Exclusive: BMW Performance 135 First Drive

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BMW Performance 135i

We here at BimmerFile have been fans of the 1 Series since its launch. It is one of the few cars that out of the box is ready for some time at the track and will not completely melt a giant hole in your wallet. That is not to say it is perfect; like most cars designed for the masses there are little things that could be tweaked to make the car even better and of course increase its sporting intentions. Some of those tweaks would discourage most buyers but not us enthusiasts.

We are not the only ones looking for a bit more performance and sport out of the current array of BMW models; the BMW Performance Parts division is right there with us in the quest for the true “Ultimate Driving Machine”.

I recently had the privilege of spending some seat time with Stephen Zoepf, Accessory Development Manager for BMW Performance Parts, and Matthew Russell of BMW Product and Technology Communications in a fully equipped BMW Performance 135i. Outside of being employees of the weiss mit blau they are true enthusiasts and you are likely to catch them out on a track somewhere in an E30 ///M3 or even 328i sport wagon in quest for the perfect line.

Over the course of the week we will be posting our exclusive candid interview about BMW Performance and some other ground breaking things BMW has in store for us in the not so distant future, but for now we will put our focus on the BMW Performance 135i.

How do you make a great car even better? Find its weaknesses and attack them from different angles. That is what BMW Performance has done to this 1 Series. As Equipped:

Exterior:

For increased down forces and a more performance look, this car is fitted with the aerodynamics kit, carbon fiber mirrors, rear diffuser and lip spoiler. The aero kit features brake cooling ducts to divert air towards the brakes, something the boys over at ///M can learn a thing or two about as the ///M3 lacks this feature. The 135i is more aggressive looking with these parts and at high speeds they are said to improve the handling/down forces based on wind tunnel testing.

Braking:

To increase the braking and decrease weight, cross-drilled rotors were installed. This car was (unnecessarily) equipped with the brake caliper kit, same calipers just in yellow paint when compared to the stock 6 piston fixed caliper 135i brakes. These brakes, bite and bite down hard. The brake kit provides the 128i with the same system as a 135i.

We never reached track temperatures with these pads or rotors but for aggressive street driving you would be hard pressed to find something better. It is worth commenting that the issue some have reported about these calipers overheating/cracking was found by the engineers to not be a function of the caliper but of aftermarket replacement track pads that were improperly fit and causing the subsequent issues. These calipers feature the same ceramics as much more expensive exotics are using; compliments of Brembo.

Suspension/Wheels:

To improve the handling characteristics, the dampers and springs were upgraded. This suspension kit is sold as separate components because BMW builds many different versions of springs to combat a specific cars weight distribution and options. When ordering the springs you will need a VIN or list the options in the car, no part numbers.

The suspension is surprisingly not as harsh as one would imagine a full-blown performance suspension would be. It sorted out road imperfections much better than expected, so if you have fillings or caps this suspension will not rattle them out! The suspension seemingly became better the harder it was pushed. It was firm and predictable. One of the best non-adaptive suspensions out there, it was impressive, especially considering the car was shod with runflats. It provides about an inch of drop and eliminates all remaining wheel gap, for a much nicer look. I would rate it a step above the stock ZSP but not as effective as a coil over setup (which more often than not sacrifices daily ride a bit too much for most).

The 135i’s characteristic under-steer still remains even with the suspension and wheel upgrade, I had hoped it would have been more neutral but that needs to be dialed in with camber and wider rubber.The BMW Performance wheels are not forged; they are cast and machined. This process is said to decrease the weight of the wheels by about 2 pounds each when compared to the stock wheels, and these just look a lot nicer.

Exhaust:

A great exhaust note is something to marvel at, something car lovers drool over, BMW Performance nailed the note on this exhaust. It is has a nice throaty rumble that is audible in the car when you want it to be and not when you are cruising at 80 mph out on that long stretch of desert highway (or bumper to bumper NJ traffic). This exhaust is drone free on the highway so that means no throbbing headache! You will find yourself opening the windows to hear the rumble, especially under bridges and in tunnels. It will also provide you with a modest 5hp bump in addition to all that sound.

What makes the BMW Performance exhaust different? The exhaust is designed around and uses the stock exhaust fitment and muffler clamshells, so it is a direct fit with no differences in dimensions. The interior of the system is where most of the magic lies, and opposed to the stock system the tip is polished stainless rather than black.

Interior:

On the interior of the car carbon fiber was everywhere, and if that is your cup of tea BMW Performance offers a full kit or piece by piece. The weaves looked great and the resin was bubble free. Having personal experience laying up this stuff I would have to think they are vacuum bagging each piece individually to get the fit and finish they have achieved.

If you rather spend your coin on interior items that improve performance, the shifter and short shift kit is for you. With 25% shorter throws along with a crisp and precise action this shifter and kit will not disappoint. A new carrier/linkage is required in certain models (including the 135i) because when BMW Performance set out to design the ultimate shifter the clearance between the linkage and drive shaft was a little too close for comfort when using the stock setup. Something most of us would not think about when shopping for a short shift kit. The stainless and Alcantara® clad shifter is comfortable and looks great. (This shifter will be one of the first things I add to my own car as soon as a kit is available, it is more precise and just feels better than even the current ///M3 setup; dare I say it is comparable to the Z4 ///Ms shifter? One of the best I have felt.)

That leaves us with the BMW Performance Steering Wheel. The Performance Steering Wheel displays critical data from the powertrain and chassis via the cars internal bus, there are no accelerometers with the wheel. It uses the cars various modules such as DSC for yaw rates and the ECU for other data used. The information is shown on an LCD high up on the wheel where your eyes focus naturally. It provides you with a G-meter, a stopwatch with lap timing functions, a quarter-mile timer, an engine temp readout, and adjustable shift lights. The wheel is wrapped in leather and Alcantara®, which is said to be improved from previous generations of the material and provides greater longevity.

The shift lights are completely adjustable, you can have them come on for performance driving or if you are into extreme fuel conservation, set them where the ideal shift point is to maintain the best fuel efficiency. The adjustable shift points allow this wheel to be tailored to each car (gas/diesel) and each driver.

The wheel feels great in you hand and is easy to operate after a few minutes of fiddling with it. It is a nice piece of functional technology that would benefit those taking their cars out on track or those who want to know what exactly the car is doing or capable of. It is a bit novel, and may lose some of its wow after you have used it for a while, for some it is a must and others would choose to put the money elsewhere; whatever your take is, at least it is an option.

Conclusions: The 135i is a great car by itself without any modifications but with them, it is a far better car. The suspension is a huge improvement over the stock setup, while you do sacrifice some ride characteristics the handling more than makes up for it. Add in the shifter and exhaust and you have a car that will make you smile every time you get behind the wheel, you will find yourself running to get that bottle of milk you do not need on a regular basis.

After the Geneva auto show we broke the news to the US market that an engine tune was coming for the N54 twin turbo in the 135i/335i. If so equipped you would be hard pressed to find a car that would handle better, sound better, or perform better at a similar price point than a BMW Performance 135i. Of course there are other options out there as far as tuning and we respect them as well, it is just nice to have another choice. BMW Performance parts also come with a true factory warranty.

While we will provide you with a good deal more information about BMW Performance later in the week from our interview, we just thought this review would prepare you for what is to come.

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  • Awesome…. You know, I have loved my 135 since the first day I took delivery and thought it was perfect as it was. Now of course, you’ve left me wanting to mod my formerly perfect car! I love the rims too! It looks like M3 rims.

  • GSK- It really is a nice setup, and looks the part as well. It really is and can be tastefully done, nothing is over the top or robs the car of day to day drivability. I was very impressed with the car, performance while still being “luxury”, unlike some other tuned cars.

  • JonPD

    Interesting information Michael. Glad to see the work on the suspension and think the brake ducts are a good upgrade. Can definitely tell this is similar to the JCW branding in the Mini world and wise for BMW to bring that concept across.

    Still anticipating seeing what BMW comes up with for the 135 SS

  • chaz

    Good to hear some first hand experience. Hope to hear how these pieces work on a Naturally Aspirated 3 series! 🙂

  • I forgot to mention that the majority of the exterior shots were taken outside of BMWNA new Eastern Region training facility… more on that later!

  • eager2own

    What is the total cost of a fully equiped Performance 135?

  • txdesign

    The suspension only drops about 1cm (about 3/8″) based on several owners over at 1addicts.com. I have the CF rear spoiler on my car and really like the way it looks.

  • TX design, I believe you are correct when you compare it to the sport suspension. I think the 1″ is from a stock setup, I will check on that again.

    -M

  • Luis

    I’m from Portugal and I just bought a 123d, with some BMW performance parts, and I just want to say that i’m truly in love with my baby! =D .. its all perfect!.. Maybe, after I read this article, I’m a bit regret of didn’t take the suspension aswell since I was afraid that it’d be too harder to drive out of goods roadways, but what the hell!!.. I’m really in love with my 123d!! Its perfect! =D

  • Chaz

    Lucky you, Luis. They had a 123d at the Welt when I picked up my car that looked similar to the 135 above. the 123 would be a hoot with that little torque monster diesel!

  • Fuxl

    Only one thing missing – limited slip diff!

  • Pricing is dependent on the model of the car and what options you choose: install costs, paint etc. So I can not give you “hard numbers” except for the parts. All the numbers are on the BMW Accessories website. So there is no guessing on price just plug in your model and see.

    Here some of the 135i parts and pricing

    Aero kit: $1500 Brake discs: $138 Carbon Fiber lip: $532 Rear Diffuser: $1769 Mirror Caps: $334 each Interior CF trim ~$1000 Exhaust: $1095 Shifter w/shift kit $576 Steering Wheel: $1300 Suspension: $1167 Wheels/Tires $4150

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  • Seriously, how is there not a single “$” anywhere on this page? Why not answer the very first question that comes to nearly every readers mind? Or at least comment about pricing in some sort of useful way. Why send me on a Google hunt? I’m off to a more useful website.

  • Nick Nichols

    Went from an ’01 C5 Vette–modded, to a ’05 MCS/6sp back in 8/04. Love the MINI. But, You kept up the 1 Series info. I drove an auto 135i last Spring. Was really impressed. Well, time moves on. Got my wife interested and she bought a 2009 128i in February. We love it. I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I drove a 335i manual and I knew I had to have a 135i. You know the rest of the story. Ordered a “stripper” 135 manual. Expect delivery in mid MAY. If I had a 3 car garage I would love to keep my MINI. 4 1/2 yrs old. Only 23,700 miles. Like new. Garage kept and loved. Lots of chrome. Magna Flow exhaust and Alta CAI. New tires. Extended warranty to 60,000 miles-5 yrs from now. Sneaky way to get a plug in huh? I forgot how much fun it is to be slammed back in the seat. I am excited and at age 65 –that is a good thing. Nick

  • lava

    would not miss the pin stripe on the side

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  • These cars are small but very cool.