BMW 135i coupe Review
Laurence Yap is a Canadian auto journalist and he had the honor to test drive the upcoming BMW 135i coupe.
There are two ways to look at BMW’s newest, and smallest, car, the 1-series coupe. It’s either a return to form, a back-to-basics expression of the company’s most traditional values. Or it’s an expensive little indulgence, a car that makes little sense from a logical standpoint but whose looks, performance and image will nevertheless make it a favorite of die-hard car enthusiasts.
Just looking at the 1-series – which was originally created for the European market in hatchback form, which we won’t get – and it’s hard not to be reminded of the 2002, the little sports sedan that racked up success after racing success and whose sparkling performance and compact size became the very definition of what a BMW was all about. From the tall, thin-pillared greenhouse to the flat, almost retro way the hood flows straight along the side of the car into the short rear deck. Like the 2002, the grille hunches forward a little bit and the wheels are pushed out to near the corners of the car. Unlike that car, however, the detailing is decidedly modern, with a sweeping character line across the lower half of the car that visually links it to the current 3- and 5-series models.
Opt for the more-expensive turbocharged 135i (the lineup starts with a naturally-aspirated 3.0-litre 128i) and you get a standard M Sport package whose sill extensions, rear spoiler and big alloy wheels give it a pumped-up, ready-for-action air that’s reminiscent of the old turbocharged 2002 race cars. A diffuser under the rear bumper frames two fat exhaust pipes, further underlining its performance intentions. All told, it’s sort of a cartoon of the best BMW styling cues, strung together into a cheeky, aggressive whole.
This is hardly an illusion. Because while the 1-series may be BMW’s smallest offering, it’s a real rocketship. Even if you choose the “base” 128i, you get an inline-six that produces 230 horsepower, enough to hurl it to highway speeds in a couple of blinks of an eye. If that’s not enough, the 135i that we drove comes with the same twin-turbo 3.0-litre six that’s available in the 3- and 5-series models. With 300 horses and a fat 300 lb-ft of torque pushing along only 1,560 kg, BMW claims the 135 is as fast as the old M3, but because of the turbo engine’s fat torque curve and its immediate throttle response, it feels even faster than that. The M3 required you to rev it like crazy when you wanted to go fast; all you have to do in the 135 is roll your toes onto the gas pedal.
Because of its compact size and huge power, the 135i has an eager, almost aggressive nimbleness that makes it a very exciting drive. You barely need to twitch your hands on the steering wheel to induce changes of direction; the four-piston monoblock brakes haul the car down from big speeds powerfully with just a brush of the pedal and thrust out of corners is awesome. Standard 18-inch tires mean that there’s plenty of cornering grip, though it’d be quite easy to break the rear end loose with the traction control turned off and with your foot planted firmly on the floor.
There’s something really nice about the way the 1-series flows down the road. It’s not as aggressive as an M car, but much of the time, that’s actually better given our less-than-perfect road conditions. Ride quality, even with run-flat tires, is quite good for something with such a short wheelbase and the steering, brakes and shifter all have a liquid smoothness to the way they operate. You can guide the 1-series with gentle, measured movements or bully it and it always responds faithfully, doing exactly what you ask of it. Simply put, it’s a beautiful and intuitive car to drive – a car that flatters your every move, making decent drivers look like experts and expert drivers look like heroes.
Much of that driving purity comes from the 1-series’ light weight and tight dimensions, which exact a price in terms of interior comfort and refinement. There’s a fair bit more road, wind and engine noise than we’ve become used to in modern mainstream BMWs, but that’s not really a bad thing: the twin-turbo six, in particular, sounds fantastic. What will be more of an issue to potential buyers is the small interior. The rear seats, for instance, are almost useless if the front-seat riders are any more than average size. Up front, whether the 1-series feels intimate or just small will depend on how enthusiastic a driver you are. The centre console is tall and wide and the seats are set closely together, while the roof is cut down low; taller drivers would be wise to opt out of the sunroof. There are, however, still plenty of practical storage places in the cabin, while the trunk is well-shaped and easy to access, if not actually all that big.
No complaints, however, about the quality of the interior fittings or the materials used. They’re as nice as any other BMW, with soft-touch plastics on the dashboard, soft leather on the seats and metallic or wood-grain trim. As well, indeed, they should be: the 1-series, though small, is far from being a cheap car. Thanks to the high-end engine lineup (you can, remember, buy a 200-hp 323i), prices are likely to start at just below where the 3-series begins, say at around $32,000. The 135i, thanks to its much higher level of standard equipment – that M sport body kit, lowered sports suspension, high-end audio system and sport bucket seats, among other things – will likely start at over $40,000, about where a 328i starts.
Given its size, power output and, likely, price, the 1-series doesn’t really have any direct competitors. The 128i may be shopped against expensive performance hatchbacks like the Volkswagen GTi, Mazdaspeed3 or even lower-end Audi A3s, but it’s much less roomy, much less practical than either of those entries; conversely, none of them offer the level of interior quality or rear-wheel-driven driving pleasure that the 1-series offers. The 135i, on the other hand, will likely find itself cross-shopped with larger, more expensive coupes, like the Audi TT, Infiniti G and even BMW’s own 3-series coupe. More fun than any of those cars as a pure driving experience, its smaller size also will come with a much smaller price tag – at least until you go hog-wild with the options list.
The 1-series goes on sale next spring. For drivers yearning for something premium, small and most importantly rear-drive, it’s going to be a really long wait.[Discussion: 1addicts.com ]