BimmerFile Review: 2011 135i

Ever since the US was blessed with the “Year One of the One ” 1 Series Coupe back in 2008 we have been huge fans of it, or at least the step BMW took to make a smaller nimbler car. Sure the 1er is not perfect — the back seat is cramped and the materials are on the cheaper end of the spectrum for a premium coupe, but it ‘s a hoot to drive on the back roads or the track.

For 2011 BMW opted to change out the twin-turbo N54 inline six for the more technically advanced N55 dual scroll offering, they messed with what seemed to be a near perfect recipe and what made us love the 135, tons of power in a smaller package. When the motor swap was officially announced back in February we had feared the worst; BMW detuned our baby. We all knew that some N54 motors came off the line as ‘ringers with an excess of 325hp as many a dyno test had proven since its launch back in ’07. We had thought this new motor was not going to be near the award winning twin turbo six or even worse- it was going to be less of a beast. Fear not, things have not gotten worse and in some ways they have gotten a bit better.

The previous motor offering and the latest are technically identical in advertised output (300 hp /300 lb-ft); in real life they are more similar than we originally had thought they would be. The new N55 inline six is blessed with direct injection, VANOS, Valvetronic, and uses a dual scroll turbo. What all that mumbo jumbo means is that that response is better, the torque comes on sooner and fuel efficiency is improved. You can ‘t argue with that, well unless it drives like a limp noodle on the track. Thankfully it doesn ‘t. We put a 2011 135i Coupe with DCT through the paces on the Lightning track at NJMP as part of the 2011 model year launch of BMWNA. The motor felt lively and sounded as good as the N54 in base form.

For 2011 the suspension in sports package/ M Sport 135i cars has been tweaked a bit more towards our liking. In previous years, BMW was using progressive spring rates but now the springs are linear and the rates have even been increased. These changes lessen body roll and provides the driver with more control, allowing smoother transitions from corner to corner and the ability to set the contact patches where and when desired. The rear end is less likely to kick out under full throttle corner exit than in the past, it just feels more consistent and as a result surprisingly quicker. The car is well balanced overall and feels at home on the track though the steering still feels less precise than some other BMW offerings. Braking is fade free thanks to the Brembos doing their thing out on the corners, the 135i is still the only mainstream BMW with multi-pistons to our knowledge.

The greatest difference from ’10 to ’11 is not necessarily the technology under the hood or the suspension, it is the available method for switching gears- the Dual Clutch Transmission. Sure we are all left-pedal snobs here, rowing our own gears is like a badge of courage- we are the few left of a dying breed but the optional DCT is worth a mention in this review.What the DCT offers up is a transmission that does a good job at negotiating the insane congestion/traffic jams of our over crowded highways and providing shifts on the track that even Schumacher would be hard pressed to compete with. Seriously, it is that good. The DCT ‘s lighting quick shifts should improve 0-60 times by a .10 at least while also providing rev matching for those spirited back road romps.We find ourselves liking the DCT more and more each time we drive it, but then we think about how less involved driving on the street would become without shifting. Our roads in the US do not allow us to carry the speed of those in the EU and the last thing we have as an intimate connection to the road is that third pedal. If you plan on frequenting the track, live in area where the commute consists of bumper to bumper stop and go, the DCT is a no brainer. Otherwise, learn how to heel-toe while you still can.

What BMW has accomplished for 2011 in the 135i is offering up a new motor that does not lose character to the previous benchmark all the while improving efficiency and response. Why do we even question BMW when it comes to motors? We are not sure, maybe it is because we are so passionate about driving and never want to see things move backwards for the sake of efficiency or change just for the sake of change. The 2011 135i does not disappoint, it is more similar to last year ‘s model than different, with the fast shifts of the DCT and improved suspension being the main character differences. A few things we took away from this on the track experience is that the 135i is a turn key weekend warrior for HPDEs and that the motor swap has not taken anything away from this venerable sporty coupe.

Photos: BMWNA

Dyno Chart: BimmerBoost

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  • kit

    No sunroof?? Press only car or is the sunroof now optional on the 2011?

  • US 135i models come equipped with a sunroof as standard. In the EU you can order as you please. For 2011 BMWNA has made sunroof delete an option on the 335is Coupe, to go along with the ///M models as having it as an option. The 128/328 may also be ordered sans sunroof. Cloth is not available in the US (my interior shots were not that great so I went with stock images.

    -M

  • txdesign

    The 128 now comes with the sunroof as an option.

  • Awesome. When will the ’11 be in showrooms? I’m curious to drive it and have side-by-side comparison to my ’08 135i. Never driven a DCT either, that would be interesting. Great write-up – thanks!

  • Red135

    Will the N55 feature a functioning HPFP?

  • chad

    any heat issues on the track?

  • The 2011 1er should be arriving at dealers soon if they have not arrived already. These cars were abused on the track with no cool down laps and they were just fine. All in all you could have a nice DD and HPDE car for some more aggressive compound pads.

    The N55 was a nice match to the DCT. This car is on “is” but is fun in its own right.

    -M

  • Nice review! Just glad I have an early ’08 with the smaller mirrors. 🙂 Plus, my refresh cycle falls perfectly in line with the release of the ///M1 Coupe. Anyone looking at an ’11 135i is semi crazy IMHO.

  • Kennedy

    The first thing I noticed too was lack of sunroof… Would love to see sunroof delete as an option for this car for those of us who want small cars, but are headroom-challenged.

    If you take EU delivery, why not? For that matter, I would love to get cloth seats too!

  • Primo- the new mirrors are blah, and that is being kind. The reason one would opt for the 135i over the ///M itineration is for pricing and for the fact that if you do not have a long standing deposit (or several at different dealers) you are not going to be getting the ///M version; numbers will be very very limited.

    -M

  • Kennedy- If you order for EuroDel there is no difference from US orders. We have written extensively about EuroDel here

  • Leif W.

    You mention that the sport/M-Sport suspension is tweaked for the 135i. Does the same hold true the sport/M-sport suspension on the 128?

    Thank, Leif W.

  • Michael – The 135i is still a good car, and I’m sure the 2011 is no different. With that said, an ///M1 is what I really wanted when I purchased in 2008. First one to put a deposit down at my dealership (In February) and can’t wait for Spring of next year!!!

    Hoping for Inca Orange or Frozen Grey Metallic, and of course, 6-speed manual trans! Very well put: “Our roads in the US do not allow us to carry the speed of those in the EU and the last thing we have as an intimate connection to the road is that third pedal.”

  • Tiger

    Primo135 – I think the beautiful of 135i is the performance/price ratio. The next step beyond 135i is surely not M1, but 400 or 450hp V8 cars. No offense: if you already owned a 135, and are planning buying a possible M1, I suggest save that money, add another several grand $s, buy a 400 or 450hp+ car. That’s called a full upgrade (and buying a M1 can only be qualified as ‘semi-upgrade’)

  • Chadwick

    Its nice that the sunroof is an option, it should have always been an option on all models. In the end I would opt for the sunroof, my car would not just be for sport, gotta mix in the luxury! I also really like the rear defuser, make that bottom black piece carbon fiber and it would look fantastic.

  • Dewey

    So, the replacement engine performs the same, but is even move fuel efficient? Now, that’s impressive! I’m already pleasently surprised with the mileage I get with my ’08 135i. I’m averaging 25.8. I still sometimes can’t believe it. That’s the same mileage I was getting with my first car… an ’03 Impala LS. And that only made 200hp!

  • Pat H.

    I hope that car is more fun than the 335is convertible dct i drove. Zzzzzz

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  • CCBiggs

    “Anyone looking at an ‘11 135i is semi crazy IMHO.”

    Why? You can buy brand new 2011 135i with manual transmission and minimal options for around $35k. An M1 will cost $10k more and gets you only an additional 35 horsepower. It’s not at all clear to me that it’s worth it.