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BMW 135i - First Drive

BMW Finally Brings The 1-Series To The USA in Twin-Turbo Coupe Form.

Mar 1, 2008
Eurp_0803_01_z+bmw_135+ Photo 1/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

It's been four years since BMW released the 1-Series hatchback in Europe. Some US drivers were feeling neglected until it was revealed that BMW North America had been awaiting the more attractive coupe version, saving us from the awkward-looking three- and five-door models.

However, the celebrations really began when it was revealed the 1er would get the 335i's twin-turbo 3.0 motor, promising 300hp in the pocket-sized 135i coupe.

Eurp_0803_02_z+bmw_135+rear_view Photo 2/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

Excitement in the eurotuner penthouse suite reached fever pitch when BMW announced the car would be unveiled to us at a private racetrack on the Swedish island of Gotland. Does it get better than this?

The manufacturer is linking the 135i's heritage back to the 2002 Turbo, which set the precedent for small, sporty, turbo coupes from BMW. The only difference is the 2002 didn't have to haul the 135i's hefty 3450 lb butt around.

Eurp_0803_03_z+bmw_135+concept Photo 3/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

And while the new car is a lard-ass, it's carrying around some of BMW's best technology and safety equipment. Think of it as a 335i in tighter pants.

It shares some major mechanical components with its big brother, most notably the delicious 3.0 biturbo that delivers 300hp and 300 lb-ft in an unexpectedly linear fashion. And where it felt like a V8 in the 3-Series, it feels more like a V10 in the slightly lighter 1er.

BMW engineers put major emphasis on driving dynamics, and so the 135i has 50/50 weight distribution to give the car superb poise. Combined with its rear-wheel drive configuration, it allows the car to rotate around its center point and means it doesn't snap out of control. The controls are very fluid and predictable.

Perhaps the only detriment is the inevitable understeer engineered into the chassis. And while this can largely be eradicated with aftermarket attention, in stock trim it was causing the 135i to push its nose wide on the track; a heavy right foot easily counteracted this. With the DSC turned off you could hold the car in a wonderfully balanced power-slide, spinning the fat 245/35-18 rear tires. However, the abrasive track surface eventually got the better of the 215/40-18 front tires, which couldn't hold on enough to allow the back to pivot or even hold their line through a corner and it just got ugly.

Eurp_0803_06_z+bmw_135+engine_bay Photo 4/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

Prior to that, the 135i was a blast. A pair of six-piston Brembo front calipers and 338mm rotors more than matches its handling and power. The electronic steering isn't as communicative as we'd like but the chassis provides enough information that you're always aware of the car's behavior.

Despite its shared componentry, the 1-Series is dynamically different from the 3er because of its shorter wheelbase, different center of gravity, weight and the position of major components. In fact, BMW claims that because the mass is gathered closer to the center, the 1-Series should be more agile than it's big brother.

As for living with the 135i, the cabin is familiar territory for BMW owners, with the option of a flip-up nav screen on top of the dash if you can master i-Drive. There's also a surprising amount of legroom in the rear, and the trunk is adequate for most occasions.

BMW told us the 135i was originally designed for US customers, and they hope to repeat the success of the 2002, which sold 84000 in its day. As a result, we get a very high spec on the 135i, including the M Aerodynamics package as standard to accommodate the front-mount intercooler, as well as M Sports suspension and 18" wheels. We also get the electronic diff, quad chrome tailpipes, LED tail lights with two-stage brake illumination, plus the option of adaptive bi-xenon headlights.

The 135i won't be cheap. Expect it to hit at around $35000. But BMW points out US cars come well equipped, so you shouldn't need to add much.

There will also be a 128i Coupe at under $30k with the 230hp, 200 lb-ft aluminum/magnesium 3.0 Valvetronic motor currently used in the 328i.

Eurp_0803_05_z+bmw_135+convertible Photo 5/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

135i Convertible
Hot on the heels of the 1-Series Coupe, BMW also announced the arrival of the Convertible version. Powered by the same engines, the 128i Convertible will be available from the spring, with the 135i following later in the year.

Unlike the 3-Series, the 1er gets a conventional soft-top, which takes 22sec to erect and can be operated at up to 25mph - useful if you should get caught in a rainstorm.

Most of the car's design and special features are similar to those found on the 3er but in a more compact package.

Eurp_0803_07_z+bmw_135+concept_tii Photo 6/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

Future 1-Series plans call for a four-wheel drive 128xi version, plus an X1 SUV derivative. Europe is also getting a slew of diesel models and no doubt, the US product planners will be watching the success of the 535d and X5 turbo-diesel to gauge whether something like the 123d would be well received by stateside consumers.

AC Schnitzer ACS1
With its twin-turbo engine, it's inevitable the tuners will soon descend upon the Coupe and this version from AC Schnitzer in Germany was the first to hit our inbox.

Eurp_0803_08_z+bmw_135+concept_tii Photo 7/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

Resplendent in a body kit comprising front grille, front spoiler and rear insert plus trunk and roof spoilers, the 135i looks far more menacing. It's complemented by 19x8.5" Type IV Bicolor wheels with 225/35 tires all round. And, after testing on the Nrburgring, the company has a suspension kit and strut tower brace to improve the handling. The engine gets software to boost power to 355hp and a rear muffler to enhance the engine note.

For the interior, there's a selection of steering wheel, shift knob, pedal and carbon trim sets to bring glitz to the sobriety of the stock car. Contact www.cecwheels.com for details, but you can expect a slew of other 1-Series tuning parts to follow over the next year.

Eurp_0803_10_z+bmw_135+concept_drawing Photo 8/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

Concept 1-Series tii
BMW stated there would never be an M version of the 1-Series, since the M1 badge is reserved for the iconic '80s sports car. However, they aren't ruling out a hotter version of the 135i, and the Concept 1-Series tii is an insight into the car's possible future direction.

Intended to underline the 1er's sporting character and heritage, while nodding toward motorsport intentions, it emphasizes driving pleasure. As such, the mechanical components remain stock but the aerodynamics have been optimized with a new air dam, skirts, rear diffuser and rear spoiler. Carbon has been used for the hood and elements of the new spoilers. All these parts are then tied together with contrasting stripes running the length of the concept.

Eurp_0803_09_z+bmw_135+concept_tii_interior Photo 9/9   |   BMW 135i - First Drive

Inside, the sports seats and steering wheel are covered in alcantara, continued over to the door cards. White painted trim and a stark white rev counter contrast these black and grey elements.

Launched at the Tokyo Auto Show, no mention is made of the 19" wheels or the generous rubber cloaking them. Nor do they speak about the brakes, which appear to be machined versions of the stock car's six-piston Brembos. However, the concept does give tuners a good idea of how to approach the 1-Series when it gets here. And hopefully indicates BMW is seriously considering a hotter version of the 1-Series.

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