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2008 BMW 1 Series Review

2008 BMW 1 Series Convertible

By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Detroit Bureau

BMW’s new 1 Series is a genetic throwback to the first BMWs imported into the US. More curvaceous than the boxy 1600 and 2002 of your misspent youth, the new 1 Series—128 and 135 Coupe and Convertible—are spiritual successors. Powered by engines introduced in the 3 and 5 Series, the lighter cars have more performance in a smaller, and more affordable, package.

Introduced in 2007, the 230 hp N52 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine injects every 128i with 200 pound-feet of torque. The price for a 128i Coupe, including destination, is $29,375 and a 128i Convertible, $33,875.

The more powerful 135i also offers a choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed STEPTRONIC. Its N54 twin turbocharged 3.0-liter engine makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque way down low, even as low as 1,400 rpm. What that means is incredible off the line power, and tons of torque to push you out of any corner. It means that any 135i should kick the ass of a heavier 3 Series 335i, for thousands of dollars less.

An M-Aero, M-Sport suspension, 6-caliper BMW branded front brakes and 18” mixed performance tires are standard for all 1 Series. Its dress-up at the red carpet level, and extra cost on other BMWs. The 135 Coupe costs $35,675, and for just under $4000 more, the Convertible lists for $39,875. All 1 Series include no-cost, no-charge wear and tear items for four years / 50,000 miles and no-charge road assist for four years.

BMW changed its design direction for the 1 Series, pulling the main shoulder line tightly up to create what BMW calls a “boat deck.” That antique Chris Craft homage is most visible on Convertibles, with the top retracted. There is a very long hood with a pushed-back greenhouse, which moves the driver visually rearward, further emphasizing the smaller vehicle size. Rear ends feature integrated trunk lid spoilers with the 135 having an additional lip spoiler extra rear end downforce. Brake lights react to braking force in two stages, bright and brighter to announce heavy braking to following motorists.

Other than badging, how can you tell one from the other? 135is have black tipped twin exhaust pipes and 128is use bright chrome. Front ends are more easily identified, but can be tricky. Xenon adaptive headlamps are standard on 135is, and an option for128is. Fog lamps, standard on 128, appear only on that model, so you can be sure you’ve identified correctly if you see fog lamps. And all 1 Series feature the BMW signature twin corona ring daylight running lights.

Interiors fit tightly around four adult passengers, Coupe or Convertible, creating an intimate interior. We found that the soft Convertible top hardware intrudes about 30 mm on each side and decreases shoulder space for rear seat passengers. The top goes up in 22 seconds, and you don’t have to be parked, the top pops up at speeds up to 30 mph, according to BMW. Standard Convertible tops are black or taupe, though a metallic-look top with woven-in black and silver thread is an option. A cool option, and we worked hard for the pun, is a heat-resistant leather BMW says can reduce seat surface temperature by ~37F.

All the surfaces—door and glove box handles, radio and air conditioning knobs—are finished in galvanized pearl gloss, and the love/hate iDrive is included with an optional navigation system. If you purchase iDrive, it controls most body, heating, cooling, and all entertainment functions. The latest iDrive control includes six programmable buttons, with a “soft touch” preview mode. You can set each button to tune the radio, dial up a destination from the nav system, or dial oft-used telephone numbers. SIRIUS satellite and HD radio are options, as is a USB/3.5 mm iPod connection that allows most iPod features to function.

Suspension uses aluminum double-pivot front and the five-link rear utilizes lightweight steel. This makes the 128 and 135 handle with exceptional enthusiasm and panache. Electronic stability controls include a high-threshold dynamic traction control system. By high, we mean you can push hard on the accelerator and generate massive cornering force before the ESP kicks in. And, on 135 Coupe, it is calibrated for even higher performance driving, with quicker accelerator pedal response. Adaptive steering, which debuted on 5 Series, is optional and radically changes handling feel. In fact, a 135 with adaptive steering feels like an utterly different car, not better or worse, just different every turn of the steering wheel.

We first drove the 128 through very twisting two lane roads north of Monterey, California. This was a no-extra’s car with 6-speed manual, and it was glorious. Sifts were short, slick, and smooth, steering light and accurate, and the engine always had plenty of power on tap. There was sufficient power to steer with the throttle, not that we hung the tail out, rather using torque to point the nose.

Later we drove a 135 with 6-speed STEPTRONIC and adaptive steering. Paddle shifting up the gears, and using the instant and massive torque, this 135 was a different feel from the up-level seats to the navigation system. Adaptive steering requires a different skill set, you have to lead into direction changes with subtlety and grace; adaptive steering reacts quickly. There is so much power on tap that a 135 seems to leap from corner to corner. Of course, in either vehicle the brakes are simply massive kinetic engines ready to dissipate whatever amount of speed you need to shed. Instead of inventing clever phrases, let’s just say either vehicle is incredible driving fun.

In cases where an accident is unavoidable, or in the unlikely event your enthusiasm overwhelms sensibility, safety items include multi-stage front and side air bags plus pop-up rear roll bars for Convertibles, two additional side-curtain air bags for Coupes, and seat-anchored inertial reel seat belts for all.

BMW thinks competition for the 1 Series from Audi or Mercedes is unlikely, as neither has a similar vehicle. Instead, cross shopping by Subaru WRX, Ford Mustang, and Mitsubishi EVO owners may fuel its growth.

If you’re one of the early buyers, first year models include signature engraved starter rings (“Year One of the 1”,) a commemorative book with a copy of the VIN, and a certificate of authenticity. Launch for the Coupe is 22 March, with Convertible models following by May 1, at the latest