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BMW Officially Introduces the Hip 1 Series

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2009 BMW 1 Series Coupe

Special to The Auto Channel
By Marty Bernstein
AIADA Contributing Editor

When I was a young man -- a long time ago, thank you -- one’s success was indicated, signified and verified by the ownership of a luxury car. In my youth it was a Caddy. But as noted, that was a long time ago. Times do change.

Today, there is still important significance in owning a luxury vehicle, especially a luxury car made in either Germany or Japan. A BMW, Lexus or Mercedes-Benz confers, certifies and communicates accomplishment, career success, status, excellence, a nice bank account or trust fund, a good corporate lease program or personally, a high credit score.
Among many of my friends and neighbors and even their teenagers, that vehicle is a BMW. Not everyone owns one, but it’s a prime topic discussion topic at dinner or cocktail parties, tennis games, or whatever. It is their aspirational vehicle. What they’d drive if only… if only.

A few years ago, BMW realized there was an important market for an “entry level luxury car” not a dumbed down, smaller in size, or cheaper in terms of parts or materials.
A vehicle that would and could compare favorably to the “big brand” in the evaluation and comparison of tangible and intangible vehicle perceptions including design, craftsmanship, quality, engineering, comfort, performance, and in BMW’s case, be an ultimate driving machine.

An interesting concept with reasonably good potential, but this is the reality of the automobile business in 2008; a year with an inauspicious beginning, monetary imbalances, high priced oil and dubious forecasts. The question is, will, can the execution of the concept equal reality. The answer was… Good Concept. Great Execution!

I’ve just spent an entire day either driving or riding in both the new BMW 1 Series coupe and convertible models. And a very, very nice experience it was. These are remarkable automobiles that will set new standards for those who want an exceptional experience in a driver’s car.

They are not, however inexpensive, entry-level vehicles. This is BMW, remember. Both vehicles are produced in Germany where the U.S. dollar is in a slide worthy of a downhill racer at almost $1.47 to the Euro last week. This translates into a higher price in the U.S.

Demographically, we were told in a morning introductory session with the product manager, this is for a “younger person” or for, my words, “an older person who wants to think and drive young,” especially in the convertible.

Both models are drivers’ cars. They are responsive, quick, comfortable, confident in various situations. We drove both in town like we were inhabitants of the ultra expensive areas around Monterey picking up the kids or laundry, parking parallel or backing out of a space, drove on a number of road surfaces from smooth to corrugated at speeds ranging from the legal limits to over legal somewhere in the 80’s.

Both handled and drove equally well. There are two versions, the 128i and 135i. The primary difference is in horsepower: the 128 has 215 hp and the 135 will have 300 hp. I drove both versions and was not disappointed. When speed was needed to enter the 101 the response was instant and remarkable.

Interiors are well designed, comfortable, nice adjustable seating, with polished touches of materials and textures. Ergonomically, the dash is easy to read and use, but the 1 Series does include a couple of my least favorite BMW features: too many knobs and levers on the steering column including, the turn indicator which never seems to turn off automatically.

There is a difference in ambient and exterior noise. With the soft top up the convertible does get much more road and wind noise than the coupe, and, frankly, more than expected. With the top down, who cares? It’s a convertible. There’s sun and wind and blondes down the road. Yeah, but the top of the 1 Series can be lowered or raised in less than 30 seconds when driving under 25 mph. As the owner of an older, 1987 BMW convertible with a hand operated top, I loved this feature!

Marketing plans were not revealed, but the theme is “Year One of the 1” and for the auto ephemera devotees, BMW has produced a 1 Series book for every buyer of the new vehicle. This is a special limited and numbered (the VIN number) edition book suitable for the very best coffee tables in the very best gated communities or nice suburbs.

Earlier, I mentioned this was an aspirational car and the price may cause some potential buyers going up-market to suddenly “aspirate” or inhale air unexpectedly. The base coupe will start a few hundred bucks under $30,000, while the convertible will carry a MSRP of $33,825 -- not exactly inexpensive, but then it’s not that expensive when compared to the bigger, higher priced BMW 3 Series.

Call it entry level, affordable pricing for those who can and wish they could.