2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet
2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

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2008 BMW 1 Series

Monterey, California – When some of our Canadian colleagues, our own Laurance Yap among them, got a first look and drive of the new BMW 1 Series coupe in Denmark in October they came away thrilled with the way this car drives.

“It’s a real rocketship,” Laurance wrote. “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.”

After reading Laurance’s review – you can read his excellent report here – I was looking forward to getting behind the wheel of this new high performance sport compact.

2008 BMW 135i
2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet
2008 BMW 135i. Click image to enlarge

I finally got my chance last month when, to launch the car on this side of the Atlantic, BMW held a press preview in Monterey, California. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The new 1 Series, particularly the twin turbo charged 135i variant with its 300 hp and 300 ft. lb of torque, is a serious performance car that will tempt enthusiasts looking for M3 performance on a budget.

This is the same inline six found in the 3 and 5 Series sedans, only powering a much smaller and lighter package. While not as quick as the new V8-powered M3, the 135i is certainly every bit as quick as the old M3. And quite possibly more fun to drive.

Throttle response is instant – just tap the pedal and 300 ft. lb. of torque launches the car forward. BMW says acceleration to 100 km/h is 5.4 seconds, but it feels faster. Exiting a corner on the power is dazzling.

Charge hard into a corner and excellent braking – 338 mm (13.3 in.) ventilated discs with six-piston calipers up front and 324 mm (12.8 in.) discs and two-piston calipers in the rear – pulls you back to rational speed. But get in over your head and BMW’s standard dynamic stability control will intervene to bring you back on course.

Look where you want to go and the car follows your eyes. It is light, nimble, agile and a thrill to drive. As Laurance notes, the car “flatters your every move, making decent drivers look like experts and expert drivers look like heroes.”

2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet
2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet
2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

If you think a car should be fun to drive, the BMW 135i re-defines fun. It will have you looking for a new home with a more challenging commute.

Certainly, there are some trade-offs, particularly in terms of interior room, but drivers will appreciate the intimacy of its cabin, the proximity of its controls and the feel of its fat leather-wrapped steering wheel.

With a sunroof as standard equipment, one would think that intimacy might be a synonym for cramped, but such was not the case, even for this six-foot two-inch driver.

That the 128i is missing a couple of turbos doesn’t mean that it is in any way a slouch. Acceleration is a decent 6.4 seconds to 100 km/h for the coupe and 6.7 for convertibles, and the handling is close to the 135i. It doesn’t have the punch of the 135i, but it still has most of the driving fun.

And coupled with the cabriolet, as was one of my testers, the 128i is a wonderful way to enjoy a sunny summer day. The top folds in 22 seconds according to BMW and can be dropped at speeds up to 40 km/h – so no need to hold up traffic when the urge to go topless occurs at a traffic light.

The BMW 1 Series coupes and cabriolets go on sale in Canada on March 22. The 128i coupe is base priced at $33,900,

2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet
2008 BMW 128i Cabriolet. Click image to enlarge

while the 128i cabriolet will start at $39,900. The 135i will have a base price in Canada of $41,700, while the 135i cabriolet will start out at $47,200. Distinguishing equipment on the 135i includes M aerodynamics package, sports suspension with 18-inch wheels and performance tires and high performance brake system.

Standard equipment on the 1 Series includes six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires, dynamic stability control, six air bags, heated front seats, automatic dual zone climate control and Hi-fi sound system with eight speakers and two subwoofers. Xenon headlights, and a ‘transport bag” that extends into the interior and can carry long items like skis, are also standard on the cabriolet. 60/40 split folding rear seats are standard on coupes.

Enhanced safety features for the cabriolet include roll-over bars integrated behind the rear seat head rests, a reinforced A-pillar and windshield header and lateral motion sensors to detect the threat of roll-over and deploy the roll-over bars and side air bags in a fraction of a second if required.

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

While full details on Canadian option packages have not yet been released, it will likely be quite easy to push the price high with a navigation system, automatic transmission, active steering and upgraded leather.

For people who don’t really need a back seat except in a pinch, the 1 Series might be as much BMW as they need. Certainly it will be as much fun to drive as a larger – and more expensive – 3, 5 or 6 series. And with pricing starting in the low 30s, it might also get them into a BMW a lot sooner than they would have thought.

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