2008 BMW 135i

2008 BMW 135i 2008 BMW 135i
Short Take Road Test

It is often said that “small is beautiful.” And when it comes to cars, small quite often is beautiful. Certainly, the diminutive and lightweight Lotus Elise is a beautiful thing. But pushed too far, the idea of small can start to get ugly—the Smart Fortwo comes to mind. So maybe the adage should be smaller is beautiful. Smaller doesn’t necessarily mean tiny, though. In the case of the BMW 135i, smaller simply means smaller than a 3-series. And ever since we sampled a European 1-series a few years ago, the idea of a BMW smaller than the 3-series has struck us as a beautiful thing.

At 4.7 Seconds to 60, Smaller Is Certainly Quicker

In overall length, the 135i coupe (the 1-series is only available in the U.S. as a two-door coupe) is 8.9 inches shorter than a 335i coupe, with 4.0 inches taken out of the wheelbase, and it’s also 1.4 inches narrower. These reductions amount to a weight saving of 137 pounds; our 135i weighed 3420 pounds versus 3557 for a 335i coupe.

Fortunately, there is no reduction in engine size or output. The 135i gets the same 300-hp twin-turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine as the 335i. We clocked a 0-to-60 time of 4.9 seconds for the heavier 335i; the 135i did it in a blistering 4.7, with a 13.3-second quarter-mile at 106 mph. The 135i is seriously quick, but best of all, the quickness comes easily, as the turbocharged engine has enough torque and horsepower to waft the 135i into triple-digit speeds without any drama. Slightly more engine noise and exhaust hum enter the 135i cabin than in the 335i, but the sounds are good enough to forgo turning on the radio.

Much like a 3-series from the Driver’s Seat

Aside from being slightly louder, driving the 135i is much like driving a 3-series. From behind the wheel in the spacious front seat—where there's plenty of headroom—the driver isn’t aware of the 1-series’ shrunken size. The four inches lopped out of the wheelbase are, however, noticeable in the back seat. Subjectively, the seats are slightly larger than a Mustang’s back seat—kids will fit just fine, adults will find it acceptable as long as the trip is short.

Since the 135i comes standard with an M-division sport suspension and 18-inch wheels wrapped with summer-friendly run-flat performance rubber, the 135i rides much like a 335i with the Sport package. There is an almost microscopic line between firm and harsh, but the 135i’s suspension somehow follows it perfectly, even on large, abrupt impacts. The 135i’s structure and suspension never crash or shudder, and aimed in a straight line, the heavy steering and the sense of unyielding structure allow the 135i to approach the composure of the much larger 6-series.

In fact, the 135i doesn’t feel small until it is challenged by quick transitions or tight corners, and even then it feels light on its feet. Body roll is minimal, the tires hang on tenaciously—to the tune of 0.89 g on the skidpad—and the 135i is easy to place in corners, even when you’re doubling or nearly tripling recommended speeds. In short, the 135i never feels reckless.