2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i. Click image to enlarge
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2008 BMW 1 Series Owner Reviews

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2008 BMW 1 Series

Ottawa, Ontario – Back in 2002, when BMW debuted its new styling direction with the 7 Series, I was, you might say, not a fan. Six years later, I still pine for the old days whenever I see a nicely-preserved older Bimmer on the road.

There are a couple of new-look BMWs I really like, however: one is the latest 3 Series Coupe, and the other is the little 1 Series.

The coupe (and convertible) version of this car is a relatively new addition to the lineup, having been added overseas late last year; it’s been on sale in Canada since March. That’s a short enough time that my tester was the first example I’d seen outside the carpeted confines of an auto show. My first impression: it’s kind of cute, if a car with 18-inch wheels and a rather aggressive front end can be called that.

2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i. Click image to enlarge

BMW compares the 1 Series to the classic 2002, as a “high-performance compact sports sedan.” Sadly, I’ve never had the pleasure of driving a 2002, so I can’t compare the two that way. I do see a link, however, in the styling. Like the 2002, the 1 Series’ greenhouse is tall enough to look just a little awkward from some angles. A more obvious impression is that it resembles a 3 Series coupe that got caught in a vise.

The 1 Series drives much like the next-up-the-chain 3 Series, likely owing to the newer car using many of the 3’s platform and suspension components. The weight difference between the 1 Series and a 3 Series coupe is surprisingly small, despite the 135 being notably smaller (the 135i’s curb weight is 1,530 kg (3,373 lbs) while a 335i coupe is 1,620kg (3,571 lbs). It’s that small size, though, that contributes to the 135’s more tossable nature on the road. A few quick highway on-ramps revealed a car that turns in quickly, hangs on eagerly and exhibits little body roll.

The car is a lot of fun, but underneath it has the grown-up feel found in any BMW. Road noise is far from absent (driving enthusiasts will tell you this is okay, as it tells the driver what the wheels are doing and what the road surface is like) but it’s not intrusive. Engine noise is hushed, however, which is a bit of a letdown, because the 3.0-litre, twin-turbo inline six makes nice noises when pressed.

2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i. Click image to enlarge

This engine has been named International Engine of the Year two years running, and it’s not hard to see why. Three hundred horsepower is a healthy amount, but even more impressive is the motor’s 300 ft-lbs of torque, which peaks at an unbelievably low 1,400 rpm. Naturally, acceleration off the line is amazing, but perhaps a better example of this motor’s prowess is how it’s able to provide usable acceleration in sixth gear at 100 km/h, at which point the engine is turning just over 2,000 rpm.

By the end of a week behind the wheel, my tester’s average fuel consumption was 11.5 L/100 km. This was in a mix of city and highway driving (all within city limits in this case) and figures against the 135i’s published ratings of 12 L/100 km (city) and 7.9 L/100 km (highway). Naturally, the trick here is a light right foot, though it’s impossible to resist blatant stabs of the throttle in a car so swift; nevertheless, the fact that such a reasonable result is capable in a performance car is quite refreshing as gas prices soar (the price of premium was $1.39/litre at the time of this writing). Aside from the higher upfront cost, there’s little reason not to choose the 135i and get this engine; the 128i manual coupe with its 230-horsepower, non-turbo version of this motor is rated 11.2 L/100 km (city) and 7.0 L/100 km (highway).

2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i. Click image to enlarge

BMW is one of a handful of automakers that still seems to care about a nicely-engineered manual shifter, and it shows. The shifter moves with little effort, but the gates are well defined and the throws a nice length. The clutch is the surprise: while it’s nice to use too, the pedal stroke is shorter and engagement more abrupt than I remember it being in the last BMW I drove. The brakes, too, are a little grabby at the top of the pedal’s travel, but once you’re into the meat of it, pedal effort is perfect, modulation easy and stopping power very good.

The M Sport Package, a $1,600 extra, brings the sport seats, shifter and steering wheel that this group adds to other BMW models. In my tester’s case, seat adjustments are manual (a little surprising in a nearly-$50,000 car) but both front seats get electrically-adjustable side bolsters. You’ll either love these or hate them; even fully deflated (they work by way of air bladders) they’re quite prominent. Those with a wider midsection might find these seats uncomfortable. For those who like them (myself included), however, comfort is high.

2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i. Click image to enlarge

The seating position itself is good, too: high enough to provide good visibility, without making the car feel tippy in corners. The manual seats may seem a little out of place in this price range, but it’s easy to find your own sweet spot. Seat height is adjusted by way of two separate levers, one for actual height and the other for angle; add the standard fore-and-aft and seatback adjustments, and learning which lever does what takes a moment or two to figure out. One nice touch: both front seats return to their original positions after being tipped forward for rear seat access.

Interior space is good considering the 1 Series’ compact dimensions. The rear seat is tight for leg and headroom, but most riders should be fine for short trips.

The 371-litre trunk is smaller than that in any 3 Series variant, but it’s a useful space. According to my tape measure, the cargo area is 92 cm front-to-back, 94 cm between the rear wheel wells and 47 deep. Fold down the rear seats (a 60/40 arrangement) and there’s 169 cm between the rear of the trunk and the front seatbacks (though this was measured with driver’s seat set for my short legs).

The thick-rimmed steering wheel feels great in the hands, and is connected to a very direct steering rack that clearly communicates road surface information to the driver. The steering is quite heavy, though. This is welcome at higher speeds, but it makes tight parking lots a bit of a chore.

The M Sport Package also includes 18-inch wheels with run-flat tires. Forty-series tires already tend to make the going harsh over rough roads, but the run-flats’ stiff sidewalls take this a step further. A couple of inadvertent pothole encounters had me convinced I’d damaged the suspension, so loud was the impact. Fortunately, all was well.

2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 135i. Click image to enlarge

The 1 Series’ interior will be familiar to anyone who’s driven the latest-generation 3 Series. Never fear, there’s no iDrive here: instead, the dash is straightforward, with easy-to-use climate controls (dual-zone automatic) and a slightly more complicated radio. Fit and finish are good, but overall, the quality is no better than what you get in many less-expensive cars. The grey poplar wood trim on the dash and centre console is quite nice, though.

A nice touch is the location of the auxiliary input plugs (part of the $1,200 Premium Sound Package), underneath the centre armrest. There’s also a nifty sleeve on the underside of the armrest for your mp3 player – handy for keeping an expensive toy hidden from prying eyes while the car is parked.

The only thing that makes me question the 1 Series is its price. At $41,700 to start, the 135i is almost a full $10,000 less than a 335i Coupe. Still, that’s a lot of coin for a car with less interior space – albeit more comfort – than many, if not all, economy cars. It’s difficult, however, to say no to a car that does so many things so well.

Pricing: 2008 BMW 1 Series

Base price: $41,700
Options: $6,300 (M Sport Package of 18-inch wheels w/ run-flat tires, sport seats, steering wheel and shift lever, anthracite headliner, high-gloss shadow line, $1,600; Premium Sound Package, HiFi Sound System w/DSP, USB Audio Integration $1,200; Premium Package of sunroof, Bluetooth wireless technology, Boston leather interior, $3,500)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,400
Price as tested: $49,500
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 BMW 1 Series

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    First Drives

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  • 2008 BMW 1 Series, by Grant Yoxon

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