Among cheap enthusiast BMWs, the first-gen 135i Coupe is a popular choice. Its compact wheelbase, rear-drive layout, old-school hydraulic steering, and turbocharged inline-six engine make it an excellent, affordable package for enthusiasts to tune. However, because of that, the 135i has become a bit pricey. Plus, its engine isn’t the most reliable of BMW engines. Which is why you might want to try the BMW 128i instead. In this new video from The Smoking Tire, you get to see how the BMW 128i is actually better than the 135i.
The BMW 128i is largely the same car as the 135i, just with a different engine. It’s still a 3.0-liter inline-six but instead of having either two turbochargers or a single twin-scroll unit (depending on the pre or post-LCI), it’s naturally aspirated. That makes it less tunable but more reliable. The 128i’s N52 engine is actually one of BMW’s more reliable recent engines and its smooth, free-breathing nature makes it a joy to use.
This owner bought the BMW 128i to turn it into a daily/track car and chose the 128i specifically because it had the simpler N52 engine. It makes around 230 horsepower, which isn’t much, but when paired with a six-speed manual it’s actually a lot of fun. Admittedly, this owner is also a skilled mechanic who was able to make a few interesting modifications to improve its feel and capability. However, all of those mods were suspension an chassis modes. None were to the engine.
For instance, it has E90 M3 front control arms and bushings, Bilstein suspension, and he even modified the rear differential, to give it a limited-slip diff and better gearing. It also has upgraded brakes, brake lines, and brake fluid. So it’s been made to steering, handle, and stop better than the stock car, while maintaining the same power. That’s exactly the sort of car that most BMW enthusiasts would drool over.
The BMW 128i is such a good package for a daily sports car or even track duty. It’s the perfect old-school BMW recipe—naturally aspirated inline-six, six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, hydraulic steering and a short wheelbase. The BMW 135i is cool, because it can make big power with simple mods, but it’s overly complicated, famously unreliable, and too expensive to buy, maintain, and modify. If you want the proper BMW sports car experience, the 128i Coupe is the better choice, especially on a budget.