subtleties.

All such carping goes out the window when you find a challenging road. The 135i is a handy weapon, with more speed than most of us need. BMW claims a 0-to-62-mph time of 5.3 seconds, and we reckon it will be at least as fast as the last 335i coupe we tested, which ran to 60 in 4.9 seconds. That’s a lot of performance for a car that could be bought for about 36 grand, should you find a BMW dealer who can resist the temptation to option its cars up to the gunwales.

As in the 335i coupe and sedan, the twin-turbo inline-six is a honey, with a suggestive exhaust yowl at high revs, excellent midrange power, and the smoothness of Bill Clinton in full schmooze. The six-speed manual is slick and swift, and the steering is fully involved in what’s going on at the tire contact patch. Heck, the thing even rides well.

On the street, the 135i handles sweetly, displaying excellent body control and a stolidly neutral demeanor. However, BMW also allowed us to sample the 135i at a racetrack, which dampened our enthusiasm a bit. We’re not proposing that every car should be an oversteering monster along the lines of a Corvette Z06, but the 135i’s nose wants to run wide all the time, which is safe but frustrating. A 335i coupe is more entertaining.

Still, the 135i has a lot going for it: It’s a slightly smaller and slightly faster version of the 3-series coupe, already one of our favorite cars. It looks cool and brings you BMW virtues for a lower price than that of a comparable 3-series sedan. What’s not to like about that?