BimmerFile Review: BMW 135i

Based on all the hype over the last few months, you ‘d expect the BMW 135i to be able to walk on water. European journalists have raved about the car and customers have already begun forming lines at dealerships here in the US. Praise flowing from computer keyboards around the world is enough to make almost any automotive enthusiast take notice.

Even BMW has gotten in the act trotting an early 70 ‘s era 2002tii at every marketing opportunity they can. And why not, all the right ingredients are there; short overhangs, 50/50 weight distribution, rear-wheel drive, 300hp all wrapped in small coupe packaging. It ‘s almost enough to forget about the one glaring issue – all 3373 lbs of it. That ‘s over 1000 lbs heavier than the 2002tii – the classic BMW that 1 Series coupe was clearly inspired by.

However I ‘ll let you in on a little secret, it simply doesn ‘t matter. Over some of the best roads northern California has to offer I found the 135i to be more enjoyable than the far more capable new M3 I drove the day before. I ‘d go so far as to call my time with the 135i manual one of the most memorable and rewarding driving experiences of my life.

Seeing the 135i for the first time in the flesh you ‘re struck at how short and stubby it is. With the flared wheel arches (especially the rear) and the turned up lip on the trunk with small rear spoiler, there ‘s little question that BMW meant for first impressions to be sporty and purposeful. Pictures simply cannot do a shape like this justice.

All this means that the 1 is not necessarily a pretty car. However it has a muscular, almost brash look about it that is unexpectedly charming in person. It ‘s one of those rare modern cars that has character trying to be different. The 1 Series coupe has all classic BMW design cues without looking retro; the short overhangs, the upright grille and of course the strong shoulder line that runs the length of the car. In fact when compared in person to the new M3 at one point, I was struck by how much I preferred the 135i ‘s squat proportions and more subtle design details. The 135i looks upright and eager standing still. This is BMW distilled to its purest form.

Like the exterior, the interior of the 1 coupe follows a long line of driver focused BMW cockpits. From the moment you first feel the thick perforated M steering wheel (the best I ‘ve ever felt) and the short throw chunky M shifter, you know BMW made this car for the enthusiast. I drove both an iDrive and non-iDrive equipped cars and found that everything was relatively straightforward and easy to operate. The front seats are the standard fare you expect with the sport package equipped BMW. They had great support both on the seat backs and on the lower cushions. Extendable knee support was also present and welcome.

Rear seat room as you ‘d expect, was rather tight. While I ‘d say it ‘s slightly more spacious than the MINI Clubman, the rear is obviously more difficult to get to without the additional small door. If you ‘ve been in the back of any previous 3 series coupe, the 1 Series will feel very similar. At 6 ‘2 “, my head was brushing up against the ceiling while testing the rear seat. Adults could probably make it work for short trips but generally speaking the rear of the 135i is best left to children.

The 135i occupies a strange middle ground between a normal BMW and an M car. Standard on the 135i (not the 128i) is the M tuned suspension, M aero-kit, M steering wheel and M shift knob. Then there ‘s the electronic differential (also on the 128i) and uniquely tuned dynamic stability control that will eventually make it ‘s way to a future performance version of the 335i according to our sources. There ‘s even an oil temp gauge, something that ‘s been absent from all current BMWs save M cars and the 335i for the past few years. It all adds up to a BMW that feels just a bit more special than most.

But this all pales to the performance of the 135i. The car has the wonderful chassis balance and excellent steering feel associated with all the finer cars wearing the roundel badge. While it lacks some of the tactile feel a MINI has, it rewards the driver with much better composure and balance.

As has been reported elsewhere, the 135i (like most modern BMWs) will understeer at the limit. It ‘s a little disappointing but a slightly wider set of front rubber or an increase in rear sway-bar size should help make things right. In stock form you can either lift to bring the front back into line (the car will also rotate slightly when doing this) or punch the throttle for some old-school tail out action.

And it ‘s this tail-out ability that makes the 135i so special. There are no small RWD cars that (A) have this kind of power or (B) have such a finely tuned chassis. At the limit the 1 is predictable in every imaginable way. With a twitch of the steering here and the jab at the throttle there you have effortless control of the car through the most demanding roads.

The key ingredient in all of this is the fabulous 3.0L twin-turbo charged inline six. This engine seems to defy logic with no turbo lag and an ability to rev while making power all the way up to it ‘s redline. It ‘s rated at 300 hp but truth be told it feels noticeably stronger than even that. The 300 ft lbs of torque certainly do their part in helping the car accelerate to 60 mph in what will surely be under the five second mark once independent testers get a hold of it. Yet all of this power is so linear that it doesn ‘t overwhelm the overall experience.

But the car is not without imperfections. The steering can be a little nervous on the highway due to it ‘s quicker ratio non-electronic set-up (unique to the 135i). Granted I find this a fine trade-off but for those who do a lot of highway commuting and a little less of sporty driving, a 128i (which has a slightly slower ratio electronic set-up) would probably be a wise choice.

Also surprising was the car ‘s propensity to wallow over severe road undulations. While I expect the standard or even sport suspension on BMWs to cater a little more towards comfort, I was surprised to not find the suspension (tuned by the wizards at the M division) a bit more hardcore. Perhaps it ‘s the right choice for the market at large but I would expect track day warriors to make the move to something more aggressive.

Now with that said, I think both of these potential issues actually make the car more endearing. For one I ‘d expect the steering to be quick. And if I have to give up some smoothness on the highway, it ‘s a great trade-off in my opinion. Likewise the suspension is softer than what you find on the new M3. But because of that, the car ‘s limit doesn ‘t feel quite as unattainable. The 135i is easier to grab by the scruff of the neck and throw around corners knowing full well where the limit is. In my time with both cars I gelled with 135i easier than with the M3 and, at the same time, had more fun with it.

And if you thought the 135i was heavy, drive the new M3. At 3700lbs it really puts the 135i in perspective. While it ‘s still hard to call the 135i a lightweight, BMW has done an incredible job at hiding the mass and giving the car an eager feel. It ‘s quick, agile and stops better than it has a right to without the expensive suspension electronics that the M3 has at its disposal.

The 1 Series also marks one of the first times BMW has gone to something other than a floating caliper design for the front brakes. Unlike the M3 which makes due with a massive single piston front brake system (reportedly preferred by the M Division for weight reasons), the 1 Series has a 6 piston set-up. Ironically BMW engineers had to go this route due to space available to them within the structure of the car and the wheels. However there ‘s no denying it ‘s more impressive looking than the typical BMW set-up. And it works pretty freaking well. The brakes felt strong all day long despite spirited driving through the mountains in central California. After a fluid swap I ‘d be shocked if you saw much fade with them at the track. Something I can ‘t say about my track time in the new M3.

One of the most talked about additions to the 1 Series coupe (and another exclusive) is the electronic rear differential. The idea is that, in order to save weight and money BMW has created a program (activated when DSC is turned off) that gives the car something close to a mechanical limited slip differential. I didn ‘t have a chance to take the car to the track but from the driving I did do (on some of the best roads in North America I might ad), I found the technology was surprisingly effective. More than once I had the car in a controlled drift out of a corner without roasting the inside rear tire. The car simply locked up and powered out as you ‘d expect from a normal LSD. While I can ‘t quite call it an unqualified success until some proper track time with the car, it ‘s surprisingly effective on the road.

To get a full feel of the 1 Series line-up I also spent some time behind the wheel of a 128i convertible auto. The short take; it ‘s exactly the car it needs to be. The auto saps an enormous amount of the fun out of the car but there ‘s little question it ‘s still quick, handles well and, with the less frenetic steering, is a bit more livable as a commuter car. If you lease your BMWs and normally have to ask yourself if you really need something called “the sport package ” the 128i is your car. If you know how to match revs and look for curvy roads like some people look for a Starbucks, the 135i is your car hands down.

And what a car. After a day in the 135i I came away as smitten by it as I have ever been with an automobile. The new M3 I had driven just 12 hours before was fantastic, but the 135i is just so much more enjoyable in all situations. I love that it ‘s incredibly capable but not quite perfect. In fact I find myself comparing the feeling I get in the 135i to the MINI Cooper S more so than any other BMW. From the upright grille and eager face to the quick revving 300hp inline six and the exceptional handling, the 135i has an enormous amount of character for a modern automobile.

My advice for those curious? On March 22nd, when the 135i goes on sale in the US, get to your dealer early. I guarantee there will be a line to test drive this car. And for those thinking of ordering? Make the call… now.

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  • Chris B.

    Awesome review Gabe! I had no doubt in my mind that a driving enthusiast would find the 135i coupe far more entertaining than than the supercar quick E9X M3. Right size + the right weight = one balanced car, the 135i. I’m sure only the E30 M3 and aforementioned Cooper S come close.

  • Chris B.

    *+ right power.

  • Mark R

    Gabe – so now with everything that you’ve seen and experienced with the 1 Series…I’m curious what if anything you would change to your original configuration?

  • madams

    nice video. it looks more and more likely that i’ll be changing out my R53 for a 135. the reviews are good, but a test-drive of my own just might seal the MINI’s fate.

  • Nice one Gabe, thank you.

    What colour is the car in the pics, it seems a bit too pure to be Sedona Red?

  • What colour is the car in the pics, it seems a bit too pure to be Sedona Red?

    The 135i’s pictures above are Crimson Red and Monaco Blue respectively.

    I’m curious what if anything you would change to your original configuration?

    Nothing really. Although the quality of BMW’s leather make me think that going with leatherette might be the better choice. Although this is nothing new. I’ve had BMWs with both and there’s little question that the leatherette looks new much longer.

  • lasersailor

    Nice review Gabe. Did you get any stick time with a 128i with 6 spd and sport package? The pricing of that configuration could be compelling if I can resist leather and bluetooth…

  • Todd

    Great review… as a former mini2er, I was wondering how much rear passenger space there is in comparison to the R53?

    The red looks GREAT!! Very vibrant – much nicer that Sedona in my opinion! What is the color of the coupe at the end? Any problems with rattles in the sunroof (My Cooper S’s sunroof loved to rattle!)

    Cheers,

    Todd

  • Nice review Gabe. Did you get any stick time with a 128i with 6 spd and sport package? The pricing of that configuration could be compelling if I can resist leather and bluetooth…

    Based on my experience you’ll want the 135i. The unique options aimed towards the enthusiast are well worth it.

    The red looks GREAT!! Very vibrant – much nicer that Sedona in my opinion!

    Hands down Crimson Red is nicer than Sedona. It’s the first red car I’ve ever really seen myself owning.

    he red looks GREAT!! Very vibrant – much nicer that Sedona in my opinion! What is the color of the coupe at the end? Any problems with rattles in the sunroof (My Cooper S’s sunroof loved to rattle!)

    There were no rattles anywhere on the car. However the cars I drove had anywhere from 1000 to 1500 miles on them so it may have been a little too early for rattles.

  • woj

    Gabe: thanks for your comments. Am I hearing a fair amount of wheel hop during the videos when you’re gunning it? Sounds like no black lines on the road, eh?

  • ketan

    Great review Gabe. I am really thinking 135 is the way to go. I was thinking about getting the JCW MCS but if I save for little longer I could get the 135. This will be a tough decision but I will have to see how they price the new JCW.

  • Shamus

    Thanks Gabe! Now I’m officially extremely jealous of you. I’m only 6 months into my first MINI S (loving it), and you’ve already got me jonesing for this new 1-series. Whatever am I to do?!! 😉

  • ketan

    135 does have a LSD right?

  • Kennedy

    I hung on every word and am, to say the least, jealous…

    Fantastic writeup as one expects from you, Gabe!

  • Brendan

    If I knew you were going to be so close by I would have met up with you guys. HWY 9 is great. I routinely take my R56 up there just to have a good time. It sounds like I’m going to need one of these 135s. Although I do like V8s. I’m interested to see what you think!.

    PS… You’re technically in northern california when you’re on HWY 9 🙂

  • cct1

    No LSD, read Gabe’s review–it’s more like specialized DSC (which is probably where that wheel hop was coming from). It was one of the things I was skeptical about on this car, but from the looks of that take off from the stop sign, it looks to be effective.

    Is there any word on when the DCT will come to the 135i?

    Any mention by BMW when the dealer performance upgrades will be available? I’d love to see what they plan on offering–really it looks like only the suspension will need to be addressed.

    Well, I’ll probably hang on to my R53 another year or two, then it’ll be a tough choice between this and an R56 JCW–I love the character of the MINI, but the performance of the 135i is going to be hard to ignore. I’ve read complaints about the price, but if you look at price versus performance, this car is darned good bargain. I’ll just have to get past the Hyundai rear end; maybe if I can teach myself to look at the car from the front only, I can get past that.

  • One other thing–when the 335iscame out, there were some issues with the engine overheating on the track–so much so that I think they added a second oil cooler. Where there any issues with engine temp’s while you were out there? We’ll probably have to see some reports from the track to know for sure…It seems that they finally sorted out the issue with the 335i; hopefully it won’t be an issue with the 135i.

  • Any mention by BMW when the dealer performance upgrades will be available? I’d love to see what they plan on offering–really it looks like only the suspension will need to be addressed.

    I asked and was told “that’s another story for another time”. I’m guessing it’ll be released in detail for the NYC auto show this April.

    I’ll just have to get past the Hyundai rear end; maybe if I can teach myself to look at the car from the front only, I can get past that.

    The 3/4 rear view is my favorite view of the car.

    Where there any issues with engine temp’s while you were out there?

    There were none and I kept my eye on the needle all day long. My understanding is that they’ve moved the extra oil cooler from where it resides on the Euro model to a more central location.

    And regarding the 335i’s issues. I may be wrong but I’ve read in several places the overheating was on automatic cars that didn’t initially come equipped with the extra oil cooler. Apparently German engineers assumed no one with an auto would ever track their cars. It’s a good assumption I suppose but unfortunately this is the US and auto 335i’s seem to be the norm.

  • I want one.

  • cct1

    I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder–I really, really like the front of the car, the upright front grill does it for me, it really gives it a different look from the 3 series–still have problems with the chunky butt (that 135i baby got back), but I think with the tii rear wing, I could live with it…

    Do you think we’ll get any idea about when the DCT will make to the 135i in April too?

    Thanks for the great write up, I’ve been kind of eagerly waiting for it as you can probably tell from all the posts, and thanks for all the info–all very much appreciated!

  • Gabe, been reading your stuff for a while now, and this is your best piece yet. It’s easy to say “I like this car”, not so easy to instill a sense of unbridled lust in your reader. You tell us why you love it, how you love it. You’re doing the BMW enthusiast community, and brand, a great service, and I applaud you for that. Great job, and all the best for BimmerFile!

    The car is on sale in South Africa already. Currently we have the 120d and 135i variants (125i available in March) and I’ve seen a bunch of them on the road.

    As a long time MINI fanatic, this is the one BMW that will make me trade camps.

  • Jon

    Great review Gabe, surely will be taking a 135i for a drive when it hits my dealership. Love the video’s and great pictures.

    My question Gabe would be a comparison between your time in the 135i and the Z4 M.

    Truly waiting to hear about a Z2 coupe and the new Z4 in ’09.

  • rb

    Hope you got a chance to run the 1 south from Carmel to Cambria? Weekends are not good on that road. I have found weekdays much better for spirited runs.

    Fort Ord where I did my Basic Training back in 1969.

    Best wishes on the new blog.

  • rick

    great work gabe, just what i wanted to hear.

    what’s the difference between the standard seats and the seats in the sport package? is the m steering wheel (also in that package) worth it? what other exterior colors were impressive? the crimson does look nice..

  • Steve

    What a superb car. The most tempting reason to get out of my R53 MCS yet. I’d go for white with black trim & a nice set of 19″ BBS style rims.

  • eager2own

    oooohh, I hate you,Gabe. When I first heard of the 135, I thought I’d have to trade in the R52 and upgrade. As I read more about it (ex weight, price) and saw more photos, I started to think that I didn’t need this car afterall . . . but now you’ve convinced me once again that I’ll have to at least test drive it — and I’m now truly afraid that I’ll want to plop down the deposit on a cabrio. Even the looks are groing on me, especially with the M aero kit — i do think the back will benefit from a dual (or quad) exhaust look. I have a feeling the aftermarket options are going to be great on this car . . . maybe more than on the M3.

  • Ray

    Gabe, thanks for the review. Any word on the audio system and ipod integration?

  • is the auto trans the same aisin that’s in the MINI?

  • Evan

    Great read.

    The 1 series in person is very good looking- the photos don’t do it justice. Just like the R55 Clubman. The proportions and feel of sitting in it are both closer to the older 3 series. Kind of like the E30 size-wise and E36 cockpit-wise. I know where I’ll be on March 22nd.

    After driving both cars, and not the exact configurations, but with the same price point ~$30k, would you go for a MINI Cooper S Clubman manual w/some great options (LSD, 17″wheels etc) or a 128i manual with heated seats only?

    I’m only asking b/c that’s what my current debate is. Either way, my R50 Cooper will stay and my wife’s Civic will go.

  • Brad

    Hey Gabe, how about publishing a quick article giving a simple subjective comparison between the 135i and your JCW MCS? Mostly around handling and performance…?

  • i second the request or a 135i vs. jcw review…

  • Bill W.

    Awesome beginning to BimmerFile and a fantastic review! Great timing for those of us recent R56 buyers…myself included :(. But nice to know that such a tantalizing BMW option still exists. I really am appreciating more and more the retro lines of the car — every time I look at it I get reminded of classics like the 3.0 CSL and the M1. And the fact that it will basically be the only Bimmer in the entire range (I think) to retain that driver-centric dash is a tremendous point in its favor. The absence of this from the E90 was one more reason for me to ditch my 325i for the R56 MCS (which I am loving BTW after 4 weeks).

    I’ll go and drive it, but I’m not bailing on MINI tomorrow.

  • mpezzullo

    Great read and review. I can’t wait to see this car in person. Sounds like it is a blast to drive. Many more future reads on this car I am sure! -M

  • Redbird73

    I considered the 128i with 6-spd and sport package, but the $/hp is just not there compared to my R53 MINI. I’d love the 135i but it’s way to expensive. I’m sticking with my R53! It should be noted that I am a track junkie and am not impressed with the e-diff on the 1 Series, or the weight.

    Aaron

  • Paul

    Hi Gabe,

    Thanks for the great write-up – as usual.

    Did you have time behind the wheel with the 128i? If so, what are your thoughts on that car, especially when compared against the Cooper S?

    Thanks!

  • Derek

    well durn –

    what’s to dream about now?

    E30 M3?

    E36 M3?

    M coupe?

    135i?

    The list keeps getting longer!

    Derek

  • Thanks for the reply on the colour … yeah, crimson red is miles ahead of that damn sedona colour! 😛

  • davidgo

    i have spent 9 hours on this page!!! i have watched the burnout videos a 100 times!!! and then i forwarded them to everybody i know. you did it…

    you sold me. you… sold… me…

    you had me at vrooom,you had me at vrooom…

    vrooom, eeeerrrrrrrr, rev limiter, shift, wind out 2nd was a lil bit emotional as well.

    cant wait to sample the ediff. it better be good. soo where do i send the check?

  • dave

    i want one

  • Ross
  • Peter

    Hi Gabe, strap in for this one its a bumpy ride. Im coming from a very short experence with a R56 cooper S, god i loved that car, but a unfortuante accident took it away much much too soon, im ok but the car was totaled, this was back about 7 months ago when the 1 series was not even close to being out. after dealing with the insurance company for a while to get the money from the accident it was about october and i had planned to put my cooper in storage for the winter, so insted i decided to hold off on running back to mini to buy it again but waiting until after the cold season. now the 1 series is coming out very soon (and so are many other nice cars) and i have a huge dillema at hand. as much as i loved my mini it was a tad small. i thougth i could live with it and was was planning on it, but now givven this second chance i am liking the 1 series VERY much, its still a very nice drivers car, its still some what small but its more spacious than the mini and has more trunk room. so this would be a much better long term car than the mini. problem is the 135i is out of my price range with one or two options, conviencece pack, sport pack, Hi-fi and or Ipod Usb kit, so on and so fourth. my question is How would a 128i stack up to a Mini cooper S both had automatics, sry, not the greatest with the stick and didnt want one in a big city, going from the performance model of the mini to the base model of the bmw seems like i might be loosing out on alot. so gabe, any insight on how the auto 128i and MCS compare? sry for the long write up. but there is much to be said.

  • Nozz

    Gabe, how does this 135i compare to an R53 JCW? If you can remember back that far. My 2 kids are growing taller and need a bit more room than my R53 JCW has, but I still want a small car…. hmmmmmmmmm

  • Dylan

    Hi Gabe,

    IMHO you’re one of the top automotive writers on the net – you have a fantastic style and your passion for cars is inescapable. Have you considered adding a “digg this” link to your posts so that we can help get them on Digg?

  • Pingback: Fresh review of the BMW 135i Coupe()

  • Dave Mac Mini

    Great review, but I cannot warm up to this car’s appearance. It looks like a 3 series that has been caught in a crusher. The hatchback version, available in Europe, is to my eyes much more attractive, but I suppose it would compete more directly with the Clubman. However, that does not change the fact that this is a great driver’s car. I will keep my MCS, but I will likely take one of these for a spin when they are available. Thanks, Gabe.

  • Dave, I agree with you on that, but the tii shows what the car COULD look like–lowered, and with a more aggressive wing/body kit (although without the stripes, which I wouldn’t want anyway). The question is how much mula is it going to take to get the 135i looking like that; when its all said and done, it could wind up being more than a 335i. We’ll see.

  • Spudwest

    Most comprehensive and informative review I’ve seen yet, Gabe. Thanks for paying some attention to the 128i, as well. My heart is for the 135i, but in reality I’ll never fully exploit its potential, so I’ll likely defer to reason and get a 128i Coupe. Along those lines, I’d really appreciate if you could devote an article to the 128i. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to gauge just how satisfying the 128i (more specifically with the sport package) would be compared to all that has been written about the 135i. Can’t wait to test drive both of them…

  • 9

    The 135 is an okay car. Hooydonk and Bangles ruined BMW, IMO. The new 3 series is okay. The Z4 coupe is awesome. Thats about it. I wish bmw would go back to the old designs like the 2002 325. I dislike the “flame surfacing” (as Bangles calls it.) I love that 2002 in the pics. If they built a 2002 last year with new parts, why not put it into production? The 135 doesn’t cut it.

  • IMHO you’re one of the top automotive writers on the net – you have a fantastic style and your passion for cars is inescapable. Have you considered adding a “digg this” link to your posts so that we can help get them on Digg?

    Thanks! Unfortunately I haven’t had the time to devote to adding a delicious or digg style toolbar.

  • TagMan

    Gabe, Add one more compliment to the already massive heap. You deserve every one of them for one of the best 1-Series reviews I’ve had the joy to read! I have a 135i Convertible on order, and I am looking forward to it so very much, but I am hoping that I’m not giving up too much for that open-air experience. Do you think the performance will still be fantastic in the 135i convertible?